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Ezekiel 18:21-22 (NASB)

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statues and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

What does it mean that the transgressions he committed will not be remembered against him? Does the “die” and “live” in this chapter refer to the physical or spiritual?

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    "remembered" as in "used against him judicially". All in Adam (the flesh) are spiritually dead and will also physically die and all in Christ (the spirit) will be raised in both. The dead spiritually will ultimately die physically. The spiritually dead who are born again spiritually will die physically but live again physically. Sep 22 '20 at 22:05
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Background
About Chapter 18, Marvin A. Sweeney makes this comment:

The prophet disputes the view that Israel's punishment is due to the sins of past generations. Instead, each individual is responsible for his or hers own actions. Contrast the Decalogue (Exodus 20.5; Deuteronomy 5.9), which indicates that God visits "the guilt of the parents upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me" (cf. Exodus 34.7).1

It must be remembered that Ezekiel is speaking to those who are in exile. They were "scattered" just as God said would happen if the people engaged in worshipping idols (cf. Deuteronomy 4:27, 28:64) and yet regardless of anything any previous generations did, only the current generation can go into exile. In other words, the reason they were taken into exile is their individual sin and not the sin of either their ancestors or the nation. One way to conceptualize this aspect of Ezekiel's message is to see those who were exiled first as a type of remnant. That is, they are a "remnant example" for the rest of the nation.

Just as God later will leave a small number in Israel to prepare for future salvation, He first took a small number into exile to prepare for future punishment. The difference being the ability of those who were spared the initial exile could repent and avoid exile (cf. Ezekiel 18:32).

Ezekiel speaking to the exiles begins:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the LORD God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 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) [ESV]

Those whom Ezekiel addressed have already been exiled as prescribed in Deuteronomy. They will not use the saying in Israel (because they have been exiled). Ezekiel is not contravening or changing the Law of Moses, he is explaining what applies next for those who are in exile.

Speaking of this introduction Sweeney continues (emphasis added):

The opposing view is quoted as a proverb, "Parents eat sour grapes and their children's teeth are blunted." Jeremiah takes up the proverb to argue for individual moral responsibility in the future (see Jeremiah 31.29-30), but for Ezekiel this principle of individual responsibility is already currently operative. It allows the individuals in exile to free themselves from guilt that is ultimately responsible for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.2

The reason this principle is already operative is Ezekiel is speaking to those who have already been exiled. They are not only a "remnant example" of future punishment; they are also a "remnant example" of future individual responsibility for their actions (cf. Ezekiel 18:30).

Individual Responsibility
The principle of individual responsibility requires a reciprocal principle of individual repentance:

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the LORD God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

About this passage Sweeney says:

A new principle enters the debate. Ezekiel contends that a wicked person who repents shall be saved, but a righteous person who sins shall be condemned. Even a person's own past actions do not determine his fate, if he changes his course of action. This concluding section of the chapter in a sense takes the previous part metaphorically, understanding the father and children as the actions of single individuals at different times of their lives.3

First of all there is a real-time practical consequence of what is said. If those who were not exiled (those still in Israel) repent, they will be saved and spared physical death. Second, the principle applies to those in exile (both now and in the future) and speaks to the "spiritual" consequences for both those in exile and in Israel:

Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 18:31)

Of course, the House of Israel cannot make for themselves a new heart and new spirit. Nor does Ezekiel remove the requirement to follow the Law:

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. (Ezekiel 18)

Death continues to be the consequence for breaking the Law after a person repents. In other words, if a person turns away from their sins, their past transgressions will not be remembered, but they will of course not keep all of the statutes (cf. John 7:19, Romans 3:23).

Nevertheless, the work of salvation will continue to employ the principle of the remnant, eventually making the final "reduction" to just one person: Jesus Christ. The one sinless person who keeps the entire Law and yet is put to death despite the Law. This unlawful death serves as the beginning of the New Covenant in which the principle of individual responsibility and repentance still apply but includes the new heart and new Spirit (i.e. rebirth) promised:

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the LORD God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the LORD God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36)


  1. Marvin A. Sweeney, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1073
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., p. 1074
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  • Very helpful answer - thank you! The theme of the "remnant" is interesting and not something I had previously related to this passage, but it makes a lot of sense as background.
    – Gremosa
    Feb 19 at 21:16
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Ezekiel 18:21-22 (NASB)

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statues and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

Does the “die” and “live” in this chapter refer to the physical or spiritual?

To both and ultimately spiritual eternal life.

God commanded Ezekiel as he commanded Moses to demonstrate his righteous laws could only be truly satisfied in Christ. In fact, Ezekiel 18:21-22 is fulfilled in Christ. That's how I align it with the NT view that we can’t earn righteousness and are never truly righteous. This is the lesson for the rich young ruler in Luke 18

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ”

21“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

The rich young ruler failed. Man will fail. Only God is possible.

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"What does it mean that the transgressions he committed will not be remembered against him?"

As you may know, The Israelites observed a very special and solemn day known as Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement. On this particular set-apart day, while the Israelites fasted and prayed, The High Priest at the time had to make an atonement for the entire nation, The Sanctuary, The Altar, and the Tent of Meeting. The word Atonement in Hebrew is כָּפַר/Kaphar meaning to cover, propitiate, pacify, and appease. It does not mean that whatever transgression/sin/offense committed would be forgotten but that the offender/perpetrator would not be held to it anymore. Everything we do is written down (Book of Remembrance) Using the parable of the Prodigal Son as an example Luke 15:11-32, the son was forgiven (and longer held to losing his way) but the act he committed was not forgotten (still on record).
Looking at verses 5-9 in Ezekiel 18 highlights how it's just not about receiving the covering/atonement but also about doing good actions (sincerely) to come back to The Creator (James 5:20).

"Does the “die” and “live” in this chapter refer to the physical or spiritual?" If we read Ezekiel 37:1-14 we see how The House of Yisrael eventually died spiritually and will be spiritually restored. We also see in Ezekiel 5 Ezekiel 9 that the death was physical as well. To answer bluntly it was/would be both a spiritual and physical death.

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    @Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Appreciate the assistance with pertaining to the editing.
    – יהודה
    Feb 19 at 10:07
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The death here relates to physical death. Ezekiel is expounding on the Old covenant. The penalty for ‘sin’ [breaking the commandments] is/was death, and under this covenant, unless ‘covered’, that could be ‘carried out’.

The Law was for the ‘flesh’, not the spirit. Man’s ‘spirit’ was ‘dead’ (consequence of Adam).

ROMANS 8:3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

All ‘sin’ you ‘commit’ (do) is ‘in the flesh’, that is, you ‘use’ your [physical] body to ‘do’ it. And it is this ‘sin’ that needed to be ‘paid for’ and so was condemned under the Mosaic Law, hence the ‘penalty’ was physical death - usually by stoning.

Now, as for this “the transgressions he committed will not be remembered against him?” ... under that ‘old covenant’, there were requirements that needed to be ‘meet’ in order for sin not to be judged. Including the sacrificial system, and/or the intervention of a mediator such as a priest. These essentially ‘covered’ the sins so they could not be ‘seen’.

The problem with the Law was that it required you to use ‘the flesh’ to justify you (your spirit), which is impossible. And ‘Old Testament’ man could only live ‘in the flesh’ because his spirit was dead (separated from God). He could only ‘live’ in his flesh, whereas after the cross, man could start to learn to live ‘in the spirit’ - that well known ‘battle’, flesh vs spirit that Paul talks about in Romans 9.

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Of the two options of physical vs spiritual death, physical death cannot be intended because all, including the righteous must die and await the resurrection.

Eccl 2:16 - Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Therefore, Eze 18 is discussing spiritual life and death - the FINAL destiny of the people. Eze 18 is alluding to the joy that will be experienced by the righteous that is described by Isa 65:17 -

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

In fact, Eze 18 teaches an important truth about our lives here in earth - it is our final decision that is important, not the works we do but who we know and how we act. The converted man will be forgiven but the righteous man who turns from the Lord will be lost. The whole chapter is summarized by the repeated phrase (V4, 20):

The soul who sins is the one who will die.

This truth is illustrated in several ways:

  • V5-9, 19 - the righteous man will live
  • V10-13, 18 - the unrighteous son (despite the righteous father) will die
  • 14-17 - the righteous grandson, despite the wicked father, will live
  • V21-23, 27 - If a wicked man turns to the Lord, he will live
  • V24, 26 - if a righteous man turn away from the Lord, he will die.

Thus, our standing before God depends on the personal decision of each person - and God respects that decision. The prophet then concludes with a plea to all (V32) -

For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death, declares the Lord GOD. So repent and live!

It is precisely because God respects that final decision that our final destiny is created. God's judgement is not like the Egyptian theology that "weighs" the good and bad deeds of person - the deeds "will not be remembered" (V22) because that how GOD's grace works.

  • Heb 8:12 - For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
  • Heb 10:17 - Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.
  • Isa 43:25 - I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
  • Jer 31:34 - No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
  • Micah 7:19 - He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

John expressed a similar idea in his first epistle:

  • 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
  • 1 John 5:11, 12 - And this is that testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
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The answer to the second question is spiritual. In the Old Testament, some crimes (sins) had the penalty of physical death and I have never seen anything to tell us that true repentance (which must include a change of heart) would exempt a person from that penalty. And in the end, we all die physically. (Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:) In the spiritual, however, God delights in forgiving those who come to Him with a true heart of repentance and give them eternal life.

In reference to the first question, we are told in the Psalms:

Ps 103:10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. (KJV)

We are told clearly that His mercy is for those who “fear” Him. That is, for those who hold God in great reverence, awe, and a positive fear. In Ezekiel 18: 21-22, the wicked man that turns from his sin is just what God is looking for. He's the one that can be forgiven, taught, and led in the way of righteousness.

This is what grace is all about. The forgiveness of a sin that is truly repented of and turned from. This is why God repeatedly pleads with us as in Ezekiel 18:30-32.

Eze 18:30 ¶ Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Let's look at this grace in the New Testament beginning in Romans chapter 5.

Ro 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

First, it is important that we recognize that we are condemned to both physical and spiritual death because we have sinned, not because Adam sinned. It is a result of Adam's sin but we are responsible for our own sin.

Next, we see in verse 21 that sin has reigned unto death but Jesus brought grace that we might gain eternal life. Here's how it works; just as sin has reigned in us unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousnessuntoeternal life … by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Chapter 6 gets into the details.

Ro 6:1 ¶ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Verse 1 poses a rhetorical question: Shall we continue in sin … ? NO WAY! Then comes another interesting question: How shall we that are dead to sin … ? Dead to sin? Not any longer live therein??? Fortunately, the rest of the chapter digs into what that means and how we live that way.

Ro 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.

Now, I realize that many might have trouble with concept of “newness of life”, “henceforth we should not serve sin”, and “he that is dead is freed from sin”. You might be tempted like many others to say, Sure, when you're dead and gone, sin has no hold on you! Remember verse 4 and verse 6 … we are buried with him, our “old man” is crucified, we are a new creation.

Ro 6:11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Remember chapter 5, verse 21? … “even so might grace reign through righteousnessuntoeternal life … by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

2Co 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

Ga 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Ga 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

Ga 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

1Jo 2:6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

I highly recommend reading Romans 6 slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully. Then chapter 7 the same way. When you get to verse 14, stop and read chapter 6 again with chapter 7 verses 1-13. Think about verse 9 and then consider 1 Cor. 13:11. From there go back to Romans 7 verse 14 and read through chapter 8 verse 16. Ezekiel 18 makes much more sense when we see the heart of God to love and forgive those who will heed His call.

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