Do Children “Pay” For Their Parents’ Sin?
Are you paying for your father’s sins? Will your children have to pay for your sins?
The 2nd of the 10 Commandments says,
“You shall not bow down to (idols) or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:8-10, NIV). (Where the NIV says “punishing” the King James Version says “visiting”).
Because of this verse, I have spent many years wondering, “Am I being punished for the sins of my grandfathers and great grandfathers?”
I also have spent a lot of time wondering, “Will my children and their children suffer for my sins?”
Perhaps you, too, have puzzled over these issues. Here’s what the Bible has to say about the subject.
First, children do suffer for their parent’s sins (notice the nuanced wording of the New International Version compared to the New Living Translation)…
You are loving and kind to thousands, though children suffer for their parents’ sins (Jeremiah 32:18, NLT).
You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them (Jeremiah 32:18, NIV).
All you have to do to verify this is watch an episode of Dr. Phil. Dysfunctional, sinful (sometimes evil) fathers and mothers do leave emotional scars that can hamstring a child for life.
Second, children, however, do not pay for their parent’s sins…
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins” (2 Kings 14:6, 2 Chronicles 25:4).
What does this mean to a leader trying to disciple men?
- As leaders, let’s make sure our men understand they are not being held accountable for the sins of their fathers, even if they are suffering because of those sins. A man who never felt his father’s love and approval is not responsible for his father’s sin, even though it hurts.
- As a deterrent to sinful behavior, let’s make sure our men understand that when they sin (e.g., commit adultery or seek an unbiblical divorce), their children will indeed suffer for their sins. For example, a young woman told me, “When my father deserted us, I didn’t just lose my dad. I lost my mom too, because she had to work two jobs and I hardly ever saw her.” The effect on this young woman has been lifelong.
- Let’s encourage men to confess the sins of their fathers. It is biblical to confess the sins of our fathers (e.g., racism, abuse, neglect, dishonesty)….
Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:2).
But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers… (Leviticus 26:40).
- Fourth, let’s encourage men to ask God for mercy to be released from any bondage resulting from their parents’ sins…
David prayed, “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers” (Psalm 79:8).
- Let’s encourage men to forgive their parents — they will never make real progress until they do. Immediately after the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said….
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).
Bottom line: Yes, as children we do suffer for our parents’ sins, but we are not responsible for their sins. We don’t “pay” for the sins of our parents. We each stand alone before God. We each need a Redeemer and Savior of our own.
Your brother in the battle,