Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: “The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.” When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. Yet the children of your people say, “The way of the Lord is not fair.” But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is not fair.” O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways. (Ezekiel 33:12-20)
The Way Of The Lord Is Not Fair
Mercy and forgiveness are in the mind of God alone. The justice of man is significantly insignificant when it comes to the measure of what is right and what is wrong. Jeremiah proclaimed that man is incapable to know the path of truth without the guidance of the Lord God Almighty. The prophets in the day of captivity preached a message of divine justice for the wickedness of the nation. Israel and Judah could complain about what they perceived as wrong in the manner of God’s punishment but the word of the Lord would not change. Israel was exterminated by the sword of the Assyrians. God had brought the Babylonians to punish the southern tribes of Judah saving a remnant. In captivity the lessons were still being taught and the people were still struggling to understand.
All of the calamities that befell the people of God were just and righteous because they had brought this upon themselves. Everything the Lord did was the right thing. Each story of mercy was of divine origin. Bringing the Gentiles to punish His own people shows the manner of the Lord’s hatred for sin. Obedience would be rewarded and rebellion would be punished. The righteous were not going to be saved simply because they were righteous as if they had their ticket punched for redemption. Hypocritical smugness in being a child of God did not offer eternal guarantees for salvation. The wicked man who repented of his sins with godly sorrow was more righteous than the man who proudly boasted of his righteousness. Sin is not always clearly seen by the righteous. Jesus tells of two men who went to pray but one man went to brag. The one who was justified was the one who understood what sin had done to him.
The righteous will be saved not because they wear the badge of righteousness but because they obey the Lord. When the wicked show greater sorrow for sin than the righteous the redemptive power of God is clearly seen. In the church today it is easy for the ‘righteous’ to feel comfortable in their superior position looking at disdain upon those who struggle daily in their faith. Salvation will not be given to those who feel confident their ‘name is on the roll’ but to those who do what is lawful and right. Righteous men will suffer punishment just as those who are wicked if they do not obey the word of God. The wicked who turn from their ways and the righteous who humble themselves before the Lord will be saved. In all this – the Lord is right in what HE DOES!
The Christian revelation pictures God as sovereign and majestic and holy. When he unveils Himself, “The Lord lays bare His holy arm.” To suggest that He is a sort of folksy dodderer sitting in a rocker upstairs is the height of blasphemy. (Martin E. Marty, The New Shape of American Religion, 1958)