THE ARGUMENT BASED ON EZEKIEL 18
We will first begin from the Old Testament. Let us consider Ezekiel 18:24 and 26, which say, "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die...When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." These two verses can be considered as the main verses in the Old Testament concerning this matter. No other verses in the Old Testament are as important as these. These are the most common and most frequently quoted verses. Hence, we have to devote some thoughtful consideration to these two verses.
Ezekiel 18 never speaks of salvation. It does not say anything about Jesus dying for man, nor does it say anything about believing in the Lord to receive life. It does not say how one takes care of the problem of sin. It does not mention anything about the gospel or about Christ. If one tries by force to apply this passage to the gospel, he is confusing the issue. Ezekiel 18 speaks of God’s government. What precedes this passage are things related to God’s government. One must remember that things in God’s government are totally different from things in salvation. God’s government refers to how God works, manages, and arranges things according to His plan and will. If a man does not understand the difference between God’s salvation and His government, and if he mixes the two together, he is mixing up God’s law court with God’s family, the father with the judge. He is confusing the word spoken by the father to the servants with the word spoken to the sons. He is confusing the attitude a man has toward his employees with the attitude he has toward his wife and children. Government is government. Government is not the same as salvation. The difference between government and salvation is as great as the distance between the north pole and the south pole.
Ezekiel 18 does not show us salvation. Its subject is how the Israelites can live on the earth. It does not speak of eternal life. It speaks of the problem with the body. It does not deal with the question of perdition for the soul. Rather, it shows us that if a man does not keep the commandment of God, he will die early physically. It is a question of physical existence rather than spiritual salvation. No one can ever say that a son’s teeth should be set on edge just because his father has eaten sour grapes. If someone sitting next to you eats sour grapes, you might feel like you can taste that same sourness in your own mouth. But if a father rebels against God’s Word and sins, it has nothing to do with the son. If the father has to die, the son cannot be a substitute for him. If a man sins, he himself should be cut off from God’s promised land. This passage is absolutely on the death of the physical body. This is what the end of verse 2 tells us. Then, after these words, from verse 3, chapter eighteen repeats that those who sin shall die. This is not spiritual death. Rather, it is what Adam experienced, the death of the body. If a man sins, his days on earth shall be shortened by God. From verse 3, this chapter repeatedly tells us who can live on earth through the blessing of Jehovah. This is the context of the words preceding verse 24. If a righteous man who was righteous has now turned evil, he will die. All his former righteousnesses shall not be remembered. This has absolutely nothing to do with salvation. It is a matter of God’s government. It tells us why God would not let a man live on the earth. It explains why many people die early. It is a word concerning the judgment of sin for the Jews. It has nothing to do with us.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 17, by Watchman Nee)