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Collective Sins vs. Personal Sins - Free Bible Teachings

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Collective Sins vs. Personal Sins

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Collective Sins vs. Personal Sins

Ezekiel 18:5-9 (The LORD speaking)

5But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, 6And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour’s wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman, 7And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; 8He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man, 9Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 18:25-32 (The LORD speaking)

25Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? 26When 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. 27Again when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. 28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are note your ways unequal? 30Therefore I judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Since Israel’s captivity in Assyria and Babylon was viewed as a Divine judgment for the collective sins of the nation, many tended to overlook their individual sins, and what they could do as individuals to renew their relationship with God.

Since Israel’s captivity in Assyria and Babylon was viewed as a Divine judgment for the collective sins of the nation, many tended to overlook their individual sins, and what they could do as individuals to renew their relationship with God.

Ezekiel, who ministered among the captives in Babylon, heard them constantly complaining that they were suffering for the collective sins of their fathers. In a sense this was true, but it did not absolve them of guilt for their own sins, and neither did it relieve them of the need to repent of their own sins. So God directed Ezekiel to deliver a message to the captives which, in effect, became a lesson on the doctrine of personal accountability.

Of all the Old Testament prophets, only two, Daniel and Ezekiel, had the distinction of conducting their ministry as Jewish captives in Babylon. Daniel, who was deported to Babylon, lived with the ruling class in Babylon and his ministry seems to have been primarily to the various kings and officials of the Babylonians, Medes and Persians. Ezekiel, who was taken captive to Babylon as a young man, did, in fact, live among the captives and spent his life ministering to them.

Ezekiel 1:1-3

1Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. 2In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.

Ezekiel 3:15-17 (The LORD speaking, verse 17)

15Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days. 17And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me saying, 17Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

In the ensuing years, children were born who did not know the conditions that had led to their captivity. Part of Ezekiel’s God-given mission was to make the younger Jews aware of the nations’ sins that had finally brought Divine judgment.

Ezekiel also received revelations from God about the day when the captivity would end and Israel would be restored to their land. He prophesied of glorious days in the future, including the Messiah’s Millennial Reign.

One exception Ezekiel sought to correct involved a widespread belief among the people that their own sins had nothing to do with their suffering. They believed that they were being punished for sins that they had not committed. As God pointed out in Ezekiel 18:25, above, the Jews were not just blaming their ancestor. The proverb was really accusing God of unfair treatment.

These people apparently misunderstood God’s statement in Exodus 20:5, which is repeated verbatim in Deuteronomy 5:9.

Exodus 20:5 (The LORD speaking, verse 17)

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me;

Both verses refer to God’s visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. This does not mean God will punish children for their parents’ sins if the children themselves are innocent. Rather, it is a warning of the evil influences parents can set in motion that will affect generations to come.

Just as children can inherit physical diseases from infected parents, their spiritual condition is affected adversely when they grow up in a sin-promoting environment. By having their sinful nature nourished, they are more inclined to rebel against God than children of righteous parents. While an individual may make immoral choices based on adverse circumstances, in no sense does this eliminate his responsibility for his actions.

By allowing his parents’ sin to influence him, he creates the chain reaction described in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Verse four sums up the teaching of Ezekiel 18 by declaring it is the sinning soul who will die, whether it is a parent or a child. Each will die for the sins he has committed, not for what the other has done.

Ezekiel begins Chapter eighteen verse two with a popular proverb, one frequently used, no doubt, by those who tried to explain their condition: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

Over a span of some four hundred years, the accumulative sins of generations of Israelites resulted finally in the captivity; it was true that the sins of Israel had driven the nation into exile. The proverb about the children suffering for the sins of the fathers began to be used for avoiding individual responsibility for sin and unrighteousness.

Actually, the immoral living of generations of Israelites weakened the nation so that it became vulnerable to enemies. These enemies took advantage of the national weakness to conquer, exploit, destroy and exile the Israelites.

Regardless of the natural and inevitable consequences which result from the sins of others, we remain personally responsible for the sin of unrighteousness in our own lives as God’s redeemed people. It was only reasonable and right that the Israelites should live by His laws.

We are saved by grace, not by good works, and being saved by grace, it is not only possible for us to please God, it is our personal responsibility to live by His moral and ethical laws. We should never take this responsibility lightly, for many Scriptures give us assurance that God will acknowledge and reward his redeemed people who sincerely seek to live by His laws.

The righteous deeds of parents are beneficial to their children and sinful deeds will be harmful to their children. We cannot blame others for our sin; neither can we take credit for the righteousness of others, and for those who sin and do not repent, the penalty is eternal separation from God.

God is never vindictive or anxious to punish people; He is patient and long-suffering.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God’s justice demands punishment for sins, but He longs for sinners to repent and turn away from their rebellion so He can forgive them. God desires eternal life for all of humanity, not spiritual death.

The widespread attempts to escape personal responsibility have weakened the moral fabric of our society and we are paying dearly for it through a rapid increase in crime and social unrest.

A bad person can become good, and a good person can become bad. Our character and actions reflect the condition of our heart. If a good person becomes bad, his past goodness will not even be mentioned in God’s court of justice. We need to be good and stay good.

Even when we have been redeemed and cleansed by the blood of Christ, even when we have the righteousness which is of God by “faith,” we must not be complacent and self-satisfied. We need to be on guard against the sin which so easily besets us. We need to press on steadfastly to victory in the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1-2

1…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Remember the Pharisee who reveled in his own goodness? It was not he who was justified, but a confessed sinner who cried for mercy.

Luke 18:9-14 (Jesus speaking, verses 10-14)

9And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

There may be times when even Christians think that a person has rebelled against God, and becomes meaner and meaner and that there is no hope for him. Sin has destroyed that life and there remains only a hollow shell of a person, but when that life is turned over to God, He takes what no one else can see and begins to create something remarkable out of it. God saves that person and a beautiful life results. Where sin and despair had been, God puts in its place a new heart and a new spirit, giving them beauty for ashes.

Our lesson, “Personal Accountability before God,” is drawn from an Old Testament prophet, but it is confirmed in Christian teaching as in

Romans 14:12

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Matthew 12:36 (Jesus speaking)
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

Every careless word we say enters into the account!

Matthew 12:37 (Jesus speaking)
For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

There is no escape; the living and the dead alike will face judgment.

1 Peter 4:5
Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.

Long ago centuries before Ezekiel spoke, before Israel entered the land of promise, Moses put a challenge before his people.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and they seed may live: 20That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

The challenge still stands!

When an individual receives inwardly a new will, attitude, and way of thinking devoted to living for God, his outward life will also be changed to conform with God’s will. Conversion is always an individual, personal experience in relationship to God.

Since God has made every provision for our salvation, He still inquires of sinners, as He did of Israel,

“Why will you die?”

Ezekiel 18:31-32 (The LORD speaking)
31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

He still pleads with sinners, as He did with Israel, Verse 32, “Turn yourselves, and live!”

Ezekiel‘s ministry was twofold: to remind the exiles of their sins and to encourage them concerning God’s future blessings.

Ezekiel may be compared with other Old Testament books as follows:

1. Isaiah speaks of God’s salvation.

2. Jeremiah speaks of God’s judgment.

3. Daniel speaks of God’s kingdom.

4. Ezekiel speaks of God’s glory.

Are we an E X A M P L E?

Xcited about the Lord
Always imitating Jesus
Meaning to “glorify God”
Pointing to God
Lover of the Lord


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