Ezekiel 18:1-32; Hebrews 9:1-5; Psalms 106:13-23; Proverbs 23:13-14
OT: ““What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live” — this is the declaration of the Lord God — “you will no longer use this proverb in Israel. Look, every life belongs to me. The life of the father is like the life of the son — both belong to me. The person who sins is the one who will die… But you may ask, ‘Why doesn’t the son suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity? ’ Since the son has done what is just and right, carefully observing all my statutes, he will certainly live. The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him. But if the wicked person turns from all the sins he has committed, keeps all my statutes, and does what is just and right, he will certainly live; he will not die. None of the transgressions he has committed will be held against him. He will live because of the righteousness he has practiced. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives? But when a righteous person turns from his righteousness and acts unjustly, committing the same detestable acts that the wicked do, will he live? None of the righteous acts he did will be remembered. He will die because of the treachery he has engaged in and the sin he has committed… Therefore, house of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your rebellious acts, so they will not become a sinful stumbling block to you. Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. “So repent and live!”” (Ezekiel 18:2-4, 19-24, 30-32 CSB)
The Jewish exiles in Babylon were blaming their ancestors for the judgement they were now facing, and they used a popular proverb to justify themselves and pass blame to those who came before them. They were taking the proverb to mean that children suffer the consequences of their fathers’ sins. In a way that is true, but children are not required to pay for their fathers’ sins. Each person is responsible for their own unrighteous or righteous decisions and behaviors. God didn’t want the exiled Jews to blame their ancestors for their predicament. He wanted them to know that they were responsible for the judgement they were facing… and because they were responsible, they could also repent of their unrighteousness and experience God’s forgiveness.
There is a phenomenon known as “generational sins.” Generational sins are weaknesses, tendencies or behaviors that are handed down from one generation to another. They could be environmental or genetic in nature. For example, if a son grows up in a home with an alcoholic father, that son is likely to grow up to suffer from alcoholism as well. However, that alcoholism is not forced on the son. If the son becomes an alcoholic, he is not relinquished from his own personal responsibility. Though the son may “inherit” a predisposition toward alcoholism, ultimately he is the one that takes the actions to give in to alcoholism, and is the one who must take the actions needed to free himself from alcoholism.
The same phenomenon is true with righteousness as well. If a child grows up in a home with righteous parents, that child will likely behave in a righteous way. However, the parents’ righteousness does not automatically transfer to the child allowing the child a “free pass” into salvation. For the child to be made righteous by faith, they must come to their own confession of faith. Being a child of a redeemed disciple of Christ does not automatically make you a redeemed disciple of Christ.
As powerful and influential as generational sins can be, the grace that is found through faith in Christ is more powerful. I can’t count the number of times that I have seen generational sin patterns broken in a family because someone has come to faith in Christ, repented of the sin and allowed the grace of God to put an end to the cycle. God does not find joy in bringing judgement on anyone. It is always His desire to see people trust in Him, repent of their sin, and receive His grace unto freedom and life. If you find yourself stuck in generational sin patterns, there is good news for you – you can be set free. First, don’t blame your parents and take responsibility. Then trust in the saving and redeeming power of the Gospel. Repent from your sin, believe in Christ and receive His grace. Upon doing that, you will find freedom and life.
Prayer: Lord, I thank You that You don’t require me to pay for the sins of those who have gone before me – but I am responsible for the sins that I commit… even if the influence of my forebearers was to strong for me to resist. Thank you that Your salvation and Your grace is greater than the power of the sins passed down to me. In You, I can repent and renounce those sins and find freedom and life. Thank you for the freedom and new life I have in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.