Do Children “Pay” For Their Parents’ Sin?
By Patrick Morley
MIM Founder & Executive Chairman
Winter Park, Florida
Are you paying for your father’s sins? Will your children have to pay for your sins?
The second 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 5:9-10, NIV) (Note: 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.
The Bible is clear that children absolutely do suffer for their parents’ sins (notice the nuanced wording of the New International Version compared to the New Living Translation):
You show unfailing love to thousands, but you also bring the consequences of one generation’s sin upon the next. (Jeremiah 32:18a, NLT)
You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. (Jeremiah 32:18a, NIV)
All you have to do to verify this is watch an episode of Dr. Phil. Dysfunctional, sinful, and sometimes evil fathers and mothers do leave emotional scars that can hamstring a child for life.
It’s also clear, however, that children do not pay for their parents’ sins:
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.” (2 Chronicles 25:4b, NIV)
What does this mean to a leader trying to disciple men?
There are five applications:
1) As leaders, let’s make sure our men understand they are not being held accountable for the sins of their parents, even if they are suffering because of those sins. A man who never felt his father’s love and approval, for example, is not responsible for his father’s sin, even though it hurts.
2) As a deterrent to sinful behavior, let’s make sure our men understand that when they sin (e.g., commit adultery, abuse alcohol, or seek an unbiblical divorce), their children will indeed suffer for their sins. For example, a young woman once 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 impact on this young woman has been lifelong.
3) Let’s encourage men to confess the sins of their parents (e.g., racism, abuse, neglect, dishonesty). It is biblical to do so:
And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. (Nehemiah 9:2, ESV)
But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and hostility toward me… (Leviticus 26:40, NIV)
4) Let’s encourage men to ask God for mercy to be released from any bondage resulting from their parents’ sins. In the psalms, David prayed:
“Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” (Psalm 79:8, NIV)
5) Let’s encourage men to forgive their parents. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation of the relationship, but a lack of forgiveness will stunt their own progress—emotionally and more importantly, spiritually. Immediately after the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
The bottom line is this: 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.
THE BIG IDEA: We may suffer for the sins of our parents, but we are not responsible for them. We can use this truth to help men confess, forgive, and grow.
*This article was originally published in 2005 by Man in the Mirror.