Friday, December 5, 2014

Exercises in Right Division (Ezekiel 3:20)

Statement One:  Ezekiel 3:20 says, "Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered."  This verse is commonly interpreted to mean that an eternally saved man to lose his salvation through sinning.

Statement Two: The Lord Jesus Christ taught, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Here the Lord is teaching that he gives a gift to a people he refers to as his "sheep" and that this gift is something called "eternal life" which involves a promise that they "shall never perish."  This statement is often used to support the notion that it is impossible for someone who once possessed eternal salvation to ever fall from grace.

The Problem: If Ezekiel 3:20 is teaching that a saved man can lose his salvation, and John 10:27-28 teaches that a man cannot lose his salvation, don't we have a bald logical contradiction in the word of God?  

The Resolution: To whom are the words of Ezekiel 3:20 spoken?  A closer look at the context of that passage is revealing. 
  • "speak unto the house of Israel." (v1)
  • "get the unto the house of Israel and speak with my words unto them." (v4)
  • "thou art sent... to the house of Israel." (v5)
  • and so on, and so on... (v7,8,9,11,15,17,etc.)
The words are spoken to "the house of Israel" who are none other than the Lord's chosen people under the Old Covenant. They are typical of the Lord's chosen people under the New Covenant - the elect. It follows that this passage is teaching the consequence of rebellion in this lifetime for God's people who persist in disobedience and refuse to heed the admonitions of the word of God. To assert that this text has reference to someone losing their eternal salvation runs into numerous problems as it relates to the Lord's promises in John 10:27-28. 

Consider the following:
  • Is the “righteous man” of v20 one who is in possession of eternal life? The apostle John wrote, "let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous." (I John 3:7) Moreover, the apostle Peter taught, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." Clearly a righteous man is one who is accepted of God and in possession of eternal life else he would be incapable of doing righteous deeds (Romans 3:10-18).
  • What then is the source of this man’s righteousness? Does it stem from his love for God or from God’s love for him? Clearly its source is found in God’s love for him (I John 4:19) because no man, in his inherent, natural state of unregeneracy, is capable of producing righteousness or favor with God (Romans 3:10-18, 8:7, Hebrews 11:6). Moreover, since there is none good but God (Luke 18:19) it is likewise evident that God himself is the source of that man’s righteousness.
  • It follows that the “righteous man” of Ezekiel 3:20 is both in possession of eternal life, and that this righteous standing is a free gift from God that is founded upon God’s love for him, not upon his love for God.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ said of such men, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.” (John 10:28)  The common interpretation insists that the Lord meant, “I give unto them eternal life, and some shall perish none-the-less.”
  • Paul said of such beloved men, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Romans 8:33)  The common interpretation insists, “The sin of man lays a guilty charge upon the elect, that even the justification of God himself cannot overcome.”
  • Paul said of such beloved men, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34)  The common interpretation insists, “An act of sin committed by any man is sufficient to overthrow the saving efficacy of the death of Christ on their behalf, irrespective of Christ’s intercession for them at the right hand of God.”
  • Paul asked regarding such beloved men, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)  The common interpretation answers, “That’s easy, Paul.  An act of sin on our part immediately separates us from the love of Christ.”
  • Paul said of such beloved men, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:37)  The common interpretation insists, “The love of Christ is no conquering force, given that it is insufficient to overcome the common, sinful inclination of the mutable creature.”
  • Paul said of such beloved men, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) The common interpretation insists, “I am persuaded that, at a minimum, life can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, given that a singular act of sin is sufficient to defeat the saving efficacy of one who claimed to have put our sins away.”
For these reasons the common interpretation that Ezekiel 3:20 is teaching that a man can lose his eternal salvation is incorrect, illogical, and unstable. It is an example of “plain meaningism” rather than right division.

The Theological Implications: Apart from examining the context and audience addressed in Ezekiel chapter 3 (line upon line), and reconciling those statements with precepts established elsewhere in the word of God (precept upon precept), God's people will be inclined to the false conclusion that when Jesus Christ says that he "gives eternal life unto his sheep and they shall never perish," that what he actually meant was that he "gives a chance at eternal life unto his sheep, yet some of them shall perish none-the-less as goats."  The word of God must be rightly divided to be properly understood.  


  1. Really good article. John 10:27-29 was one of the primary texts the Lord used to show me the truth over 30 years ago. It was in the face what the Southern Baptist taught concerning the "wooing of the Spirit" or prevenient grace. If we cannot be removed from the hands of the Son and the Father, then it seemed to me it was contrary to the character of God as the Holy Spirit to impart grace and faith temporarily to a person. That led me to question many other doctrines and applications of text of that group, and me finally leaving them. I was so thrilled to find a people, the Primitive Baptists, who take rightly dividing the word of God seriously and consistently.

  2. WDA,

    Thanks for taking the time to interact with my blog and for leaving a thoughtful contribution. I believe that many of the errors, such as the one you encountered among our brothers and sisters in Christ in the SBC, are avoided by having a proper understanding of the everlasting covenant arrangement whereby God saves his people from their sins. Those who understand this truth will not be soon removed from it. The common religion of Christianity with its doctrine of eternal salvation based entirely on the decision of the mutable creature is no substitute for the bible’s teaching that all our salvation is the result of an everlasting covenant that is ordered in all things and sure (II Samuel 23:5).

    May we find the grace to share this truth with all who are willing to listen and endeavor to live in accordance with the thanksgiving and humility that attends a right understanding of so great a salvation as this.

    God bless,