NOT BY WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS!
Updated: May 26, 2020
Ezekiel 18 and especially verse 24, is often used by those who teach you can fall away, turn away, forfeit your salvation. Some critical errors are committed however, when this passage is used to relate to Salvation (as we understand it from New Testament revelation).
First, is that the passage in context is referring to Israel and their relationship with God, and not Christians in our relationship with the Lord. It is essentially the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, which was secured for us and provided for us, in and by Christ. The Israelite under the Old Covenant had to produce acts of righteousness to confirm their obedient relationship with Yahweh and covenant-keeping. Without those acts of righteousness, they were in danger of early death, as it were. An argument can be made that the life and death references in Ezekiel are only referring to physical life and death and not spiritual. Taking the passage out of its historical context results in making application to the spiritual dynamics of eternal life and death, which is not what Ezekiel is warning the Israelites about.
Secondly, if you are going to use Ezekiel 18:24 to justify the possibility of falling away from God (and therefore your salvation, i.e. “life”), you would also have to be consistent and teach that you received that life by doing works of righteousness. That is exactly what Ezekiel 18:22 says, does it not? Verse 22 says that it is because of righteousness which a person has done that he shall have life! So now you have a real problem. Titus 3:5 says definitively that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy (grace) that God has saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.
Do you see the dilemma caused by using Ezekiel 18 to justify a teaching of losing one’s salvation? To be consistent with your interpretation, you would also have to use the same passage to teach that the salvation you lost was first gained by works of righteousness! That would be true for Jews in the Old Covenant, but not for anyone in the New Covenant. Jesus took care of that for us when He died on the Cross!
In Ezekiel 18:24 you must carefully distinguish between the Old Covenant which demanded righteousness, and the New Covenant which bestows God's righteousness (John 1:17; Rom. 3:10, 19-24; 9:30-32; 10:2-4).
Think of this as well, if getting to heaven depends on our "holding on," and remaining faithful and always and consistently doing righteous deeds, do you think one “redeemed” person would ever be able to really do that? And when would we know enough was not enough? When would we know that we crossed the line from righteous acts to a failure to perform those acts? How and when would we know that we somehow transitioned from life in Christ, to death and walking in darkness?
I offer Paul’s warning to the Galatian Christians, who, it would appear, were struggling in just this one area (thinking they needed to keep the Old Covenant) - "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). The New Living Translation renders this: After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? And, then this from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message:
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?
Exactly! How much better, then, is the language of faith: "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6). From start to finish, "Salvation is of the Lord.” From beginning to end, He is the Author and Finisher of our faith!
The salvation act, the reality of being Born Again, is stated as receiving everlasting life. Simple logic realizes that everlasting life means just what it says, it “ever” lasts." Paul says in Romans 6:23 that “The gift of God is eternal life.” How can “eternal life”, which assumes no ending, be anything else therefore but eternal? It cannot be lost, forfeited, or sinned away, for "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). Eternal life once given is an everlasting, never-ending gift. When something is declared to be “irrevocable” that would mean, of necessity, it cannot be given back, forfeited or turned away from! No wonder Jesus would say once He has given you eternal life, you shall “never, no never, perish!” (John 10:28)
One further challenge to us should be this – that teaching you can lose your salvation makes the gift of salvation about you and not about God! Believing in a salvation that is eternally secure and sure makes the gift of salvation about Him and not about you.
The Apostle Jude got it right - it’s all about God and not about us. It’s not about me losing or forfeiting what He gave me, it’s all about Him keeping me secure in the grace He gave me.
Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. (Jude 24-25 NLT)
copyright © 2020 Joe LoMusio