Temptation often places us at the top of a steep and slippery path of sin! The devil often whispers, “Just a little won’t hurt,” or “Who will know,” or “You deserve this.” He encourages us to trust in our own ability to control the situation, but when sin gets its hooks in us, it will often take us farther and deeper into heartache than we ever imagined.
But what about generational sin? What does it mean that God “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations”? Is our sin sometimes the fault of our parents or others in our lives? Is it the fault of someone who abused or sinned against us in some way?
Ezekiel 17 & 18
Generational Sin & the Slippery Path
Ezekiel 17 & 18:
Generational Sin & Personal Accountability
Chapter 18 talks about our personal accountability before God. We will not be able to stand before Him and say, “I did that because of the home I grew up in,” or “I acted like that because of who I was married to,” or “That’s just my personality!”
Neither can we get into heaven because we were brought up in a Christian home or because our parents are Christians. And it’s not enough to simply believe “in God.” We must agree with God that we are sinners in need of His forgiveness and grace and turn to Him personally, in faith, and receive His gracious gift of salvation. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
But what about generational sin?
Apparently, the people in Ezekiel’s time talked about the same subject. They even had a “proverb,” not as in God’s inspired book of Proverbs, but a saying, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” (Ezek. 18.2).
Yet, God rebuked them for that idea. Chapter 18:
3 “As I live,” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.
4 “Behold, all souls are Mine;
The soul of the father
As well as the soul of the son is Mine;
The soul who sins shall die.
The next few verses talk about several generations of men. The first one was a just man who obeyed God and lived righteously. But he had a son who rebelled against God and sinned in a multitude of ways. That man’s son saw what his father did, but did not follow in his father’s footsteps, instead he obeyed God. God went on to say that one generation is not responsible for the deeds of another.
20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
I know someone is saying, but what about Deuteronomy 5.9 and other passages that talk about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations”?
Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
The Bible never contradicts itself, but we sometimes have a wrong understanding of what certain passages mean. When the word “visited” is used, it is talking about the physical, natural consequences of sin, rather than the spiritual.
For example, if a child is brought up with an abusive, drunken father, he’s going to be affected by that reality. He may respond with rebellion (a sinful response for which he is still responsible), he may experience pain because of emotional or physical abuse. He may even choose to become like his father.
A baby who is born to a heroin-addicted mother may be born addicted to that drug and go through painful withdrawal. Or the baby may be neglected or abused or suffer in other ways.
Poverty, fetal alcohol syndrome, certain birth defects, famines, financial disaster, hunger, etc. can all come as a result of the “iniquity of the fathers (and mothers).”
Children might even be deprived of opportunities to hear God’s truth, forbidden to go to church, etc., but, ultimately, God is never going to hold one person spiritually accountable for the sins of another. In fact, many times it’s “the iniquity of the fathers” that drives a person to seek God. That’s always God’s desire. Acts 17 tells us:
26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
In reality, we are more affected by our responses to our circumstances and the tests and trials of life than we are by those things themselves.
Poverty can make us determined to do better or make us bitter and angry. Abuse can soften our hearts or harden them. Difficulties can cause us to look up to God, look down in the mud or turn our emotions inward. Temptation can cause us to turn to and rely on God or give in to it. But in each case, we have a choice (1 Cor. 10.13).
But when we give in to sin, it can lead us places we never intended to go and cost us more than we can imagine!
The Steep & Slippery Path of Sin
“To show partiality is not good, because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.”
Sin is never satisfied. You can never tell just one lie; one leads to another and another. You can’t just commit adultery; now you must cover it. If you steal, eventually you’ll have to explain your ill-gotten gain.
Unless repented of and forsaken, sin will take you on a downward spiral. The man who once transgressed for a bribe, after he has seared his conscience, will do it for a mere piece of bread.
A heroin addict doesn’t say, “I think I’ll become an addict, lose my family, waste my life, and end up on the street.” No, it was “I can use it one time.” Or, “Everyone is doing it.”
A bank robber doesn’t start out aspiring to be a criminal. It usually starts with discontent and unthankfulness. That quickly leads to covetousness and jealousy over what others have. And, eventually, to petty theft and more.
An adulteress doesn’t start out with a desire to sin against God, destroy her marriage, and lose the respect of her kids. It starts with inappropriate thoughts, perhaps wishing her husband would treat her a certain way, or justifying flirtations as only fun. It progresses to “we’re only friends” lunches and “we’re not doing anything wrong.” Until the inevitable happens.
And when sinned against we can’t be bitter, angry and unforgiving only to the person who has sinned against us. Eventually, that anger and bitterness will affect our relationships with others.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Heb. 12.14-15).
We shouldn’t think we can play around with sin, getting as close to the line as we can without going over it. That line is at the top of a steep and slippery path that can take us places we never intended to go. It will ruin our relationship with others and hinder our closeness to God.
“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts” (2 Tim. 2.22).
Today’s Other Readings:
He is the Way
Verse 8a, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.”
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).
Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14.6). We cannot be saved through our good works, church involvement, or as I just mentioned, by the fact we were raised in a Christian home or culture. Our salvation must be based on the truth of the gospel and our faith in it (Eph. 2.8-9).
The Perfect Lamb of God
The writer of Hebrews continues his comparison of the old covenant and the new. He explains in this chapter, among other things, how the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were insufficient and only a shadow of things to come and, finally, how Jesus Christ was the perfect Lamb of God!
How has God spoken to you today? Did you see a passage in a new light? Did you see an area where you need to grow and change? Did you find a promise to hold on to? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In the next few days, we’ll discuss the danger of playing spiritual games, whether church is necessary or optional, trusting God in suffering, and the key to the Christian Life.
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