Part 1 outlined the issue of “generational sin.” This second post addresses the problems of “generational sin” for believers and Part 3 suggests a solution.

How might “generational sin” mesh with the following texts?

Exodus 34:6-7 reads:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Commenting on this passage, Wayne Grudem says:

This statement shows the horrible nature of sin in the way it has effects far beyond the individual sinner, also harming those around the sinner and harming future generations as well. We see this in tragic ways in ordinary life, where the children of alcoholics often become alcoholics and the children of abusive parents often become abusive parents. Christians who are forgiven by Christ should not think of these phrases as applying to them, however, for they are in the other category of people mentioned just before this section on “the guilty”: they are among the “thousands” to whom God continually shows “steadfast love,” and in continually “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (v.7). When someone comes to Christ the chain of sin broken (1 Peter 1:18-19)” Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem. Zondervan: 1994, 209-210.

Also, the law of individual responsibility is clearly demonstrated in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

Moreover, in announcing the new covenant made with Israel, God says in Jeremiah 31:27-30:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals. Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD. “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes–his own teeth will be set on edge. “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Although the Jews of Jesus’ day saw a connection between the sins of parents and their children, Jesus suggests otherwise. The opening verses of John 9 read: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'” Jesus flatly denies any antecedent parental cause to the beggar’s blindness, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” (9:3). Even though Jesus had opportunity to affirm “generational sin,” he in fact explicitly denies it.

Finally, consider Peter who, when highlighting the effects of the cross for believers, states “for you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Using a term from secular literature that denotes religious and ethical lifestyles which were “handed down to you” (πατροπαραδότου), Peter’s readers would have understood their redemption (or “ransom”) was a complete release from every kind of bondage; especially to an “empty way of life.” All enslavements to traditions or customs are broken through the work of the cross, which is the key to freedom from our past and sets the basis for the new identity we have in Christ.

To learn more precisely how this works, see Part 3.

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