Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 36:22-32
In our earnest desire to emphasize that biblical repentance involves more than being sorry for our sins, that it involves a radical change of mind toward sin, we have overlooked some elements of true repentance that are vital and that are stressed in various parts of Scripture. In Ezekiel 36:31, repeated from Ezekiel 6:9, we are introduced to the element of self-loathing, an element that I am sure some contemporary Christians will find objectionable and old-fashioned. Sadly, we are living at a time when "self" is to be praised, pampered and promoted.
Yet here the Lord who searches the heart declares that when God’s people who have sinned against Him get right with Him they see themselves in a new and terrible light. They see sin as self-coronation, and have a deeper sense of the essence and enormity of their sin. That is why the Lord declares that when in grace He has restored His people, "then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations."
That is the subject of this message: the duty of self-loathing when we bow in repentance before a holy God. But just how do we come to the place of self-loathing when we repent of our sinful cravings and choices? I believe that in the extended passage, Ezekiel 36:22-32, God shows us how in three ways.
First, we come to loathe ourselves when the guilt we have brought upon ourselves is registered in our conscience.
It is important to understand that the Lord states that "you will loathe yourselves in your own sight; for your iniquities and your abominations." He does not state, "You will loathe your iniquities and abominations," although that aspect is never to be neglected by us in the matter of repentance. Self-loathing involves coming to the place where we say honestly to God, "I have sinned. I bear the responsibility of grieving the Lord. I am guilty before Him." It is then that, pierced by the arrow of the Spirit’s conviction, we say: "Oh, how could I have done that evil deed?" Or, "How could I have ever said those cruel words?" Or again, "How could I have ever entertained those polluted thoughts?"
Now how do we measure our guilt? Again, our passage helps us to identify the criteria by which we measure the enormity of our condition when we have sinned against the Lord.
The Greatness of God
First, we measure our guilt by the greatness of the One we have offended and grieved. Simply put, we have grieved God Himself. In this chapter He speaks of His great name (v. 23), He speaks of acting on behalf of His holy name’s sake (v. 22), He refers to His statutes and judgments (v. 27), He is the God of Israel, the God of His chosen people. He is the One who has been deeply hurt because of the unfaithfulness of His people. He is their Lord, Lover and Lawgiver.
When we read and study David’s great psalm of confession and repentance, we are not surprised when he confesses to the Lord, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight" (Psa. 51:4). Here David engages in self-condemnation. He makes no excuses for his sin. He loathes himself before the Lord his God.
You see it again in Isaiah 6 where Isaiah the prophet sees Jehovah, King of heaven and earth, seated on His glorious throne, worshipped constantly by the seraphim in His absolute holiness. Convicted by the majesty and holiness of the Lord, Isaiah immediately confesses, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah is measuring his guilt by the might and majesty of the One who sits on the throne and governs the universe.
All this points us to Calvary for when we see the Lord Jesus, "reigning on the tree," as it has been put, we are constrained to cry out, "Woe is me, for I too am undone." In the light of the Cross we loathe ourselves for our sin that nailed Him to the tree. That is why we need to say often with the hymn writer:
Give me a sight, O Savior,
Of Thy wondrous love to me,
Of the love that brought Thee
Down to earth to die on Calvary;
Oh, make me understand it,
Help me to take it in,
What it meant to Thee, the Holy One,
To take away my sin.
Repeat that verse prayerfully and part of your response will be a self-loathing that your sin nailed Him to the Cross.
Sin Treated Lightly
There is another way of measuring our guilt, and that is by considering the lack of seriousness we showed when we sinned against the High and Holy One. When we look back at the record we see where we often willfully sinned against God, indeed, where we planned to disobey Him, where we made provision for the flesh and fell when we were tempted. That ought to create within each one of us a distinct and deep sense of self-loathing that we could ever treat sin so lightly.
That is the very issue that God brought before His people in Ezekiel 8:17. God is speaking to His servant Ezekiel during that terrible tour of the Temple at Jerusalem. At one point God says to Ezekiel: "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here?" There is the question, Is sinning against God a trivial thing to us or a tragic thing? When it is seen as tragic there is a deepening sense of self-loathing on our part. At one point in one of his books, W. W. Wiersbe comments: "One of the evidences of the Spirit’s presence with us is a growing sensitivity to sin."
God’s Name Profaned
Chapter 36 yields one more way in which we can measure the guilt of our sinfulness and that is the gravity of the sin of God’s people in the eyes of the world. The Lord makes much of this in this section of Ezekiel. For example, in verse 20, "When they [the refugees from Judah] came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name – when they [that is, the Gentiles] said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’" In verse 21, "But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went." And again in verse 22, "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went." And finally in verse 23, "‘And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,’ says the Lord God, ‘when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.’"
Without giving us the details, here we are told that four times the sin of God’s people, resulting in their exile among the nations, had profaned God’s holy name. In the ancient world when a nation was defeated by another nation, it was concluded that the god of the defeated nation was unable to protect his people. The Gentiles were pointing at the Jewish refugees in their lands and saying in a spirit of triumphalism, "Look, these are the people who claimed Jehovah as their all-powerful God, and look at them now, forced out of their country."
We as God’s people may not be facing exile, but God’s holy name has been profaned in various ways in our society till the unsaved around us laugh at us and our claims. The sins and scandals of Christian leaders and organizations cast a shadow over the Christian church with the result that non-Christian people look at us and say, "These people claim to be Christians, followers of Christ, but they are no better than we are. What kind of god do they serve? They can’t tell us how to live."
But there is a second way in which this matter of self-loathing is cultivated in us. We come to loathe ourselves when the grief we have caused God is recognized by us.
We need to ask ourselves the question: "Do we recognize this adequately when we sin against Him in thought, word or deed?" In Ezekiel 6:9 God reveals how He felt when His people in Jerusalem were unfaithful to Him. "Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations."
Can you imagine it? God’s heart hurt because of His people’s sin? Here it is translated, "I was crushed," like the heart of a husband or wife who has discovered their partner has cruelly committed adultery. Another translation puts it this way: "I was broken" – heart-broken because of the treachery and transgression of My people.
Why Sin Grieves God
Now what is it about our sin that grieves our God and breaks His heart? Let us explore that basic question.
First, we accuse ingratitude. Ingratitude grieves a generous God. When we receive a gift from a loved one or friend, a gift that represents both love and sacrifice, and we do not respond with warm words of gratitude and appreciation, do we not cause great hurt to the giver? In the same way we hurt the God who constantly gives us good gifts for us to enjoy. Indeed, ingratitude was the primal sin, for in Romans 1:21 the Apostle Paul states that although mankind knew God, they were unthankful. And when we become acutely aware of our ingratitude, we loathe ourselves for our failure to thank the God who gives so liberally to us.
But closely connected to ingratitude is indifference. God is hurt when we pay no attention to what He is saying to us. Those of us who have raised children know what it means to have to ask our children, "How many times do I have to tell you that?" Our child hears but is indifferent to what we say. Now in all the prophets we find God speaking to His people but they were not listening. They became deaf to His commands and warnings. In Amos 4 we hear God affirming that He had spoken to His people five times in judgment, but they had not responded or repented. God says, "Yet you have not returned to Me." How God’s heart is hurt when there is no response to His pleading voice or His persuasive actions. And when it dawns on us that we have shut our ears to all His gracious overtures, we then see how we have grieved Him and in turn we loathe ourselves for our indifference.
But ultimately it is our infidelity that hurts our God. In Israel’s case there was a wedding at Mount Sinai. There Israel became Jehovah’s bride. The Lord and His people entered into a marriage covenant. And this symbolism is maintained all through the Old Testament. The prophets see Israel as having been called to be faithful to their marriage vows at Mount Sinai.
That is why their flagrant and frequent unfaithfulness is condemned by the prophets. I have already quoted from Ezekiel 6. Here it is again: "I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations."
God is grieved by any unfaithfulness to Him. We must love Him solely and supremely. James has a very serious word about this: "...Adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4).
William Cowper leads us in prayer when he writes:
"The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee."
We have seen that a recognition of our guilt in sinning against a holy God should lead to a sense of self-loathing coupled with a realization of the grief we have brought to God’s heart.
But this passage brings before us yet a third way in which we come to loathe ourselves. We do so when the grace we have received from God is gratefully remembered and recalled by us.
In the verses preceding our text (Ezekiel 36:31), God lists the blessings He plans to bestow upon His people when restored to a right relationship with Him. Look for a moment at God’s gracious liberality:
In verses 24 and 28 there is restoration.
In verse 25 there is purification.
In verses 26 and 27 there is regeneration.
In verse 27 there is sanctification.
In verses 29 and 30 there is provision.
It is right after this wonderful list that God says, "Then" – at the time when all these blessings are yours and you are enjoying them, "then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations." It is the sheer abundance of what God gives that creates this deep sense of self-reproach and self-condemnation. We feel like Job and confess with him, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5).
The Nature of God’s Blessings
Now I want you to think about these blessings.
First, the necessity of these blessings.
1. Why restoration to their homeland? Because they were living in exile.
2. Why purification? Because in God’s sight they were foul and filthy.
3. Why regeneration? Because they were spiritually dead.
4. Why sanctification? Because they were not walking in ways that pleased God.
5. Why divine provision? Because in exile they faced famine.
Each blessing that God guarantees meets a need of His people.
Consider now the adequacy of God’s gifts. Brought back from exile and brought near to God, these people needed not only material blessings but spiritual blessings, and God pledges all that they need to have fellowship with Him and be fruitful for Him. In the same way the New Testament announces that God’s "power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (2 Pet. 1:3). And in Romans 8 Paul argues this way: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (v. 32). In God’s household we are princes and not paupers.
Next, I want you to note the agency of these blessings. Like bookends God stresses this in Ezekiel 36 both in verse 22 and in verse 32. Here is what He says, "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake" (v. 22). And again, "‘Not for your sake do I do this,’ says the Lord God, ‘let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel’" (v. 32).
In these affirmations God wants His people to be very clear about this: He is their benefactor. He is the one loading them with blessings. They did not deserve any of these blessings, but for His holy name’s sake, He lavished them on His people. And it is when we accept this revelation that He is the Agent of all our blessings that we say with the song writer:
"Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee:
Prone to wander – Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart – Oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above."
And, oh, be sure to grasp it – there is the certainty of these blessings. Each blessing represents a divine promise. What is it that Peter says about the divine promises? We have been given "exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these [we] may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world..." (2 Pet. 1:4).
Humility Before the Lord
Do you remember the story in Luke 5 of Peter the fisherman? Out on the depths of the Sea of Galilee he has such a huge catch of fish that two fishing boats could not contain the load. Jesus was with Peter in his boat and when Peter recognized whose power had given him such a miraculous catch, he fell down at Jesus’ knees and cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (v. 8). That was Peter’s moment for loathing himself.
Peter saw the majesty of Jesus and his own misery. He saw his own weakness and Jesus’ power. He saw his own failure – he had fished all night and caught nothing; now his and his partners’ boats were sinking under the weight of the fish. Now he is in the presence of the Lord of the lake and the fish. And all of this brought him to the end of himself.
Now I am not by any means suggesting that self-loathing as presented in the Scriptures should be the dominant spiritual disposition or discipline of the Christian. But I am claiming that there are moments in the Christian life when we come in repentance before God to confess our sins of commission and our sins of omission that this will include an appropriate element of self-loathing that will humble us before God with the promise of James 4:10 that if we humble ourselves in the sight of God, He will in turn lift us up. Or as Peter puts it, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Pet. 5:6).
Used by permission. Ted Rendall is Chancellor Emeritus of Prairie Bible Institute and a professor at the Stephen Olford Center.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon