It is surprising how often it happens. A conversation turns to matters of faith and religion, and there is general agreement that it is a good thing to possess.
Then one party in the conversation asks the other, “So, do you go to church?”
“No,” comes the answer, “but I have an uncle who is extremely religious.”
The “uncle” is sometimes a brother, a father, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandparent, or even a cousin. The understanding seems to be that the one family member of faith is evidence enough of a goodness of character. As if, on the last day, when men stand before Christ, to give an account of themselves, so long as they can point to someone they know who did right by God, then they themselves are in the clear.
Sometimes it goes the other way. A family turns out a pretty bad apple, an unsavory rascal who is a blemish on society. The whole family’s reputation suffers and people have a hard time accepting anything good about any relation of the scoundrel in question.
We should be aware, though, that this is not how God looks upon a man. He’s not going to condemn you for what your father or brother did. But neither is He going to forgive you your trespasses simply because your mother was dutiful in her prayers.
During the days of the prophet Ezekiel, the Jews, it appears, were blaming much of their misfortunes on the sins of their forefathers. Ezekiel and Jeremiah both worked to warn the Jews that God was sending judgment upon Jerusalem, in the form of the Babylonians, because of sin. But the people didn’t want to think of themselves as doing anything wrong. Obviously, so they thought, they were good people. Someone else must have been to blame.
They had a proverb for it: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:2)
You should stop using this saying, God told them, for it was not true. Rather, explains the Lord, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
God goes on to explain in some detail, that if a righteous man has a sinful son, the son does not inherit the goodness of the father, nor does the father share in the guilt of the son. Likewise, if a sinful father has a righteous son, the father is still answerable for his own sins, and the son for his righteousness. God even explains that past good behavior cannot make amends for present unrighteousness in the same individual. You can’t be justified in wrongdoing by explaining how you used to do what was right. (cf. Ezekiel 18:5-24)
God’s concluding exhortation to the people of Ezekiel’s day was blunt and to the point: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.”
If God judges you, He will, in all fairness, with perfect justice, judge you only for those things you have done.
And, if God saves you, He will, in all fairness, with perfect justice, save you because of your faith and obedience, not the faith and obedience of anyone else.
The one caveat to this rule is the grace of Jesus Christ. Christ, who had no sin was made to be sin for us; that is, He paid a penalty for our sins, on our behalf, of His own freewill. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) He was the Lamb of God, without blemish, sacrificed because of the transgressions we had committed.
Does this mean that you are free and clear now to behave however you want? No. Jesus calls us to come and partake of His death, burial and resurrection, and then walk in newness of life. (cf. Romans 6:1-5) We are to put on Christ in baptism (cf. Galatians 3:27), and, as the apostle was called to do, “wash away our sins,” (cf. Acts 22:16) through the blood of Jesus Christ (cf Ephesians 1:7). There is no other name, given under heaven by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12).
What this means for each of us though, is that we must each, individually come to Christ in faith, repenting of our sins, and being baptized for the forgiveness of the same, in the name of Christ. We must each, then, individually, be faithful unto death in order to receive the crown of life Christ proffers. (cf. Revelation 2:10). There is no one else who can answer that invitation for you, nor can you enter into life because of the faith of another. The soul who sins is the soul that dies, and the soul that obeys is the soul that is saved.
The church of Christ invites you to make a personal commitment to do the will of the Lord, and we invite you to come and worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.