7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
10“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
12 “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
17“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19Andwhen the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this.20Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
There is a brutal reality to sin. If I walk by my co-worker’s desk and notice the $20 he has accidently left there and do not take it. I have not sinned. If I do that same thing fifty times, I still have not sinned. Yet, if I walk by that desk the fifty-first time and slip that money into my pocket, I am a thief. It doesn’t matter that I resisted fifty times and succumbed on the fifty-first time. I am a thief. One transgression is all it takes. That is what Ezekiel means in verse 12.
But this works the other way too. God says through Ezekiel here that if the wicked man repents and turns from his sin, God forgives and remembers his sin no more. True innocence, imparted by God, is possible for any sinner. I have known more than one incorrigible old soul who has repented at the end of his life. I believe I shall rejoice with them in heaven. Likewise, with Paul, I have known a few who have made a shipwreck of their faith (I Tim. 1:19) and I weep at the remembrance. The people of Ezekiel’s day felt that they were being punished for the sins of their fathers. God tells them it is not so. They have plenty of their own sins which are more than enough to justify their exile. God’s strange and upside-down justice still is in effect. “Repent and believe!” proclaimed our Lord through his prophet long ago, through John the Baptist, and through His only Son Jesus. It is still the message for this season in the year of our Lord 2022.