The Dynamics of Personal Responsibility and Repentance
Read Ezekiel 3:17-22: It was common for a city (especially a fortified one that was at war) to appoint someone to be a “watchman”. This person’s job was to watch for the approaching enemy and warn the people, usually by blowing a trumpet. The people who were outside the walls could respond by coming inside where they would be protected. It also allowed the army to prepare to engage the enemy.
- Jehovah had appointed Ezekiel, the prophet, as a spiritual watchman over Israel. God’s word, given to Ezekiel, was a warning of coming judgment. The prophet was under severe obligation to let the people know what was coming. Ezek 5:7-9 – Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Because you have multiplied disobedience more than the nations that are all around you, have not walked in My statutes nor kept My judgments, nor even done according to the judgments of the nations that are all around you’ — 8 therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I, even I, am against you and will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. 9 And I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again, because of all your abominations. That is a strong message! But the prophet was under obligation to speak it. God even told Ezekiel ahead of time that many would not listen. Ezek 3:7-9 – But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. 8 Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. 9 Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” What a difficult job. What an enormous responsibility!
- But Ezekiel’s position and work provide some real applicable lessons for us today. Although we are not prophets specifically appointed, as those who are aware of God’s coming judgment we are responsible to be watchmen.
I. Read Ezek. 33:1-9. We might not expect to find a notable doctrinal chapter in the midst of Ezekiel. But chapter 33 certainly qualifies. In God’s instructions to Ezekiel we find some fundamental principles of salvation and judgment. We must see ourselves in these verses.
A. The Foundation of Personal Responsibility: We often say that we should be givers and not takers. But one thing that nearly all of us need to take more of is.. responsibility. So many today are prone to blame others for their problems and faults.
- Whose fault is it? When something disagreeable happens or first chore is to place blame on someone, usually someone else.
- We have been culturally taught to be socially irresponsible through the emergence of a welfare state, entitlements and social programs. We have also been taught moral irresponsibility through popular Calvinist teaching, and Freudian psychology. “It’s Adam’s fault, it’s my parent’s fault, it’s society’s fault, but never mine.”
1. Each person is individually responsible toward God. Everything that God reveals to Ezekiel, and to us as well, is based upon the assumed moral responsibility of each individual. You and I are not sinners because of what Adam did. We are sinners because we have personally committed sin. Ezekiel himself revealed “the soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” ( 18:20)
B. The Dynamics of Personal Accountability. The words of God here are not difficult to understand.
1. The accountability of those who are in danger: (Israel): (3-5) When danger threatens and the watchman warns about it (“blows the trumpet” – vs. 3), if the individual (“whoever” – vs. 3) does not heed the warning, he is responsible for his own destruction (“upon his own head” – vs. 3 ; “upon himself” – vs. 4) If he listens and heeds the warning he saves his own life ( vs. 5).
a. When we consider God’s instructions in Ezek. 3, He includes both the wicked man (v. 18 – when I say to the wicked man..) and the righteous man (v. 20-21). The principle is the same. If he fails to listen to what God says (warnings) he has no one to blame but himself. Even his past righteousness does not change his accountability. He shall die in his sin. It is easy for us to call on the wicked man to listen to God, but he is warning us as well.
b. Jesus’ use of the analogy of a man who builds his house on the sand points to the same dynamic. Matthew 7:26-27 – 26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Those who only hear what God says, but do nothing about it are destined for destruction. This man ignored the obvious (sand is not a secure foundation for a house). He is responsible.
c. How many times did God warn Israel of the danger of their choices? Jesus lamented over Jerusalem and said, Matt 23:37-39 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
d. A person is not saved from judgment by just listening to the warnings. (person who ignores a hurricane warning -“if you are still watching me, you have waited too late to leave”)
2. The Accountability of the Watchman (prophet) (v. 6-9) If the danger threatens and the watchman neglects to warn the people (blow the trumpet), they will be “taken away in their iniquity” – (v. 6); But “his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand”. The watchman is responsible for the death of the one who should have been warned. He is accountable.
a. It is important to notice that the failure of the watchman does not affect the accountability of the wicked person, or stop the judgment. The wicked man still “dies in his iniquity” (v. 8); but the watchman is also held accountable for his failure. One commentator summed it up this way: “All prophets (and also New Testament teachers) stand in double jeopardy, because they are responsible both to God and to man.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)
- James 3:1- My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James is not attempting to discourage teaching, but clearly proclaims that those who step up to teach must recognize a “stricter judgment”. The word “judgment” here is krima (Kree mah) which indicates a decision for or against a crime, or sentence. Those who take on the job of teaching are held to a higher expectation and receive a stricter sentence. The reason is obvious. The pretence of knowledge adds to the teacher’s responsibility and condemnation.
C. The Serious Responsibility of the Watchman: It is legitimate to apply these principles to ourselves, as those who have been given the word of God. Are you in a position to warn others about God’s coming judgment? We are called to be watchmen standing on the wall and warning others. Warning about the punishment of sin is a vital part of preaching the gospel. It is only “good news” when it is presented in the context of sure and coming judgment.
- Acts 20:29-31 – For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
- 1 Thess 5:14 – 4 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
1. God calls us to a serious business. The warning of the watchman is God’s warning. Ezek. 33:7 – Therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. God is not unjust in punishing the wicked. But if we fail in our responsibility to give them God’s warning about the consequence of their sin, we make God appear as unjust. Our words are His warning.
a. God has given us information that others before us did not have. We are responsible for warning others. Col 1:26-29 – 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
b. If we know, we need to act like we know: Turn to 1 Thess 5:2-11 – For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. 11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
c. Not only are the souls of the lost at stake, but ours as well. Ezek 33:9 – Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
- In 1 Tim 4 Paul commanded Timothy to use what God had given him (the gift that is in you – vs. 14) and to take heed to himself and the doctrine (teaching) that he had heard from Paul. He told him that if he did this he could save himself and those who heard him. It would seem to imply that if he neglected this, they both could be lost.
Conclusion: What would you think of your doctor if he knew you were dying of a curable disease, but he neglected to tell you? What of your neighbor who saw your house was on fire, but walked on by? Of the mechanic who recognized that your brakes were failing but decided not to bother you with a warning? Certainly we can see our culpability. We are accountable as watchman on the wall. Hear the warning of the Lord:
- Luke 13:3 – “Except you repent you will all likewise perish”
- Matt 10:32-33 – Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
- Mark 16:15-16 – 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
- 2 Thess 1:7-10 – and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe,…
If you are not a Christian, you are in grave danger. Please listen to the warning of God.
Tonight: The relationship between personal responsibility and repentance.