Just recently Ezekiel 18 was brought to my attention by a loved one who felt these verses proved that we should be able to conjure up faith, repentance and obedience to God in our own power. Of course these verses came as no surprise, since I too had struggled with them and many others, most of my life. Coming from a legalistic background, I would read all the do’s and don’ts in God’s word and despair of ever being able to live up to them all. It wasn’t until God opened my blind eyes that I could finally understand that He actually wanted me to despair of ever being able to live up to His standards, so that confidence in my own self-sufficiency would be shattered and so I could finally realize my desperate need for a Savior (2Cor.3:5).
Ezek.18 is actually a perfect example of how God deals with His people. He commands them to do the impossible. In verses 30-31 He commands His people to “turn themselves” and make themselves a new heart and a new spirit. He tells them to do what He already knew they could never do apart from His divine intervention. Even in Ezek. 3:7 God tells His prophet from the very start that these people wouldn’t listen, for they were hard-hearted. So why did God even bother telling them to do what He already knew they couldn’t?
By reading the whole book of Ezekiel in context, the answer becomes obvious. He did this so they would realize they didn’t have the power to do the very things that would save them. And when they accused God of being unfair, He revealed even more of His glory by making it clear that He could destroy them all and still be just, because like all of us, they deserved hell for sinning against their holy Creator (Ezek.18:25,29). “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
But in Ezek.36:22 we see that God is full of mercy and grace and He shows us that He can change the most repulsive sinner in order to reveal His glory. Again in vs.26 and 27 God tells them He is the One who gives a new heart and a new spirit. Even as early as Ezek.11:19-20, God tells them they will become His people only because He Himself will put a new heart and a new spirit in them and that only then would they have the power to obey His commands. For no one has the natural power within themselves to do this, because we can only “believe according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ (Eph.1:19, 20).
The book of Ezekiel is just another beautiful reminder of how God’s mighty power can triumph over our sin nature. Just as Jesus commanded Lazarus’ dead body to come forth, He still commands sinners who are dead in their trespasses to do the impossible, to repent and believe the gospel. And just as Jesus gave Lazarus the power to come, He still gives His people the same power to come today.
So friend, that which is impossible for you, is not impossible with God. Come to Him today and confess your helplessness and place your trust in Him alone (not in yourself) to give you the new heart and new spirit that you so desperately need to be saved. And keep coming to Him. Pray, read God’s word, worship and commune with God’s people until you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has forever changed you and that you are forever His.