Read Ezekiel 36:22-32
It is always good to remember that salvation is all of grace and that the salvation of every genuine believer should be to the praise of the glory of that grace. There are any number of texts in the Scripture that highlight God’s grace to sinners both in the Old and New Testaments. Ezekiel 36 is one of those texts and brings us to the heart of Ezekiel’s salvation theology. This passage is a comprehensive enunciation of God’s plan of salvation, and very likely was the Scripture Christ had in mind when He spoke to Nicodemus about the new birth and was amazed when the teacher in Israel did not know these things (John 3). No one can come to this text without being confronted with man’s desperate need. Both Ezekiel and Christ make it clear that unless there is a radical transformation of heart there can be no spiritual life. That is an impossible demand if man is left to himself. But the beauty of the gospel is that God does not leave man to himself: He does for sinners what sinners cannot do for themselves. That the same truth is expressed in both Old and New Testaments teaches us that there is a grand unity in God’s dealing with men in salvation. It is an everlasting gospel.
The verses for our consideration draw attention to the source of salvation and to some essential components of salvation. The proposition of the passage is clear: God’s grace is successfully effective to save sinners. Ezekiel makes two principal points about this efficacious grace.
Salvation is all of Grace
God’s grace is a glorious truth, but one that is hard for sinners to grasp. There is something about grace that is unattractive to natural man. It makes man terribly small and makes God incomprehensibly big. Grace is contrary to all natural reasoning since it is freely given to those who do not deserve it indeed, to those who deserve damnation instead. Ezekiel addresses this by focusing first on the source rather than the recipients of grace.
The Lord’s Glory: the Goal of Grace
Salvation surely results in the sinner’s good, but salvation is ultimately about God’s glory. Throughout this passage, the Lord declares that His gracious work is not for their sakes (vv. 22, 32) but for the sake of His own holy name (vv. 22, 23). God’s name refers to the totality of His Person including all of His infinite perfections. Saving grace magnifies the Lord. He was going to act in such a way that even the heathen would “know that I am the LORD” (v. 23). Isaiah declares the same holy motive: “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it ... I will not give my glory unto another” (Isa. 48:11). The salvation of sinners is a way by which God sanctifies (sets apart, makes distinct, exalts) His great name (v. 23). The prophet Micah also caught the truth of this with his question, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?” (Mic. 7:18). Similarly, in that Grand Canyon text in Ephesians 1, Paul repeats three times that salvation is all to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Even though sinners are the beneficiaries of salvation grace, salvation is ultimately about God.
The Lord’s Work: the Means of Grace
God purposes grace, and God always accomplishes His purposes. Grace is not abstract theory; it is a reality that operates through divine initiative. Salvation is not some vague plan that is revealed just for human evaluation or consideration. Man is totally incapable of responding to the gospel message without first being enabled to do so. God makes the first move or there would be and could be no movement to Him. Ezekiel underscores this truth repeatedly in this passage with all the first-person verbs designating what the Lord does (vv. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30). God is the author and finisher of salvation. Salvation, indeed, is of the Lord. Therefore, the sinner’s positive response is the consequence of His gracious work. Reception of grace is evidence of grace. There is an old hymn that sums it nicely: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew it was the Lord who sought me, seeking Him.”
That salvation is all of grace has significant implications. First, sinners can never hope to earn salvation. To attempt to work for salvation or even to make a contribution is a denial of grace and an affront to divine glory. This rebukes all pride. Second, sinners need never despair of salvation. If salvation depended on self-merit or works, there would be constant torture in the soul. The nagging doubt as to whether enough had been done or if sufficient, merit existed would rob the soul of the peace that the gospel affords. But grace shifts the ground of salvation away from self to God. Grace is greater than sin, and resting in what grace has done leads to the third implication. Sinners saved by grace have cause for joy. The application of grace never fails its purpose. Let us stand in wonder of God’s amazing and wonderful grace.
Salvific Grace is Efficacious
The gospel of saving grace really and truly works. Grace does what is necessary to fit a sinner for heaven. Ezekiel summarizes the effectiveness of grace in three ways.
1. Grace Reconciles exiled Sinners
Sin separates from God. The first Adam was expelled from Paradise because of his sin, and all the sons of Adam have been exiled and banished ever since. By nature, man is alienated from God. If reconciliation is possible, it is because God in Christ has removed the impediments to restored fellowship. Ezekiel uses the symbolism of ceremonial cleansing to describe this reconciliation (vv. 25, 29). To be ceremonially unclean was to be outside the sphere of fellowship, to be separated from God and all the spiritual benefits of life. But regardless of the nature of the uncleanness (leprosy, birth, contact with death, etc.), there was always an appropriate sacrifice to address the problem. Ezekiel utilizes the Levitical imagery to describe this work of grace.
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you” (v. 25). The sprinkling was a rite of purification to remove symbolically the impediments to fellowship. This sprinkling was typical (a picture prophecy) of Christ who is the cleansing fountain (see Isa. 52:13). It points directly to the application of the blood of Christ, the only means of cleansing the soul from the guilt and power of sin. Happily, what God cleanses is clean: “ye shall be clean” (v. 25) “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (v. 29). Reconciliation results in covenant fellowship: “ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (v. 28).
2. Grace Regenerates Dead Sinners
In verse 26, the Lord gives a new heart (mind, will, affections) and a new spirit (the impulses that drive and regulate desires, thoughts, and conduct). The old heart is a stone. It is lifeless, hard, and unfeeling. This is a vivid image of the helplessness and hopelessness of the human heart that is dead in sin. The heart, the most vital of organs, is petrified in utter death, incapable of responding to the good of the gospel. You would wait forever before you could find a spark of life in a stone, but here is the grace of the gospel: the Lord takes away the lifeless heart and gives a new one that is capable of new and spiritual impulses, feelings, and desires. A heart that now is capable of answering to God. This is the new birth. It is a change in the very nature of man’s being as spiritual life is implanted into that which had no life. Without this new heart that makes man a new creature, there is no hope. This is why Christ said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Without grace, the new birth is impossible.
3. Grace Empowers Saved Saints
“And I will put my spirit within you” (v. 27). By means of God’s indwelling Spirit, the renewed man enjoys God’s abiding presence. In true regeneration, God the Spirit enters the very soul, enabling fellowship and companionship (v. 28). This indwelling Spirit also provides enabling grace to do the things that please the Lord: walk in His statutes, keep His judgments, and obey Him. A changed life is evidence of grace. Grace never leaves a sinner where it finds him. God’s gracious salvation works not only to bring a sinner to spiritual life but to lead Him in the way of life. The inner change that occurs in regeneration leads to the life of sanctification. Being renewed in the whole man after God’s image enables the progressive dying to sin and living in righteousness.
God’s gracious salvation is complete, and Ezekiel’s brief synopsis of it is to the point and most instructive. We could almost paraphrase Christ’s question to Nicodemus in that night class in this way: “Art thou a master of Israel and you’ve never read Ezekiel 36?” But surely, as we meditate on this text let us echo Paul’s assessment of all we have in Christ by praising the glory of His grace.