The young fellow smiled as he said, “What I would like to believe is this. You can do whatever you want to do in life and then just before your last breath, you can say, ‘Please forgive me God’, and He will forgive you. If I do that I can go to heaven. Am I right in believing that?” Sadly he was mistaken. It is true that there such a thing as “a death-bed repentance” where someone just before he or she dies repents of their sins and asks God to forgive them. But such incidents are rarer than people think. Very often the attitude to God that people have throughout life remains the same as they draw closer to death. Indeed no one can ever be sure they will be in a position to be able to make any decisions in the moments before they die. What light can this passage from Ezekiel cast on the situation, “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?
Notice what Ezekiel wrote. The people are here called “wicked” in verse 21. The Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses the word (anomos) which means “lawless one”. It indicates that such a person does not seek to live by God’s laws. He has committed “sins”, verse 21. He is guilty of “transgressions”, verse 22. He has run his life, “his way” and not God’s way, verse 23. A similar outlook on life is encapsulated in the words of the famous Frank Sinatra song, And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain ….. I did it my way. The problem with such an outlook on life is that the person who lives by that philosophy (doing one’s own thing in life) is ultimately a creature who is rejecting the Creator’s plan for him or her. In other words, they are in rebellion against their Creator.
What is involved for humans to know God’s grace in forgiveness? The previous verses provide an answer. They have to turn away from all their sins. This means a total re-orientation in life. Again the Greek version helps us. The word for “turn” is (epistrephō). It is used in the Bible for turning around, for moral change among other things. They are turning their backs on the sins they once committed in turning back to God and His laws. Not only that but they need to be committed to keeping God’s statutes. They need to keep on doing habitually what is right and just in God’s eyes.
If they make that commitment then God declares what will happen. They will not die spiritually but will find life in God. Not only that, God declares they will be forgiven as they learn to be righteous in His sight. God forgives them as seen in the statement “none of the transgressions they have committed will be remembered.” Again this is similar in thought to Isaiah 43:25 and Jeremiah 31:34 where God promises to remember the sins of the penitent no more.
In verse 23 God declares His heart through Ezekiel’s words, 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? He wants people to turn from their sins back to Him so that He can forgive them. He desires that they turn from their way, doing their own thing in life, to instead walk in His way. He derives no pleasure from the death of those who fail to turn to Him. He longs for them to find life. This concept is taken up in the New Testament in 2 Peter 3 where Peter writes about the loving nature of God, The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2Pet 3:9. Every day brings us another opportunity to get right with God by turning from our sins back to Him. Every day also brings us the chance to turn from doing our own thing in life to turn to Him to know His grace to enable us to live in the way He wants us to live. But it also means that as each new day arrives, there remains one less day to make that commitment to Him before it is too late.
Blog No.109. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wednesday 23rd January 2013