Back in 1996, George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, was questioned by a journalist about Prince Charles’s marital infidelity. He replied that Prince Charles “is a man who takes faith seriously, who attends worship, and someone who has struggled, as many people struggle, with … brokenness in relationships.” He added that it was wrong for anyone to sit in judgement of Charles.
Later in the same interview, Archbishop Carey lamented the fact that Britain was losing its Christian moorings, complaining that the nation had “lost the language of sin.” It was ironic that, in the same interview, he would refer to Prince Charles’s adultery as “brokenness in relationships” and then lament the loss of “the language of sin.”
It was ironic, I say, but unsurprising. Modern people are unconvinced of the reality of sin. We have replaced the language of sin by speaking of “mistakes” and “choice” and “alternative lifestyles.” We balk at the idea of admitting that we have sinned and openly ridicule those who suggest that we are sinners. Those committed to the authority of Scripture, on the other hand, recognise the need to return to embracing the language of sin. The text before us this morning (Ezekiel 22) highlights this truth.
Ezekiel begins this chapter by identifying Judah’s problem as sin (vv. 1–5). He identifies “all her abominations,” which have made her “guilty” and have “defiled” her. “Guilty” suggests the social dynamic of her sin, while “defiled” points to the religious aspect of her transgression. Because of these sins, she deserved punishment and was unfit to appear before God.
The prophet goes on, in vv. 6–12, to enumerate her many sins. He presents an array of sins, which catalogue exactly howthe people had violated covenant stipulations. By violating the Lord’s commands, they had “forgotten” him, and the “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) had become unholy. The penalty for such defilement, long ago warned, was destruction (Deuteronomy 8:19). Ezekiel warned of this coming destruction in vv. 13–22.
Lest the exiles complain that they had already experienced sufficient judgement—after all, two Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem had already happened—Ezekiel declares, in vv. 23–31, that the “land” was “not yet cleansed.” The first two attacks had not resulted in repentance. The people persisted in their sin. A final attack would rain down on the city before God’s wrath was sated.
The root of the problem is that Judah was sinning openly and yet rejecting the reality of its sin. The nation was much like the world, and many parts of the Christian church, in the 21st century. The people were flagrantly disobeying the Lord but framing it in such a way that it was not seen as sin. They needed to return to the language of sin. We need to do the same. We can find at least three keys in this text to return to the biblical language of sin.
First, we return to the language of sin by clarifying sin. By “clarifying,” I mean that we must be specific about sin. Ezekiel was painfully specific in vv. 6–12 about the ways in which Judah had sinned. He did not simply declare that the people had sinned and then leave it to them to decide how. He pointed out specific ways in which they had failed to obey God’s law. A return to the language of sin will require us to dispense with generic talk and embrace the specific identifications of sin. When confessing sin, we must go beyond generalities to admit specific ways in which we have transgressed God’s law.
Second, and related to the above, we return to the language of sin by confessing sin. Judah’s problem was that, for too long, it had ignored its sin. For generations, the people had denied any transgression of God’s law. Decades later, Daniel would openly confess the sin of the people, which would result in a restoration of God’s favour (Daniel 9) but generations of Jews prior to this time had openly sinned with no inclination to confess. They could not be serious about sin if they were unwilling to confess it.
Third, we return to the language of sin by confronting sin. If Ezekiel would “judge the bloody city” he must “declare to her all her abominations” (v. 1). Someone needed to call out the sin that the people were ignoring and God chose Ezekiel to do that. If we ignore sin when we see it—whether in our lives or the lives of others—we have abandoned the language of sin. To return to this language we must be willing to see sin in ourselves and to help others see and deal with sin in their lives.
As you meditate on Ezekiel 22 this morning, ask God for the grace to help you to return to the language of sin—to see its seriousness and to therefore confront and confess it as you strive for holiness.