In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel teaches that every man (and woman) has the freedom to choose, good or evil and there will be consequences of these personal choices. Sin is not an unfortunate outcome that people innocently fall into, of no fault of their own. Without redemption, we would each bear the burden of our own sin. This conviction comes into sharp relief with God's indictment in Ezekiel 18: 2
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
The figure of speech God refers to here was apparently common enough that Jeremiah quotes it as well (in Jer. 31:30). Implied in this phrase it is the attitude that God finds abhorrent:
'This suffering we find ourselves in is not deserved and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. O woe is me!'
Swallowed up in self pity, Israel throws it's hands up and effectively says: 'This isn't fair! I'm not the one that caused this, but here I am suffering for it!” My five year old is at this stage of his moral development. No matter what I have found him doing, when I confront him he blurts out, “But Devin (his older brother) did ________.” Julie and I continue to work with him to learn this lesson. Your choices have consequences for you!
There is a extent to which sin is cumulative and the consequences will come after. Ravi Zacharias said in a sermon entitled Mind Games in a World of Images that the difference between legitimate pleasures and illegitimate ones is that with legitimate pleasures you pay for up front and illegitimate ones you pay for later. In Exod. 20: 5-6 we read: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me but showing lovingkindess to thousands to those who love me and keep My commandments.”
Jesus likewise lays responsibility for all the murders from Genesis to 2 Chronicles (the beginning and the end of the Hebrew Bible) at the feet of the generation that lived in the time of Jesus in Matt. 23: 35-36.
This may seem unfair and seems to suggest that there is no good in living a righteous life, just make sure you're not around when it's time to pay for it. God's patience can be misunderstood sometimes but he truly wants his people; then and now; to return to him. Peter says, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9) From God's perspective, in time, sin always has it's consequences.
In Ezekiel 18: 25 we read that Israel accuses God of being unfair! It is God who is just!, he responds and calls Israel to repent. God doesn't enjoy punishing the wicked (18: 23, 32; 33: 11) but delights in the repentance and return of His people.
A commonly used image in Ezekiel is the idea of a new heart. The heart of Israel is characterized as one of stone. A heart refusing to admit that it is even wrong. Again and again (11: 19; 18: 31; 36: 26; 37:23) Ezekiel says “Cast away from you all your transgressions wihich you have committed, and make your selves a new heart and a new spirit” (18: 31). The choice is theirs to make (33: 11, 43: 19). Ezekiel is saying to the exiles: God isn't doing this to you! You did it to yourselves!
Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
Ezekiel 18: 19-20
We are held accountable for our own sin, not the sin of others; and let's face it, haven't we all sinned enough. I have enough trouble coming my way without having other people's sin to deal with. The notion of “Original Sin” seems to contradict this passage. How can I be held accountable for Adam's sin if God himself teaches here that “…the son will not share the guilt of the father.”
Without our high priest Jesus Christ standing in the 'new tabernacle' making atonement for us (Heb. 9: 24) we would be left with these sins and they would be enough to have us destroyed.
Praise be to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who in His infinite wisdom knew the depth of our debt and paid a ransom rich enough to set us free! Amen.