“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.
“Yet you say, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ Listen to me, O people of Israel. Am I the one not doing what’s right, or is it you? When righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things, they will die for it. Yes, they will die because of their sinful deeds. And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins. Such people will not die. And yet the people of Israel keep saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ O people of Israel, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I.” (Ezekiel 18:23-29)
God is a God of love, but he is also a God of perfect justice. His perfect love causes him to be merciful to those who recognize their sin and turn back to him, but he cannot wink at those who willfully sin. Wicked people die both physically and spiritually. God takes no joy in their deaths; he would prefer that they turn to him and have eternal life.
Ezekiel’s solution to the problem of inherited guilt is for each person to have a changed life. This is God’s work in us and not something we can do for ourselves. The Holy Spirit does it (Psalm 51:10-12). If we renounce our life’s direction of sin and rebellion and turn to God, he will give us a new direction, a new love, and a new power to change. We begin by faith, trusting in God’s power to change our hearts. We then determine to live each day with him in control (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Many times, when we read of the downfall of someone who has committed a crime, we think, He got what he deserved. Good. Seldom is our first response to pray for that person. Here God has a different perspective—that of compassion for those who do wrong things. You can show his compassion by praying for someone today, someone you would normally condemn as “guilty.”