Meditating on the Will of God: 2: A Matter of Accountability
Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
In the first of these studies we started sowing the seeds that need to flourish to give us a greater understanding of what the will of God is about. We started to consider the free will of mankind, our ability to make choices. (Of course there are some things we can choose and others that are beyond our choice and we will examine this in the days to come, as well). We mentioned along the way our verse above which, note, includes words of “the Sovereign Lord”. Let there be no mistake, God IS sovereign, He IS the Lord; the question is all about how He exercises that sovereignty as a loving and good and perfect God.
In that verse above, the Sovereign Lord declares His desire for men and women to repent and avoid judgment. The verses that follow, which we looked at previously, show that there are possibilities of choice, and for it to make sense there must be real, genuine possibilities of choice, the real ability to choose, otherwise when God puts options before people they will be meaningless unless the individual can genuinely make their own choice. That was true of Pharaoh who we mentioned, and it is true of us.
This concept of genuine accountability comes up more than once in Ezekiel’s ministry, but before we look at it there, really understand what we are saying here. If God says, “Choose A and you will live or choose B and you will die,” if that is not to be meaningless gobbledygook, it must mean that this individual can genuinely make their own decision. If we move into hyper Calvinism, it seems to us, those proponents of the extreme doctrine says mankind can only do what God makes them do. It is a form of determinism where there are no real choices, only set responses, but life – and the Scriptures – do not appear like that. Let’s consider what the Lord said through Ezekiel.
First of all Ezekiel taught individual accountability in chapter 18: “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right……. That man is righteous; he will surely live.” (Ezek 18:5-9) Then, “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things…. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.” (Ezek 18:10-13) The point he is making and goes on and on making in that chapter is that an individual is accountable for what he or she does. They will not be accountable for what a close relative does but are answerable for their own sins.
Next, he taught about this in the context of himself being a watchman: “When I say to the wicked, `O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezek 33:8,9) Put aside for a moment Ezekiel’s responsibility and we are left with something quite remarkable. Look: “When I say to the wicked, `O wicked man, you will surely die… that wicked man will die for his sin, ….. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin.” In each case there is a “wicked man” who in the first case gets no warning and so dies for his sin. In the second case he is warned and fails to repent and dies. The end result is the same in both instances but what it shows us is that even when God speaks through His servants and brings warnings, the individual can still refuse that warning. There is no indication here that God imposes His will on this man. Indeed it is clear that God is trying to get him to repent. A few verses on we find that same declaration we found in chapter 18: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33:11) There it is! God doesn’t want them to die – but they do!
So, as we are considering the whole subject of the will of God, we see God’s will – His desire, at least – may be one thing, but the outcome may be contrary to His desire. We may call this His permissive will, if you like, but in each case we find two scary facts:
i) the individual has a real ability to make choices, and
ii) the Lord allows them to go with that choice and they reap its fruit.
This is what this matter of accountability is all about. Look how Ezekiel continues this teaching from the Lord: “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, `The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’ If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, `You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right– if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.” (Ezek 33:12-16) We have included such a lengthy quote because of what it conveys, following straight on from the Lord’s declaration about His feelings. What does it say? A righteous man can become unrighteous (it doesn’t mean just a single fall) and an unrighteous man can repent and become righteous. Both are answerable for their end position and one dies and the other lives. And it is all to do with their freely made choices. God doesn’t MAKE them act like they do, but He DOES hold them accountable for the choices they make. Read back through this study and see the things we have observed about His will.