It is the aim of Lamb’s Harbinger to bring good news to the afflicted/poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives and freedom for the imprisoned, & that now is the time of God’s gracious favor for all to accept (Is. 61). Some of the religious lawyers and “leaders” in Jesus’ day did just the opposite by teaching man-made religious rules and traditions (Matt. 23:4; Luke 11:46). What a sad thing it was for that generation! But what a greater tragedy that the same phenomena happen today. Yes, present-day teachers, if they are not careful, can fall into the same trap as some of those Scribes and Pharisees of old, who shut the door of Heaven’s kingdom in people’s faces and spiritually weighed them down until they were doubled over with hopeless heaviness. We Christians ought to make sure we don’t make the Gospel or the Christian life into a convoluted and hope-shattering mess. There is simplicity in Christ!
These things being duly noted, this post will discuss the doctrine of “Generational Sins,” which has the ability to destroy the hope of believers if not kept in context, balance and perspective. For clarity, what this post will NOT discuss are overarching generational sins (ex. Matt. 13:58, 17:17; Mark 6:5, Luke 9:19, 41; American Slavery, 2008 Wall Street) and national sins (ex. nations’ hating Israel, corruption of justice, government-funded abortion, Jews’ disbelief in Jesus). These are subjects for another discussion entirely; and they are clearly sins for which present and future generations suffer the natural consequences and spiritual blame. And there is proof that, for many generations, God does “visit” these kinds of sins on the children of those who hate God. It is the way he deals with generations and nations. But that will not be our topic here.
Instead, the subject at hand will center around whether God “visits” or pronounces sanctions, limitations, consequences, or even judgements upon believing members of a family line due to the wickedness of their ancestors. One can see why the matter should be carefully examined. If not properly treated, one could find himself questioning God’s fairness and impartiality, especially in light of statements He makes to the contrary (ex. Ezekiel 18:20, Jer. 31:30). And, if one is cursed without remedy, then what is the sense in dreaming of doing great things for God or even of living a holy life? As I have said times before, the quickest way to destroy a believer’s purity is to smash his hope in Christ (1 John 3:3). Ministers, above all, have the ability to smash hope and faith with what they teach. For shame if they do! Their people come away saying things like, “I am just a second-tier Christian. I could never do anything for God’s kingdom.”
If you, dear one, have found yourself whispering such things in the darkness, then let me say: It was Elijah who once muttered, “I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Now, “Elijah was a man with similar feelings to ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land” (James 5:17).
As far back as 2009, Dr. John Piper wrote an excellent article with a similar purpose as this post. The article is titled, How God Visits Sins on the Third and Fourth Generation. In the brief discourse, Dr. Piper reveals the senses in which God does and does not visit the sins of the fathers on their children. His conclusions?
- The sins of the fathers are punished in the children through becoming the sins of the children.
- Because of God’s grace, which is finally secured by Christ, the children can confess their own sins and the sins of their fathers and be forgiven and accepted by God.
Now, I do not put myself on par with the academic abilities of Dr. Piper. So, I conducted an email interview with Dr. Marcus Warner of Deeper Walk International, which is a ministry that specializes in spiritually freeing the individual believer, so that he/she can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Here is Dr. Warner’s response to Dr. Piper’s article:
I agree with Piper that generational iniquity nearly always results in the same sin continuing in future generations, but his assessment is simplistic and is only partly right. He misses an awful lot. First, generational iniquity is a significant theme in Scripture, not an isolated text here and there. God waited until the iniquity of the Amorites was “full” before allowing his people to drive them from the land. The “sword” entered David’s house because of his iniquity. Moabites and Ammonites were banned from the tabernacle for ten generations because of the iniquity of the ancestors. There is more. The word iniquity implies twisting and is related to the idea of being mis-shapen. It refers to the distortion that enters a family line when sin is not renounced.
Secondly, Piper does not seem to embrace the idea that Christians can have demonic torment, period. This always distorts ones view of generational sin. I have run into many cases of demonization in which generational iniquity was the primary problem.
To be sure, Dr. Warner is not suggesting God punishes someone physically and/or eternally for the sins of his parents. There is a contemporary line of thought, full of error, that purports one’s degree of sinfulness determines the kind of life and death he/she will experience. Jesus himself clearly rebuked that kind of thinking, which blames birth defects and other tragedies on God’s vengeance (John 9:2-3). While personal immaturity, drug use, alcohol abuse and sexual abuse may affect the proper development of a child, and while said impairment is certainly a directly consequential happening; and while parental substance abuse can often affect the biology of a child, putting him or her at greater risk of addiction; I think no one would fault God for such humanly irresponsible decisions. On the contrary, God rewards those who suffer passively (see Befitting Rewards).
So, It is clear that the soul that sins, he/she (alone) shall die in order to answer for his/her own sins (Ezek. 18:20). The earnings for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Luke 13:3-5 states in so many words, ‘All will perish alike; all must therefore repent.’ Again, God will not punish someone physically and/or eternally for the sins of another. If one rejects Christ as his substitute and Savior, then he will answer to God for his own doings (Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:13).
But, this does not account for what Dr. Warner names “demonization in which generational iniquity was the primary problem.” The reader will note Dr. Warner states “generational iniquity is a significant theme in Scripture,” and that, Christians can have demonic torment which stems from generational iniquity. When I pressed Dr. Warner further about this matter, he replied that the generational iniquity he had encountered regarded Christians whose parents had been involved with apostate religions, cults, the occult, spiritistic rituals and ceremonies, and even generational pledges made to the powers associated with said observances. These phenomena fit in with Dr. Warner’s mention of the Amorites, Moabites, and Ammonites, seeing all of these peoples practiced overt spiritistic worship.
If I may also note it, I believe this solution fits into Dr. Piper’s conclusions as stated above. It fits the first conclusion in that, as Dr. Warner put it to me personally, “A child born into a worldly family is more susceptible to being exposed to such things.” The idea is that exposure to godless living or spiritistic observances makes one susceptible to demonic oppression just as exposure to substance abuse puts a child at risk for addictions. Those who practice dark arts (or even something a little more subtle) put their child at risk to the unwanted consequences of dabbling in evil.
Categorically, Dr. Warner’s answer also fits under Piper’s second point (but with distinction), because Dr. Warner stated in our personal interview that he has seen complete deliverance of the tormented Christian when familial wickedness was denounced in the name of Jesus. Up until that point, the believer’s soul was undoubtedly redeemed and regenerated; however, he was experiencing some form of oppression, which the Adversary of our souls is slow to relinquish… as it is the enemy’s way to continuously seek whom he may devour, especially Christians (Eph. 6:13; 1 Pet. 5:8).
In other words, it is possible for the Christian to experience oppression. Whether one ‘opens a door’ by his own thoughts/actions (2 Tim. 2:24-26) or if parents open the door for their child, the believer must “close the door” by use of their own will to stand against/renounce those things in Jesus’ name. [Eph. 6:10-20] Oftentimes, this freedom occurs at one’s initial acceptance in Christ, because the individual renounces all other gods and sins at the same time as trusting Christ. But, to be sure, repentance does mean “turning from” (other gods, practices, traditions, faiths, worldviews) in order to turn to God by placing faith in Christ (Acts 19:19; 20:21). If either one side or the other doesn’t happen, then the requisites are unmet.
“THE 3RD & 4TH GENERATION OF THEM THAT HATE ME”
But what about this matter of perpetual limitations, or 3 to 4 generations of family ruin due to ancestral sins? What if one sees himself as the 2nd or 3rd or 4th generation? Is there no hope? Can one expect that if his forefathers were mighty sinners, then he himself is doomed to receive less blessing from God?… that God somehow fights against him and resists him? Would God place a kind of spiritual glass ceiling on one’s life due to the sins of his/her ancestors? Can I, as a believer and lover of God, expect that not only I might be limited in usefulness to God, but that, my offspring might be limited as well… and that this is unalterable?
It is true there are examples of generational or familial ruin in the Old Testament. But, before we make too hasty of a decision on their relevance to New Covenant believers, let’s consider the biblical canonical context of these examples—that is, we must examine their place in the progress of revelation. One will see that each example of familial curses in the Old Testament, [the ones which are apart from demonic worship (ex. Canaanites)], have to do with God’s preservation of the nation and dynasty though which came Christ’s birth.
Reuben committed great sexual sin in order to usurp his father’s position in a time when Reuben should have known that the lines of the Patriarchs must be pure for the promise’s sake (Gen. 3:15; 12, 15, 17); and so, his father Jacob pronounced a hard curse (Gen. 35:22; 49:2-3)… saying that Reuben would not prevail. Much like Esau before him — Gen. 25:30 — Reuben had forfeited his birthright: a long line of preeminence among his brothers and in the history of God’s redemption for the world. Moreover, as Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, “sec. Reuben” points out, Reuben (again like Esau, Hebrews 12:16-17) later tried to seek what he had lost:
“The revolt of Dathan and Abiram, men of Reuben, against the authority of Moses (16:1) and possibly against the special position of Levi may be significant. Reuben may be claiming his old primacy, forfeited by sin (Gn 49:3, 4). The attempt failed, and God’s judgment was a signal lesson (Nm 16:33)…. Reuben does not appear again until the time of Deborah the prophetess. When the clans of Israel rallied to God’s call under Barak to fight Sisera the Canaanite, Reuben did not respond. The wording suggests that Reuben once again was influenced by material possessions, as the tribe had been in the days of the conquest, when, because of their cattle, they chose the lush lands of Transjordan rather than the rugged hills of Canaan (Nm 32:5). The easy shepherd’s life appealed more to them than warfare on the slopes of Mt Tabor (Judges 5:16). Also the wording suggests long inconclusive discussions—or even perhaps great protestations of bravery and fidelity to God’s cause—that finally led to nothing (Judges 5:15). Reuben had not changed: the tribe, like its ancestor, was still “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4).”
Both the cases of Reuben and Esau had to do with the family line and/or nation of the coming Christ.
Dr. Warner mentions King David’s house having known “the sword” due to a familial curse stemming from David’s sin. That example is undeniable. Yet, it is demonstrable that David’s own weaknesses in parenting led to his family’s dysfunction. He never told his sons Adonijah and Absolom “no,” and he never questioned their motives. What is more, King Solomon did not heed his father’s warnings (1 Kings 2:1-4). The Kingdom was divided after Solomon’s days in accordance with the stipulations God gave David and which David reiterated to Solomon. So, from David’s family, we learn that whatever God pronounces in a foretelling manner comes about by a complex of cause and effect that is rooted in one’s own character & choices. Again, this would be categorically fit for Dr. Piper’s 1st conclusion. The sins of fathers perpetuate themselves and/or solicit themselves through becoming the sins of the children. Hence, “Father’s provoke not your children to anger… bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Moreover, David’s familial curse had to do with the integrity and purity of the family line of the coming Christ.
Some within the tribe of the Levi were pronounced unfit for continued priestly service due to their perverting the priesthood. Thus, the priesthood passes to the line of Zadok. Since the priesthood was a direct representation of the person and ministry of the Messiah, these priestly sanctions had to do with God’s preserving a proper type for the character and work of the Christ.
Then, there is the curse of Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22, cf. 2 Samuel 7).
“Another possible intimation of the virgin birth in the Old Testament is found in the curse placed on Jeconiah which said: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah” (Jer. 22:30). The problem with this prediction is that Jesus was the descendant of the throne of David through Jeconiah (cf. Matt. 1:12)…. However, since Joseph was only Jesus’ legal father (by virtue of being engaged to Mary when she became pregnant), Jesus did not inherit the curse on Jeconiah’s actual descendants. And since Jesus was the actual son of David through Mary according to Luke’s matriarchal genealogy (Luke 3), he fulfilled the conditions of coming “from the loins of David” (2 Sam. 7:12–16) without losing legal rights to the throne of David by falling under the curse on Jeconiah. Thus, the virgin birth is implied in the consistent understanding of these Old Testament passages.” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Evidence for the Virgin Birth)
Very clearly, the curse of Jeconiah had a great deal to do with God’s protecting the validity of a line through which the virgin birth of Christ would happen. And, so, yet again, generational curses found in the Old Testament have to do with a covenant made with a certain nation and a certain family line.
BUT WHAT ABOUT EXODUS 20:5, 34:7, and DEUTERONOMY 5:9?
Those who still wish to hold onto a doctrine of generational cursing for New Testament believers do so by assuming a premise taken from the above verses. HOWEVER, the careful student will recognize the canonical placement of these pronouncements. Exodus 20 is the record for God’s originally giving the 10 Commandments as a Covenant to the nation Israel. Though the people ratified this covenant with oaths, Exodus 31-32 records that they broke the Covenant. Exodus 34 is, therefore a restatement of the conditions of said covenant once God had taken measures to restore the fledgling nation at the intercession of Moses (Exodus 32; Num. 14:13-19).
Deuteronomy (lit. “second law”), chapter 5, is the record of God’s second covenant arrangement in the form of an ancient Suzerainty treaty (superior to inferior) made between Jehovah and the new generation, who had seen their ancestors die in the wilderness due to their faithlessness at Kadesh Barnea. This second establishment of the Old Covenant was for the new Hebrew generation before they entered into the Promised Land under Joshua. What the new generation had learned from the previous faithless one would propel them forward. And, the same rule that applied to the first generation now applied to the new generation and their posterity. Under the Hebrew Covenant, if any one of them “hated” God, i.e. turned away to serve other gods and went after the ways of the people in the land, then God would “visit” those sins upon the next generation… just like he had determined to do with those heathen nations. Such was the covenant stipulation, to which the new generation agreed, and which they saw borne out all through Israel’s history.
Very clearly, God’s “visitation” of the father’s sins on the 3rd and 4th generation of them that hate God is part of the Old Hebrew Covenant, because it had to do with a nation that was the people through which would come humanity’s Messiah. They were to be different than the nations around them, completely consecrated to God. This was God’s way of preserving justice and purity in the nation, so that at the right time, the Christ could indeed come through their ethnicity with honor. It was the old covenant arrangement. Plain and simple.
RAYS OF HOPE:
Even the Old Covenant with its strict justice sheds rays of hope into our present-day hearts. Again, one need look no farther than the blood-line of the Messiah for these examples.
Remember Rahab the Whore? Now, there’s a shocker! The first city that God miraculously leads ancient Israel to raze contains a woman who, in some people’s minds, is the worst kind of sinner. I mean, come on… she beds everyone and sells herself for money. Yet, she has enough sense to say things like: (Josh. 2:9-14)
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”
Not only did the spies perform all their promises, but Rahab and her generations (before and after herself) were spared. But, it does not stop there. By her joining the tribe of Judah, she became the ancestral matriarch of Jesus! Praise the Lord, Hallelujah—for He is good and his mercy endures forever! This is not only an example which proves God does not judge the generations of those who seek him, but it is an example that He blesses them greatly… much more than they could ever ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
Don’t forget about Ruth. She, like Rahab, was not originally an Israelite. She married in to the Hebrew nation, being a Moabite by birth… a cursed people. Moreover, her marriage was to a man of Israel who was not living according to the established covenant. Yet, Ruth came back to the Promised Land with her mother-in-law after all the men died. She joined herself wholeheartedly to the God and people and land of Israel, and soon she found that God had prepared for her a man named Boaz. So, she became the great grandmother of King David and the matriarch of Jesus Christ. Again, God does not curse or limit those who seek him. Instead, he is a rewarder of those who do so diligently (Heb. 11:6); and his rewards are very generous indeed!
THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE NEW COVENANT “IN JESUS CHRIST:”
Once the Messiah arrived on the scene by the virgin birth, and once he lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and raised again the 3rd day; then, the Old Covenant with its stipulations and conditions had been fulfilled. All who accept Christ are seen as perfect and entire in God’s eyes of justice. Now, concerning what Dr. Warner calls the distortion that enters a family line when sin is not renounced, the new covenant reads this way:
“I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12).
In other words, whatever twisted and misshapen characteristics have befallen a family of non-believers (or, unrepentant believers) no matter how heinous or wicked or even religiously and self-righteously grotesque, the Lord God promises mercy and a judicially fair “forgetfulness” toward their sins once acknowledged and renounced. Christ has come, and both the line of the kings and the duties of the levitical covenant have been fulfilled in Christ …. Now are the days of grace, because Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:10, 13).
Furthermore, the new covenant states that those who are under it receive the blessing of God’s no longer REMEMBERING (i.e. “visiting”) their sins. To address Dr. Warner, I must agree with Dr. Piper: the Lord DOES forgive iniquity and transgression and sin; and according to Jesus’ teachings, the way that God forgives is to wipe out eternal/spiritual consequence like one wipes away monetary debt by complete debt forgiveness.
So, Dr. Piper’s second conclusion holds: “Because of God’s grace, which is finally secured by Christ, the children can confess their own sins and the sins of their fathers and be forgiven and accepted by God.”
BUT WHAT ABOUT HEBREWS 12:16-17?
Hebrews 12:16-17 is not saying we New Testament believers can forfeit some birthright of lineage, as if the Messiah is still yet to come. That would be to take the passage out of context. Esau is used as a type of the kind of people who, because of failing the available grace of God, refuse to live in light of Christ and eternity. They deny Christ and the Christian faith. They become bitter and never recover, because they refuse to do so. This is far different than one’s falling and getting back up, or being restored. In the context of Hebrews, it implies one suffers for Christ’s name and amid the suffering decides Jesus is not worth it. He denies Christ and abandons the faith and Christian morality altogether, which is comparable to the kind of thinking Esau displayed–“what good is a birthright to me when I am ‘starving?’ Said he.
But, Hebrews does warn us not to fail in grabbing hold of God’s grace amid the trying of our faith in Christ; because when we fail that abundantly available grace, then we lose hope, and when we lose hope, then we take on the default, perverted system of values which says the eternal is not as important as the temporal and physical. When we are in that frame of mind, we become like Esau who for his own sexual appetites (he loved Moabite women) and for a bowl of soup, he “sold out” his spiritual chances like Reuben after him. The “take away” idea is: You are God’s child through Jesus; God has grace; what you suffer is not without purpose; yes, it is hard; yes you may fall; yes you will be corrected by God; God is a rewarder—he will reward you; He is making you like Jesus, so don’t let your joy and hope be robbed (whether by “ministers” and their traditions or by circumstances), because the quickest way to impurity is to lose hope in Christ (1 John 3:3). Unlike Esau, you have every spiritual chance in the world, because Christ FORGIVES generational iniquity! He is able to save to the UTTERMOST those who come to God through him. He completely has taken away/done away with your sin. So, draw near in full assured faith and have your conscience cleansed with his pure water from dead works to serve the Living God, remembering your guilt and the guilt of your fathers no more — this is the message of Hebrews.
In conclusion, New Testament believers should note by the above evidence that there is no such phenomenon as an unchangeable “curse” on the 3rd and 4th generation of a family, due to the sins of one’s forefathers. That was a stipulation placed on those participating in the Old Covenant. A doctrine of unalterable generational limitations that must be waited out, or of “second-tier” Christians, is a damnable and erroneous doctrine indeed.
As John Piper stated,
- The sins of the fathers are punished in the children through becoming the sins of the children.
- Because of God’s grace, which is finally secured by Christ, the children can confess their own sins and the sins of their fathers and be forgiven and accepted by God.
However, as Dr. Warner would concur, repentance does mean “turning from” (other gods, practices, traditions, faiths, worldviews) in order to turn to God by placing faith in Christ (Acts 19:19; 20:21). To be sure, if a believer “opens the door” by dabbling in evil, then beware. We do not fight against flesh and blood (Eph. 6). Concerning spiritual warfare, the believer’s soul is undoubtedly redeemed and regenerated at their turning from/renouncing all forms of godlessness toward God and faith in Christ; however, the believer can also experience some form of oppression which the Adversary of our souls is slow to relinquish… as it is the enemy’s way to continuously seek whom he may devour, especially Christians (Eph. 6:13; 1 Pet. 5:8). I reiterate. it is possible for the Christian, especially the new believer, to experience spiritual oppression.
This kind of oppression is only experienced when the believer “opens the door” to spiritual wickedness wittingly or when it is opened for him/her through pagan, spiritist or even apostate observances/vows performed by parents. Just as a parent’s own immaturity or substance abuse can result in the risk of a child’s underdevelopment, even so spiritual impediments and harm can come to a child in an at-risk home situation. Similarly, sometimes the sin of sexual child abuse occurs, and this can set a path in motion for a child that lasts into adulthood. Professional Christian counseling should be undergone for such cases, as there may not only be spiritual wounds but emotional and psychological and perhaps physical ones too.
Whether one ‘opens a door’ by his own contrary thoughts/actions (2 Tim. 2:24-26) or if parents or an offender opens the door for a child, the believer must “close the door” by use of their own will to stand against/renounce those things in Jesus’ name. [Eph. 6:10-20] Again, this freedom oftentimes occurs at one’s initial acceptance of Christ, because the individual renounces all other gods and sins at that time. It is possible for someone to want and claim Christ but not renounce the ways of his former wickedness and/or not recognize the spiritual claim some rituals may allow. In these cases, the proper measures must be taken.
Planning our Life God’s Way
Deeper Walk International has many resources available on spiritual warfare and continuous victory in Christ
Dominion & Dynasty by Stephen G. Dempster (A most nearly perfect resource for accurately interpreting the Old Testament)
The Error of Replacement Theology: Has the Church Replaced Israel
Godly people can suffer, too, and still be right in the middle of God’s good plans and purposes. http://bit.ly/1ng4lfK via @GregLaurie
With his many books and website, please see Neil T. Anderson’s life’s work