Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
October 4, 2015
Grace in the Old Testament
Christians are people of one Book – the Bible. That includes the Old Testament and the New. Both testaments reveal the unchanging character of God. We find grace in the Old Testament. There is grace, for example, in the teaching of the Prophet Ezekiel.
Let me illustrate. Ezekiel became weary of the idea, popular in his day, that God held people responsible for the sins of their parents. He challenged the familiar proverb that said “the parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2). He did not say there is no truth in the saying. He did say that God’s mercy puts individual responsibility in a new context.
There is no denying that we all suffer for the sins of our parents. Ezekiel does not deny this. He knows that the actions of one person profoundly affect others. But Ezekiel saw the big picture – God’s larger perspective.
If we have been cursed by the actions of our fathers, we must deal with those consequences. But the curse of the past is not everlasting; the curse can be broken. We are not locked in bondage to the past. Freedom is possible. Mercifully God allows us to choose whether we shall be a blessing or a curse to the next generation.
Ezekiel urged the Israelites to seek a fresh start with God. Though they are in captivity, they can still worship the Lord God almighty. They can remember and renew the covenant God made with them. They can choose to be faithful despite their suffering.
The Israelites suffered because of the sins of their ancestors. But that did not excuse them from personal responsibility for the present. God would judge each of them for their own actions. Even more wonderful, Ezekiel says, God is willing to forgive their past sins if they will turn to him in true repentance. Here is the gospel in a nutshell!
Our past can have a devastating influence upon us. Our own sins generate misery and guilt that can ruin the present and cause us to lose hope for the future. We can resent those who have hurt us. The combined weight of sin, guilt, hate, resentment and despair can cause us to “die” spiritually.
When people we love hurt us, it feels like something within us has died. If we “nurture” this feeling and hold on it, the past soon has a stranglehold on us. By our own choice we are now in bondage to our own sin – the sin of resentment. Ezekiel declares that God has no pleasure in seeing anyone “die” like that.
Ezekiel hears God saying to the Israelites, “I don’t want you to die in your sins. I want you to live, so turn to me and become alive!” The New Living Translation says this plainly: “Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” (18:31-32).
Where do we find a new heart? We find it a gift of God when we repent of our sins and turn to God in Christ. To truly repent is to choose life instead of death. To stubbornly remain rebellious toward God is to choose death instead of life.
This same truth is magnified in the New Testament. Jesus is life. Sin is death. To refuse Jesus is to be satisfied with death for there is no true life apart from Jesus. This truth became crystal clear through the life and teaching of Jesus. But long before Jesus was born, Ezekiel understood that death awaits those who refuse God’s invitation to “turn back and live!”
We could even call this the Gospel of Ezekiel. God offers us a way out of bondage to past sins, our own and those of others. Repent and be free. You don’t have to die in your sins. You have a choice about the future. You need not remain a slave to your past. You can turn to the Lord and live!
Living on this side of the Cross we can see clearly what Ezekiel saw only dimly – that God offers true life to all who will turn to him. That is why Jesus died – so that all who believe can have the gift of life, abundant and eternal! + + +