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Are sins passed down in families?

Scripture: Exodus 20:4
Can the sins of parents be passed down from generation to generation? Exodus 20 speaks of "visiting the iniquity unto the third and fourth generation." There is a principal in life that parents reproduce their behavior in their children. But each person is responsible for their own sins.
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Caller:  Yes, I was reading Psalms 14:5, Psalms 5:12, Psalms 34, Exodus 34:6,7.

Pastor Doug:  Pick one, where do you want us to go?

Caller:  My question has to do with the passing of punishment or sin from generation to generation, from the father to the son to the grandkids to the great-grandkids.

Pastor Doug:  Ah, that's a good question.  Why don't we start by going down to the Ten Commandments, that's probably the most famous example, where He talks about 'unto the third and fourth generation'  is that what you're wondering? 

Caller:  Yes, sir.

Pastor Doug:  Okay.  Let's see here.  Go to the second commandment, verse 4.  Exodus 20:4.  'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or the earth beneath or the water under the earth.  5 thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting here it is visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them who hate Me.  6 and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.'  I think I'm glad it's says third and fourth generation of them that hate me, thousands of them that love me, so the love outweighs the hate.  Does it sound like God is saying I'm going to place a curse on people, and their children and great-grandchildren?  That's not what He's talking about.  What the Lord is saying here is that there's a principle in life that parents reproduce their behavior in their children and you can usually trace it three or four generations. 

Caller:  Okay.  I was wondering, because I take it, and I'm glad you corrected me, I take it as, you know, if I sin, that sin will be passed down to my children and my great-grandchildren, and so forth and so forth.

Pastor Doug:  No, God does not arbitrarily impose your sin on your children, because the Bible says very carefully, God says 'The son is not accountable for the sins of the father, and the father is not accountable for the sins of the son.  The righteousness of the righteous will be upon them, the wickedness of the wicked will be upon them.'  Another time, the Lord says, 'Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in the land, they will deliver neither son nor daughter by their righteousness, they will deliver their own souls.'  So God establishes a very clear principle in the Bible that he does not reward or punish offspring because of what the parents do.  What He's saying in these passages is that by the example of the parents there's a strong possibility that the children are going to follow that example.  A good instance of this in the Bible is when the kingdom of Israel split, and Jeroboam and the children of Israel in the north stopped worshipping at the Temple of God.  By his example, his children started to pray to idols, and then his grandchildren started to pray to idols, and several of those kings, you watch, they lasted four generations and then they were destroyed, three generations and then they were destroyed.  And it was over and over again three or four generations and then they wiped out.  And the children repeated the mistakes of the parentsnot because God cursed them but because it's so important for us as parents to be good examples.  That's what God is impressing. 

Caller:  I appreciate that.

Pastor Doug:  Okay?

Caller:  Yes, sir.  I really appreciate that. 

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