Monday, November 19, 2012

When Your Family Tree is Sick: Part I

What do you do when your family tree is filled more with people who want nothing to do with God than with people who want to serve Him?  Can you save them by your own prayers and righteousness?  And if not, do you just give up?

These are honest questions I have asked God more than once.

My immediate family is devoted to the Lord.  From my Grandfather's devotion to the Lord came four daughters who loved Him, three of whom are married to Godly husbands who helped those daughters raise seven grandchildren to serve Him as well.  Slowly, these seven grandchildren are marrying, seeking to choose Godly spouses and create another Christan home to nurture their children. 

Presently, there are seventeen of us this side of eternity, plus my small children and a few potential mates.  When we are together, it seems like a large group serving the Lord.

But all I have to do is trace back and follow any other branch in the family tree to see faithlessness, blood after blood going another direction, seeking after their own pursuits.

When I look at the whole tree, I see how tiny our healthy little branch truly is.  The bulk of my family tree is infected to the marrow, sick with sin.  My heart grieves over my relatives' souls.

Today's article will be part of a two-part post since it's a two-pronged question.  First, can my righteousness save my relatives?  And secondly, if it can't, should I just give up praying for them?

For the first part--can my obedience to God, my prayer for others--can it save their souls?

In Ezekiel 14, God says no.  He tells the prophet, " 'if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch our My hand against it...even though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves,' declares the Lord GOD" (Ez. 14:13-14)*.

In other words, not even the most righteous pillars of faith could save another person from the pits of hell's judgment.

Throughout the remainder of the chapter, God methodically presents one method of destruction after another--famine, wild beasts, sword, and plague.  With each of these four judgments, He repeats the same phrasing about deliverance, emphasizing that one can only save his/her own soul, not the souls of others...not even the souls of their children. 

God soberly states, "even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its [the country's] midst...they could not deliver either their son or their daughter.  They would deliver only 
themselves by their righteousness" (Ez. 14:20).

These verses together emphasize the principle of personal accountability.  God doesn't let us shift the blame and evade responsibility for our actions.

Four chapters, later, Ezekiel quotes a common proverb of his day: "The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge" (v. 2).  In other words, the Israelites were doing much what our culture does today--blaming their parents.  Here, the proverb means that because their fathers had sinned, they inherited their fathers' bitterness or punishment by having to live in exile in Babylon.

The problem is that in shifting the blame to their parents, they weren't acknowledging their own personal guilt before God, and God wasn't going to have it.

The entirety of Chapter 18 explains what the righteous man with the unrighteous father, the unrighteous man with the righteous father, and so on can expect from God.

He concludes, "The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself" (Ez. 18:20).

Personal accountability.

God ends with a plea to His people: "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,' declares the Lord GOD. 'Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.  Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?...Therefore, repent and live'" (Ez. 18:30-32).

It hurts my heart, knowing I cannot bring my family to salvation.  The New Testament is clear that that is a work of the Holy Spirit.

No matter how much I pray for them, my prayers, my righteousness cannot save my children.  They cannot save my mother, my father, my husband.

Next week, we will discuss in this space what a Christian's response should be if her righteousness cannot save another.

But for now, Ezekiel 18 says we each must make a choice--life or death.  Yes, it's really that simple.

Life in Christ or death without Him.

God is asking us, "For why will you die, __________? Therefore, repent and live."

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