Do Children Suffer for the Sins of Their Parents?
Do children suffer for their parents’ sins? Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9 connect the two. These verses are similar, so let’s look at Exodus 20:5-6 (NIV). “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Our ancestors influence us more than we realize. My father’s father died in 1939. I never met him, yet some of my values come directly from him. For example, I believe that if I promise to do something, I should do it no matter what it costs me. That’s what my grandfather believed. That’s a positive value. It mirrors God who always keeps his promises.
Our ancestors’ negative values also influence us. They reflect rebellion against God’s will. Some sins are practiced for generations through ancestral lines. For example, alcoholism, lying, child abuse, using God’s name in vain, and stealing are passed on from generation to generation. Our parents’ example and teaching instruct us how to sin. Their parents taught them.
Our parents greatly influence our spiritual lives. If mom and dad don’t attend church services, there’s less than a 10 percent chance their children will attend as adults. Often, children practice the same sinful acts as their parents. The point of Exodus 20:5 is children will receive the same just punishment for those sins as their parents and grandparents. That’s why the Bible emphasizes teaching children truth and showing them how to live a godly life.
Our parents and ancestors influence us, but we’re accountable for own behavior. We don’t have to repeat their sins and pass them on to our children. “My daddy taught me to do it,” won’t excuse wrong behavior at the Judgment.
During the Babylonian captivity the Israelites misapplied Ex 20:5. They said God was unfair for punishing them for their ancestors’ sins. Ezekiel 18:2 condemns this misinterpretation of Exodus 20:5. We’re all responsible for our own conduct. We suffer for our own sins.
We’re free to change our path. Ezekiel 18:21ff holds out the possibility of a changed life. God’s axe of judgment doesn’t have to fall on our necks for sins we’ve learned from our ancestors. We can repent, do what’s right, and live. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as our Forgiver and Leader results in a sincere desire to obey God. True sorrow for sin motivates changed attitudes and behavior.
Most children suffer for their parents’ sins, but not in the sense of suffering for something for which they aren’t guilty. They suffer for the sins they’ve learned from their parents and are themselves committing.
We can leave this sin and pass it on progression anytime through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Forgiver & Leader. It’s the only exit.
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