Salvation for God’s Sake

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” (v. 22).

- Ezekiel 36:16–38

Human beings in their fallen condition struggle to take their focus off of themselves and put it on God where it belongs. We easily recognize this when we see people unashamedly try to amass glory for themselves. But the tendency to make people big and God small often shows itself with such subtlety that we miss it. This is evident in how we tend to understand salvation. Often we believe that our Creator undertook redemption principally for our sake, that our rescue was the fundamental goal in sending His Son to die for sinners. Certainly, we would not want to deny that the Lord fulfilled His great plan of salvation because of His great love for humanity. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). However, at the end of the day, our salvation is primarily for the Lord’s sake—for His glory.

Ezekiel 36:16–38 reveals this truth plainly. God says in verse 22 that His rescue of Israel from sin and exile is not for the nation’s sake but “the sake of [His] holy name.” The implication is that the Lord had to save His people to keep His honor. But how can this be if the Bible teaches that salvation is wholly undeserved, that nothing in us requires God to redeem us?

The answer is that salvation is the Lord’s self-imposed obligation. He freely covenanted with Abraham and His seed, but He did so via swearing an oath by Himself that He would bless the patriarch’s family forever (Gen. 15; Heb. 6:13–20). Essentially, God said that He should be destroyed if He broke His promise. By His own will, the Lord made His honor contingent upon blessing Abraham. If all the patriarch’s offspring were to miss this blessing, He would prove to be a liar and suffer the loss of His glory. The Lord did not have to make a vow to Abraham, but once He did, His own character bound Him to bless the patriarch’s offspring, though not necessarily everyone who can trace their physical ancestry back to him.

Lest anyone rightly accuse God of not being true to His word of salvation, Israel’s exile would have to end. Ezekiel foresaw this end of exile, predicting that the Lord would rescue His people from the nations, cleanse them from sin, and give them new hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:23–32). God would likewise compromise His character if, in redeeming His people, He allowed them to remain unholy, for those who bear Yahweh’s name must be a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). The Lord revealed His sovereign work of regeneration in this vision, for He alone would be the one to change the hearts of His people.

Coram Deo

Regeneration was not unknown to the saints of the old covenant. However, Scripture indicates that new covenant believers understand the Lord’s work of regeneration far more clearly than those who lived before the coming of Christ. Ezekiel’s teaching on salvation indicates that God takes the initiative in giving us a new heart. In other words, we do not get a new heart as a consequence of faith but faith is a consequence of us having been given a new heart. Salvation, indeed, is all of the Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 30:1–10
Ezekiel 11:14–20
Matthew 15:10–20
2 Corinthians 4:11

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