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Explaining Ezekiel 18:21

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

I’ve often seen Christian missionaries who in trying to defend Paul’s doctrine of salvation in Christianity, use the following verse:

“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.” – Ezekiel 18:21.

What they mean to say by quoting this verse is the following:

  1. No one person can fulfill all the laws of God – it’s impossible. This however is a logical dilemma, why would God command us to do the impossible? It’s also quite possible, as Paul himself did claim to obey all the laws, and so were Zechariah and Elizabeth.
  2. We all die because we sin.

What does it mean by they will not ‘die’? Clearly, this is the main point of their argument. In Christ you will not die, for you will attain eternal righteousness by his grace. To the contrary, the verse isn’t stating that one would actually die due to their sins, rather the verse’s meaning of ‘dying’, is explained not more than 10 verses after:

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? – Ezekiel 18:31.

It’s a spiritual death that Ezekiel is referring to here. It does not mean that God has a new plan of salvation in mind, nor does it mean that humans cannot follow God’s law or that God will not forgive us for sinning. Clearly, isolating the verse has its benefits for many missionaries, but while they ignore its immediate context, we will always seek to highlight it as much as is possible.

wa Allaahu ‘Alam.