Generational curses and sin is very much alive and well today in various forms. However, it might not look the way you think.
Consider this. My ex-husband left me in the month of February. His father left his mother on Valentine’s Day. I believe that is part of a generational curse. Not a make-believe curse like in Disney movies, where princesses get put to sleep against their will, but more of a curse of influence. My ex carried out what he knew and what was modeled to him.
It’s not always as specific as the same act reoccurring on the same day on the calendar—more often than not, generational sin expresses itself in broader ways. For example, after my ex’s father left his mother, the father’s relationship with both of his children suffered greatly until they didn’t speak at all for years. To my knowledge, they still haven’t. After my ex left me, a similar “curse” began to play out, and now he doesn’t have an active role in our daughter’s life.
This isn’t a “curse” controlling him against his will, like we know curses to be portrayed in Hollywood where people are “under spells.” People are responsible for their sin, their choices, and their behaviors. At the same time, I believe that without a miraculous breaking of destructive cycles by the Holy Spirit in one’s life, that person under the generational curse is destined to repeat the cycles they knew.
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What Does the Bible Tell Us about Generational Curses?
Logically, we know that when children grow up under various influences, they are much more likely to carry those influences into their adulthood and act the same way. It’s familiar. It’s what they know. When teenagers are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and various forms of fornication or pornography, and have those things around them as “normal” during their formative years, then they are inevitably—without a work of the Holy Spirit intervening—going to act out those same “normals” in their own lives. Most often they keep the pattern of destructive behavior going, and pass it down to their children.
The Bible says a lot about generational curses, and sometimes it can be confusing to try to put what seem to be two conflicting messages together. But we know the Bible is inerrant and doesn’t contradict itself, so there is an understanding to be discovered.
For example, in Numbers 14:18 it reads (emphasis mine): “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
And in Exodus 20:5-6 it reads: “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
But in Ezekiel 18:20 it reads: “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.”
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Who Is to Blame for Sin across Generations?
John Piper makes a good point about this topic: “The generations to come who experience the penalty of the fathers’ sins are those who hate God. We are not told how the fathers’ sins become the children’s sins. But what we are told is that when the father’s sins are visited on the children, it is because the children are really sinful. That is the form in which the fathers’ sins are visited. Therefore, all judgment is really deserved by the person who is punished.”
So, it’s not that the next generations coming down the pipe were innocent, and were being unfairly punished for their father’s or grandfather’s sins—rather, their parents’ sin became their own. They imitated what they knew, and they sinned as their parents had sinned before them.
No (good) father or mother would ever wish their own burdens and sins on their children. Good parents typically want better for their own children than what they had or experienced in life. So in a way, the continued punishment for the parents unconfessed, unrepentant sin is that the sins are repeated through the next generations. “The sins of the fathers are punished in the children through becoming the sins of the children,” says John Piper.
That can feel really heavy, can’t it? But thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.
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What Hope of Freedom do We Have from Generational Curses?
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:6-9)
There is hope. There is potential for a different future for each generation, based on whether they walk in the flesh or whether they walk in the Spirit. And that is up to the individual and to the Holy Spirit Himself.
“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:40-42, emphasis mine).
Confession and repentance changes everything. “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” (John Piper).
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How to Break Generational Curses - God Prepared the Way to Freedom through Jesus Christ
The reverse is also the same. Parents who walk in the spirit but have children who walk in the flesh are not to blame themselves for the sin and choices of their child. “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” (Ezekiel 18:20).
While parents are called to raise their children in the ways of the Lord and provide good influence over their kids, children are ultimately still responsible for their choices, behaviors, and sins just as the parents are for their own. Parents aren’t to be found guilty over the sins of their children, and children aren’t to be found guilty regarding the sin of their parents. Everyone bears their own responsibility.
At the end of the day, we know that Christ became a curse for us to give us hope, freedom, and eternal life. Because of Christ, we can break the patterns in our lives that are damaging and sinful.
“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’— 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 3:12-14)
Praise God, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes of our fathers, grandfathers, or great-grandfathers! We don’t have to imitate the sin of our ancestors. We’re not helpless or trapped in these vicious cycles but rather, we have the power to break these chains once and for all through the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
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Originally published Monday, 19 July 2021.