UnComfortable: The Sins of the Father

A Series on topics we’d rather not talk about.

I’ve titled today’s message “The Sins of the Father.” Today we will look at several verses in the Bible that address this concept. Here’s something uncomfortable to start with: a cursory reading of them might lead you to believe they contradict one another. Where one insinuates people are punished for their father’s sins, others state that they are not. 

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

The idea of scripture seeming to say two different things is enough to make a church goer get goosebumps. Fear not, that’s why we study scripture within its context.  

But before all that, I must tell you the topic behind the topic. Where these passages deal with sin and guilt, it’s their modern-day connection with the topic of racism that brings it to the forefront. There is a philosophy highly followed and pushed around the U.S. today that heaps guilt or demands people heap guilt upon themselves in order to be forgiven and accepted. Then their only best next step is to “do better.” 

They are guilty by virtue of their skin tone, their ancestry, and most of all – the vile actions of their ancestors. These folks are held responsible for the actions of people long dead.

This…this is why I wanted to look at passages about “the sins of the father.” Does the bible say this kind of guilt is holy, useful and redeeming? Let’s dive into the Word and see.

Let’s start with a clean slate for a moment and think about what guilt is and where it comes from– apart from the context of the aforementioned racial philosophy.

Real guilt is the result of a working conscience.

This is only something that is personally activated.

Our first passage isn’t actually a “Sins of the Father” passage. It comes from the second letter Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. It references his first letter and that he had to identify some sin and wrong that was going on among them. Then he talks about the believer’s response.

8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

2 Cor 7:8-11  NIV

Let’s take a moment to reflect on verse 10 again.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

The feeling of guilt comes from within as a result of a working conscience. 

Sometimes you just “know” right from wrong, sometimes you learn the boundaries through rules. 

It can be informed by the rule of law of a particular group

Example: Broke a known law. 

Unfortunately, the very fact that something is “against the rules” becomes alluring to us. We sin in spite of it.

We realize it doesn’t satisfy like we hoped, we have regret, remorse. Identifying we did wrong, sinned. 

Then we repent. Not everyone gets here. This is the stage of intentionally turning away from those very actions that led to the sin.

Real guilt is associated with taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

Parents may have regrets when their child, whom they may have raised to follow God, may have guided along the way, and continued to pray for night and day – those same kids grow up to be adults who live far from God. They know right from wrong and choose sin and self.

You know very well that many Christian moms and dads, Grandparents, feel responsible for not doing enough.

But if you believe in Free will – you’ve got to believe a man or woman is actually responsible for their own actions. 

We shouldn’t feel guilty for things we’ve not done, because we are not guilty.

Here are just a few passages where scripture identifies blame and guilt for sin.

“16 Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16 NIV

20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”

Ezekiel 18:20 NIV

Deut 24:16 clarifies matters of justice. The chapter mainly is preoccupied with how to treat one another and what to do with someone who doesn’t treat others like the creation of God they are.

The Ezekiel passage is part of a bigger discussion. It actually starts out with a trite little saying -a pity party proverb, if you ask me:

““‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? (Ezekiel 18:2b)

The idea behind this is that the current generation is blaming their current conditions on the sins of their forefathers. They wouldn’t take responsibility for their own acceptance of wickedness and idolatry. The MacArthur bible commentary phrases it this way: “They sinned (ate sour grapes) and now we inherit the bitterness.”

So to this sentiment, God says “Nope. This isn’t reality. You die for your own sins.” 

In fact this chapter makes a careful analogy, giving real-world examples to identify this important chain of consequences.

“Suppose there is a righteous man

    who does what is just and right.

6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines

    or look to the idols of Israel.

He does not defile his neighbor’s wife

    or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.

7 He does not oppress anyone,

    but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.

He does not commit robbery

    but gives his food to the hungry

    and provides clothing for the naked.

8 He does not lend to them at interest

    or take a profit from them.

He withholds his hand from doing wrong

    and judges fairly between two parties.

9 He follows my decrees

    and faithfully keeps my laws.

That man is righteous;

    he will surely live,

declares the Sovereign Lord.

10 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things[a] 11 (though the father has done none of them):

“He eats at the mountain shrines.

He defiles his neighbor’s wife.

12 He oppresses the poor and needy.

He commits robbery.

He does not return what he took in pledge.

He looks to the idols.

He does detestable things.

13 He lends at interest and takes a profit.

Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

14 “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:

15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines

    or look to the idols of Israel.

He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.

16 He does not oppress anyone

    or require a pledge for a loan.

He does not commit robbery

    but gives his food to the hungry

    and provides clothing for the naked.

17 He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor

    and takes no interest or profit from them.

He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.

He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

Ezekiel 18:5-17 NIV

So grandpa lives righteously. Dad, not so much. Son righteously. Neither Grandpa or grandson bear guilt for the actions of the guy in the middle. Neither suffers consequences directly connected with this bad dad. 

If that’s completely true and illustrates personal responsibility, then where is the debate? If this is so clear cut, why does this “sins of the father” talk? Because…

There are still consequences (we bare) for things we didn’t do

Similar to the consequences to using a weapon in self defense. (Example: still took or damaged a life in pursuit of saving another.)

Growing up in an abusive home, exposure to things such as drugs, alcohol, violence, and various nefarious and illegal activities has an impact on people – namely children – who didn’t have a choice about being brought up in that environment. 

They may feel guilt for why their parents are the way they are.

The song “What Have We Become?” from Christian rap/rock band dcTalk paints a very sad picture of what taking on someone else’s guilt can do to a child. Verse 2 says: 

Mom and Dad are fightin’

As Rosie lies there crying

For once again she’s overheard

Regrets of their mistake

With Christmas bells a-ringing

Little Rosie’d leave them grievin’

The gift she’d give her family

Would be the pills she’d take

An inconvenient child

She wasn’t worth their while

(Full lyrics)

dcTalk, “What Have We become? for the album “Jesus Freak”

So in a way, people become victims of their parent’s sins, but they may act as perpetrators of the same.

Another consequence is that person may latch on to the same rebellious and sinful desires as their forefathers. 

When a child sees their parents treat each other in a less than honorable way, they might think that is OK and normal. Even though that child doesn’t receive any of the punishment or guilt directly, it comes with them in their marriage unless identified and dealt with.

Of course, one rebellious attitude is that of racism. The belief that your race or ethnicity is superior to others. It affects the way you interact with others, treat others, talk about others when you think no one is listening. God hears. And sometimes, so do the ears of little kids and teens. 

Let’s read the quintessential passage on “the Sins of the Father”

6 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, 7 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.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NIV

If you wanted to understand how loving and patient God is, He didn’t just destroy all of Israel when they fell into idolatry. Yes, many people died as a result of the creation of the golden calf, but Israel stayed alive. Even later, when an entire generation – including leaders Aaron and Moses – died wandering in the desert, 2 righteous men Caleb and Joshua were the exception. By their character and actions they lived to lead Israel after the Mosaic leadership timeframe. 

When people did follow the leadership of Joshua, walls fell down, battles were won, needs were provided for. 

However, some people did not. A man named Achan in Joshua 7 didn’t follow The Lord’s directions to Destroy and devote the required things over to the Lord. Plundered Jericho secretly hiding his stash. He broke fellowship, broke community. 

This secret sin was turning God’s favor from them, causing them to lose what seemed to be an easy victory over Ai. So they ferreted out Achan…

And even after he confessed what he had done, showed the stolen items he hid in his tent…he and his whole family was stoned to death and all that belonged to him burned. The big rocks were piled up there, a reminder of that place of trouble.

Solution – Unity in the Family of God

I’d like to read you an excerpt from the church of the Nazarene Manual on the topic of discrimination.      

“We reemphasize our belief that holiness of heart and life is the basis for right living. We believe that Christian charity between racial groups or gender will come when the hearts of people have been changed by complete submission to Jesus Christ, and that the essence of true Christianity consists in loving God with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself.

“Therefore, we renounce any form of racial and ethnic indifference, exclusion, subjugation, or oppression as a grave sin against God and our fellow human beings. We lament the legacy of every form of racism throughout the world, and we seek to confront that legacy through repentance, reconciliation, and biblical justice. We seek to repent of every behavior in which we have been overtly or covertly complicit with the sin of racism, both past and present; and in confession and lament we seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

Church of the Nazarene Manual https://2017.manual.nazarene.org/paragraph/p915/

Believers, just as with any sin:

  1. The Holy Spirit pricks our hearts
  2. We acknowledge our sin
  3. Ask for forgiveness, 
  4. Accept the forgiveness granted us through Christ’s sacrifice

Remember what we read earlier from 2 Corinthians:

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

I don’t believe our biggest problem is that we are not aware of the wrong we have done. It is walking around, feeling convicted of wrongs we have not committed. Sins of our fathers, that need not be owned and repeated by us. False guilt that drives a person to degrade themselves for no possibility of redemption. That is what is being offered in this racial philosophy of today. 

Believers, there is only one way to combat false guilt. To combat racism. It’s not about being anti something, rather pro-something. Unity in our Community.

3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV

In communion, we are individuals recognizing and remembering. Be we are a people as well. Communing with God. Communing with each other. Communing with Christians all over the world, as we take these elements today.

listen an reflect on what Christ has done for you.

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