Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities. Lamentations 5:7 (ESV)
In 1977 Roots was aired on ABC as a television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It received 37 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It won also a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale and still holds a record as the third-highest-rated US television program. Although finding the genealogies of African Americans can be extremely problematic because of the lack of records kept both here and in Africa, there is something fascinating about discovering from whom we are descended. Most of us would like to know more about our forebears; although, some would just as soon let sleeping dogs lie.
The more we learn about DNA and genetics, the more we understand that biologically our ancestors determine who we are. We have good and bad traits because of what has been handed down to us. What we make of it is our responsibility. We must play the hand we were dealt. On a social level, their is much disagreement. We have an ongoing discussion regarding whether people are more a product of their environment or their genetics. Conservative thinking more or less says that neither is definitive. Rather we are determined by our own choices.
Despite the generally held belief that we are not greatly influenced by what our ancestors did or did not do spiritually, ethically, or morally, the Bible teaches something different. Every person is a responsible actor on the stage of life during the span of years God gives us. We are accountable to God, to society, to family, and to friends. For followers of Christ, we are also accountable to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, our first family, so to speak. For disciples of Christ, what our parents and other ancestors did or did not do will not be what we have to account for at the throne of judgment before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the end of time. We will be judged for our own words and actions, the chief being did we confess Jesus as Lord and live for him. However, those who do not confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that he has risen from the dead will be judged not only for their own sins, but for the unforgiven sins of their ancestors as well. In addition, even believers are affected in this life at least by the sins of their ancestors, unless they take the appropriate action.
I realize that some of you may be ready to condemn me as a heretic, but, before you do, please consider the following.
Each of us is born into this world with a built in sin nature inherited from our first parents. We are “sin factories” who do not need to be taught how to sin, thanks to this sin nature. Sinning comes naturally. As a result of this unfortunate fact, we all consciously participate in the rebellion of Adam at some point in our lives, if we live very many years at all. None of us have a choice in the matter. We are born as slaves to sin, and it was not directly our fault. It is a result of sin being passed down from generation to generation.
Jesus told the people of Jerusalem during his day that their generation would be held accountable for “…all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom [they] murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” [Matthew 23:35 (ESV)] He spoke this in the hearing of the adult religious leaders, but the sentence was carried out on their children some forty years later when Emperor Titus annihilated the populace of Jerusalem in one of the most brutal events in Jewish history. These were the same children whom Jesus wished to draw to himself to preserve them from this awful judgment. A couple of verses later, he said hauntingly: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Matthew 23:37 (ESV)]
In Joshua’s day, the Canaanites who lived in the promised land received the accumulated judgment that had been piling up for centuries as God patiently waited. Their ancestors sort of “got away with it,” but the descendants received the full brunt of God’s judgment.
Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:13-16 (ESV)
- Unsolved murders result in the blood of the victim crying out to God for justice. God prescribed a way to handle this in Deuteronomy so that judgment would not fall on the rest of the populace.
If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, 2 then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. 3 And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. 4 And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. 5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the LORD, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. 6 And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7 and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. 8 Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ 9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 (ESV)
- During King David’s reign, there was a famine for three years which was the result of an unconfessed, unatoned for sin committed by Saul against the Gibeonites. The famine ended when David executed God’s prescribed justice in this matter. (2 Samuel 21:1-14)
- Several Old Covenant leaders confessed their own sins and the sins of the forefathers as the necessary form of repentance to usher in a new season of blessings. They understood they were linked to the sins of their ancestors and that God’s judgment for those sins hung over them or was being experienced already.
- And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. Nehemiah 9:2 (ESV)
- We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Jeremiah 14:20 (ESV)
- O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” 20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. Daniel 9:16-21 (ESV)
God clearly stated the law of generational accountability in the Old Covenant.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7 (ESV)
Anyone with an open mind can also reason from history that descendants often bear the brunt of judgment that is poured out because of the sins of their forefathers. The American Civil War is a good example. The judgment that has fallen upon the United States at present is another.
Some would argue that Ezekiel did away with this law of generational sowing and reaping.
“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Ezekiel 18:19-23 (ESV)
This is only true under the New Covenant through which Jesus bore the judgments against our own sins and those of our ancestors. Most believers clearly understand that personal sins are covered by Jesus bearing our sins, but fail to grasp that generational sins have been atoned for as well. Consider the following scriptures.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus bore ever curse (judgment) against our sins and those of our forefathers so we might receive a generational blessing coming down from Abraham through the generations, through Christ, the promised seed of Abraham. Jesus was physically descended from Abraham and spiritually descended from God the Father. The new birth taps us into the spiritual blessings of Abraham found in Christ alone.
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:17-19 (ESV)
Generational sins come down through families and result in children picking up the sinful “ways” of their ancestors. Unless a person turns to Christ in faith and receives the deliverance Jesus has provided from the generational sins, judgments, and evil ways, we will likely become enmeshed in them, doing the deeds of our ancestors and bringing a like judgment upon ourselves, extending the iniquities of our family line yet further. It is vital that followers of Christ apprehend Jesus’ provision of forgiveness and redemption for generational and personal sins.
Many people argue that we did not do the deeds of our ancestors and should not be held accountable. This line of reasoning is often used by white people today in the United States in protest to the notion that we are somehow culpable for our forefathers owning slaves. On the surface this argument sounds reasonable, but it fails to pass the test of Bible truth. In Jesus’ day, he accused the Jewish religious leaders of being in agreement with their ancestors who had murdered the prophets.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:29-36 (ESV)
The scribes and Pharisees did not realize that even though they did not actually carry out the deed of their ancestors, generational guilt still hung over their heads. In addition, because the sin had never been properly acknowledged, repented of, and renounced, the leaders of Jesus’ day were actually in agreement with the sins of their ancestors, which was proved when they crucified Jesus. Unconfessed and unrepented of sin often ends up being reproduced by succeeding generations. Our refusal to own up to our ancestors’ sins, involves us in their guilt.
My wife and I were recently in Vincennes, Indiana and visited the memorial to George Rogers Clark, the famous military leader who almost singlehandedly saved what was then the American West from the British during the American Revolution. The monument to his name is quite impressive, but it does not make up for the shabby and immoral way our nation treated him following the war. Because the nation was nearly bankrupt during the Revolution and Continental currency was more or less worthless, Colonel Clark provided for his men on his own tab, keeping receipts for reimbursement. He sent the receipts back to Congress for payment, but some were burned when Benedict Arnold’s forces attacked an American fort, and some were misplaced in an attic in Williamsburg, VA. Our leaders refused to do the righteous thing and help this man out, leaving him to fend for himself. Colonel Clark was bankrupted and ruined by an ungrateful nation. He died a poor man and an alcoholic. What a terrible travesty. The present monument is quite ironic in retrospect. Perhaps our nation repented of this terrible misdeed, but if it has not, no monument makes up for the judgment that still hangs over us for this injustice.
Today we see our nation reaping the judgments associated with the sins of our ancestors and our own misdeeds as well. Has our nation ever properly acknowledged its sins with respect to the black slaves imported here from Africa. Have we truly repented? Have we ever properly acknowledged and repented for our sins against Native Americans? Has our nation renounced and repented of murdering, as of this writing, 55,772,015 unborn infants under the guise of women’s reproductive “rights?” Do we honestly think that the innocent blood spilled in our doctors’ offices, hospitals, and abortion mills will not be avenged by an all-knowing and perfectly just God? It is high time for more and more of us followers of Christ to pray earnestly for forgiveness and speak out against these terrible sins. If we keep our mouths shut, we are just as guilty as the Pharisees of old, and that is a scary thought indeed. Now, what are you going to do?
Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? Proverbs 24:11-12 (ESV)
Christ and Generational Blessings Under the New Covenant
Thankfully, generational blessings also are part of God’s economy. The New Covenant only is effective because this is so. Consider what Paul wrote to help us understand how all this works.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:12-21 (ESV)
Adam, acting as the governmental and biological head of the human race, condemned us all to death by his sin and the sinfulness (sin nature) which has been passed down to every generation since. Jesus, acting as the Second Adam, has become the fount of blessing to everyone who places his or her faith in him. Through what is called the new birth, we are regenerated and inherit Christ’s spiritual blessings – all of them. (Ephesians 1:3) Just as we piggy backed on Adam down the path to destruction, we ride on Jesus’ shoulders into freedom and life. In neither case were we the originator. We did not commit the original sin, nor do we earn our own salvation by living a perfect life of obedience to God, as Jesus did. Jesus came to set the captives free and make us heirs of God. While we might grumble that paying for the sins of our forefathers is not fair, anyone in his or her right mind will rejoice that we are blessed generationally because of Jesus.
It is time for us to take responsibility for our family lines, our communities, and our nation, standing in the gap with prayer, repentance, and faith on behalf of those who do not understand generational principles. It is the least we can do. Sharing the Good News that others can be free because of Jesus is the most we can do. I hope you will join me.