On Sunday, July 10, 2016, I gave a message based on Gen. 26:1-11 and Isaac’s lying about his wife Rebekah, claiming she was his sister during their time living among the Philistines of Gerar. It’s a virtual repeat of the behavior of his father Abraham. There is much to learn from this passage, but contrary to some, it does NOT teach the principle of “generational sins.” We took the time to dismiss that idea during the message. But generational sins and curses is an aberrant teaching that’s pervasive in certain quarters, so I wanted to provide a comprehensive response to it. This article appeared in the March-April, 2008 edition of the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter.
Generational Sins & Blaming the Past
Psychological counseling theories and therapies encourage individuals to look outside themselves to explain why they do what they do and why they feel the way they do. This blame game all started in the Garden of Eden and has continued throughout the centuries. The blame game gained status during the last century through Sigmund Freud and his followers, who placed the main source of adult problems back into one’s early childhood. The parents, especially the mothers, were the culprits, and of course the parents were simply passing along their own problems, which likewise had their source in their parents, going back generation after generation all the way back to Adam and Eve. Through Freud the blame game was dressed in medical garb and has now risen to great prominence in the present therapeutic culture of our psychological society.
As Christians entered the field of professional counseling, psychology became integrated with the Bible. Like trying to mix oil and water, this should never have been done. It has been a deceptive stumbling block. As Scripture and psychology are brought together, psychology is used to interpret Scripture (erroneously) and Scripture is misused to justify psychological notions. This ungodly mingling has been going on for so long now that one does not even have to be a psychologically trained individual to utilize psychological explanations regarding human nature and to misuse Scripture to support psychological counseling theories and practices. One example is the heavy reliance on a person’s past to explain current feelings and behavior. In fact, Christians outdo the psychologists when they misuse such verses as Exodus 34:7.
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation (Exodus 34:7).
Some Christians believe that Exodus 34:7 supports the idea of generational sins causing problems for those who have been born again but who are suffering from problems of living. Some use this verse to convince fellow believers that people can discover the reasons for their problems in their past (i.e., blame their past, their parents, and/or their ancestors for their problems). They are then encouraged to find relief by exploring their early childhood through recovered memory therapy or inner healing and even by searching their genealogy for ancestral sins or curses. However, this verse should not be used for such purposes.
Just prior to Exodus 34:7, God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as “The Lord, God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). The companion verses to Exodus 34:6-7 are connected to the commandment against idolatry:
Thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5-6).
God forgives those who seek His mercy and forgiveness, but the sins and iniquities of those who hate God and willfully continue in their rebellion remain in their sin. The great contrast comes when one turns to God and repents. While hostility towards God may be passed on to the children through example, the Scriptures clearly state that those who turn to God, seek His mercy, and love Him are forgiven. Moreover, those who love and serve God will be a blessing to their children according to Psalm 103:17: “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.”
Besides showing forth the goodness and mercy of God in contrast to the depravity of mankind, the Exodus verses also serve as a warning to parents regarding sinful behavior and its consequences For instance, if a father is an illegal drug user and seller, he is, by his example, training his children to do likewise. This is a matter of example, however, rather than causation. Therefore, the choice and responsibility remains with each person. If the son does not follow his father’s example he will not bear the iniquity: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16).
Freud’s “profane and vain babblings” have deceived many Christians who naively believe and teach others to go back into the past to find healing so that they can live godly lives.
If the child does follow his father’s ways, he is responsible for his own sin, but he cannot be held responsible for his father’s sin and visa versa. However, if the son does not follow his father’s sinful example, turns to the Lord, and repents of his own sin and seeks forgiveness, he will be forgiven. These verses together with Ezekiel reveal the awful influences of sinful behavior, but they also indicate that there is a great difference between influence and causation.
Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (Ezekiel 18:19-20).
The example may still be there, but the son is responsible for his own behavior and the one who repents is forgiven and made free to walk with the Lord. These verses cannot be used to support the blame game.
Moreover, ever since the death and resurrection of Christ, believers have a brand new life: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). From the moment of salvation, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). This new life does not need help from the psychological wisdom of men or from those who promote inner healing from one’s past or from those who seek to identify and renounce generational sins and curses.
Nevertheless, numerous Christians misuse Exodus 34:7 by teaching that people’s present behavior and problems are due to what happened to them when they were children, and some teach that Christians must explore both their early life and their ancestry to see what residues of sin may be affecting their Christian walk and leading them into sin. Such activity does not remove the sin or the guilt for personal sin; instead it provides a false excuse for present problems and thereby strengthens the flesh. This fleshly, sinful exercise in futility ignores Paul’s admonition: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:6-8).
We live in a psychological society and many believers have absorbed a great deal of worldly philosophy and vain deceit, including the Freudian myth that today’s decisions, behavior, emotions, hang-ups, difficult relationships, and other problems of living are caused by circumstances of early childhood. Freud did not believe the Bible or anything God has revealed about the soul of man. In his rebellion, he devised his theory of a deterministic unconscious, which is his satanic substitute for the soul. Freud taught that during the first five years of a child’s life an unconscious is formed that will determine future thinking feeling, and behaving. He gave the example of an iceberg to show that a person’s choices are very limited (that which is seen of the iceberg) and that everything else is determined by the unconscious (that mass of unseen ice below the surface). These were the kinds of notions he concocted following in the wake of Mesmer and those using mediums and so-called clairvoyants along with hypnosis to investigate the unconscious. Freud used both hypnosis and cocaine while he was developing his theories. His doctrines of the unconscious, unconscious determinants of behavior, repression, denial, penis envy, castration anxiety, etc. are only “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world.” They are “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20).
Freud’s “profane and vain babblings” have deceived many Christians who naively believe and teach others to go back into the past to find healing so that they can live godly lives. Those who do so are trying to fix an unconscious that is supposedly causing them to do what they do. The Bible reveals the truth about the soul. The Bible does not instruct Christians to revisit their childhood or their ancestral past to discover the source of what’s causing them to sin today. In fact, to do so puts Christians back into the very fleshly nature that they are to put off. The source for all ungodly thinking, feeling, and behaving is very clear: it is the old self or the flesh, our old nature, which we all inherited from our original parents. We all inherited the results of the fall so that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
Jesus knew that the old nature was far too damaged by sin to be healed or fixed. It had to be replaced. When He died on the cross He became sin for us. He took the punishment for every sin we have committed against Him and others. When He died in our place, He broke the power of sin, and as we identify with His death we recognize that “our old man [old nature, old self] is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6). Here is our freedom from the past, including “emotional wounds” and any sinful attitudes and behavior that we may have learned from our parents, grandparents, and others; for when we identify with Christ in His death and resurrection we are no longer under the domination of sin, “for he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). We are no longer under the curse of the law or any other curse, because Christ became a curse for us: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
Believers are called to live according to the fullness of what Christ accomplished on the cross so that we can boldly declare with Paul, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8). Paul expressed this truth even more dramatically in his letter to the Galatians when he declared: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
What a deceitful and even disobedient waste of time and energy to go sniveling into the personal and generational past and to go through the saga of calling up everything bad in a vain effort to get rid of any residual effects or to break any so-called hold from one’s personal or generational past. Believers do not grow spiritually through such a fleshly activity. They cannot be walking according to the Spirit while they are ruminating on the past and blaming parents and ancestors. The Bible clearly tells us: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh…. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 24-25). Instead of looking back into their past for reasons for present problems, believers are instructed to follow Paul’s example of “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).
Believers need to be warned about the pied pipers who talk about emotional wounds, inner healing, generational sins and curses, and all kinds of other psychological and/or occult ideas mixed in with Scripture. Many follow these erroneous teachings, not only in the midst of problems but also in their quest to improve their Christian life and even grow spiritually. However, these psychologically-tainted, unbiblical teachings will lead them in the wrong direction, to focusing on self, blaming others, and nurturing the flesh, rather than remembering the cross, looking unto Jesus, and living their new life in Christ. Those who are saved have “put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9-10). A focus on self and the past will only weaken believers just when they need to be strong in faith, hope, and love.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2008, Vol. 16, No. 2)
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