daily biblical sermons


GENUINE REPENTANCE AND TURNING FROM OUR FORMER SINFUL WAYS IS NECESSARY FOR GOD TO FORGIVE US AND RECONCILE US WITH HIMSELF
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, First Week of Lent, March 15, 2019
Ezekiel 18:21-28, Psalm 129, Matthew 5:20-26


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" (Ezekiel 18:21-23).


Today Ezekiel speaks to us of something that is deeply meaningful to every human being in every age and that is particularly appropriate for this Lenten season, when we focus on repentance for our sins and God's forgiveness and the new life he gives us. There is no one who hasn't sinned in some way in his whole life, and so today's reading from Ezekiel is meaningful for everyone.


This reading is particularly relevant today, since for nearly three years now many Church leaders have been saying the exact opposite of what the Lord says through Ezekiel today, and hence are in need of correction by the word of God in today's first reading and throughout the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments.


The problem is this. Ezekiel says that God wants sinners to repent, stop sinning, and leave their grave sins behind them and turn to the Lord and obediently follow his moral law. But certain Church leaders today are saying just the opposite by giving a one-sided and exaggerated presentation of God's mercy. They are saying that God is so merciful that sometimes he doesn't require some people in difficult life circumstances to genuinely repent and stop sinning gravely, because he sees that that would be too difficult for them to do, so he forgives them anyway, welcomes them back, reconciles them with himself, and allows them to continue living a gravely sinful life.


These Church leaders even go so far as to say that in some cases God himself leads some people in difficult life situations to sin gravely, because he knows, in his mercy, that it would be too difficult for them to stop sinning gravely; and so when these people sin gravely, God does not regard them as guilty of sin, but as doing his will, for it is he himself that is leading them to do this, and so they are growing in grace, virtue, and holiness by living a gravely sinful life.


This, of course, is complete madness, a total falsification of official Church teaching and of the normative teaching of Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Today's first reading from Ezekiel chapter eighteen focuses precisely on this point. Ezekiel says,


"But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him" (Ezekiel 18:21-22).


So it is clear that sinners must turn away from their sins that they have been committing and live a life that is lawful and righteous, and if they do so, they shall live; they shall not die. But if they do not turn away from their sins, they are not following the necessary precondition to receive God's forgiveness. They have not truly repented. They have not truly converted.


Then the Lord says through his prophet Ezekiel,


"Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23).


God does not want us to die in our sins, but to turn away from them - to stop sinning gravely. And then what will happen? We will live. This means that we will be reconciled with God. Our alienation from him, caused by our sins, will be overcome.


We hear this same message again, even more explicitly stated, towards the end of Ezekiel chapter eighteen, when the Lord says,


"Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live" (Ezekiel 18:30-32).


What does this mean? It means what it says, that we must repent for our sins, and that doesn't just mean to feel bad about them. It also means what the next verse says, "Turn from all your transgressions" (Ezekiel 18:30). We are to turn away from our transgressions, not continue living in them, not continue sinning gravely, but stop sinning gravely.


It seems strange that we have to explain something that is so clear and draw it out as though we were speaking to small children, repeating again and again this plain, simple, clear message; but when you look at the situation in the Church today and see Church leaders teaching just the opposite of this, a simple, clear, straightforward explanation seems required.


So what does Ezekiel say next? He says, Thus "says the Lord God. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me" (Ezekiel 18:31). In simple English: stop sinning! This is the precondition to receive God's forgiveness and to be reconciled with him so that he doesn't hold our sins against us and condemn us to everlasting death for them, which is their just punishment.


Then he says something that sounds a little strange,


"Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31).


Well, we can't really get ourselves a new heart, but we can follow the stipulated preconditions so that God will give us a new heart. And what are these preconditions? The same thing I been saying: stop sinning and "cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me" (Ezekiel 18:31).


Although the prophet Ezekiel spoke the exact truth, he did not understand how it worked out in practice, because that had not yet been revealed in the Old Testament. But we who live in the New Testament and have received the fullness of revelation now understand how it is that the all-just God can justly simply overlook all our sins and their just punishment and give us a new heart and a new spirit and not remember any of our past sins against us to punish us for them in a just way. Ezekiel could not explain how this could be. He simply preached the truth that this is what God does.


We, however, know how God does this, namely through Christ's death on the cross, for Christ took all our sins upon himself and was sent by God to suffer the just punishment on the cross for all the sins of the world, from Adam to us, for he was the Son of God. Therefore our sins are justly punished in Christ on the cross (Romans 8:3-4), and God who is all just can therefore in all justice declare us ungodly sinners righteous and forgiven, because our sins have been duly and justly paid for on the cross. Our debt for our sins has been paid for on the cross, because the suffering and death of Christ on the cross is counted by God as paying what we owe him in terms of suffering and death for our sins; and so God pronounces us righteous and forgiven when we genuinely repent and put our faith in Christ and his redeeming work for us on the cross. So that is what God, through his prophet Ezekiel, is telling us to do, namely "cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me," and turn from your evil ways.


Even though Ezekiel lived in the Old Testament, before Christ's death, nonetheless God overlooked the sins of the people when they repented and put their faith in Yahweh, because of the future atoning death of Jesus Christ the Son of God on the cross that would make full reparation for them.


The prodigal son lived a sinful life, squandering his fortune, but finally, when his money was gone, he came to his senses and said to himself, "‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father" (Luke 15:18-20).


This prodigal son did not continue living a life of grave sin. He finally genuinely repented, stopped sinning, left the country in which he was living in sin, and returned to his father's house to beg his forgiveness. We all know the rest of the story. His father welcomed him with open arms and made a great feast for him. Who paid for this young man's sins so that he should be so easily forgiven and not sent to prison or given some other harsh punishment? Jesus Christ on the cross paid for his sins, suffered for his sins, substituted for him and suffered his penalty for his sins for him, instead of him, in his place (Isaiah 53:5-6). Therefore this young man was welcomed home, and they killed the fatted calf for him and made merry. That is how God deals with repentant sinners today as well.


Once again the Lord says through his prophet Ezekiel,


"Though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,' yet if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right, he shall surely live" (Ezekiel 33:14-16).


This particular passage even details exactly what kind of sins the sinner must stop committing if his repentance is to be sincere and win for him God's forgiveness. He must restore the pledge he has taken if he stole it from someone, he must give back "what he has taken by robbery." If he does this, "none of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him." This is not just true in Ezekiel's time or in the Old Testament or in the early Church. This is true in every age, especially our own age, which is rebelling against this basic normative biblical message in an astonishingly bold way.

 

 

 

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