“Like Father Like Son” is a statement that we sometimes hear around our world today. It is an unfair analogy and it unjustly hurts people whom are judged by a family member’s conduct. It happened to me in high school. I, like my brother, played in various band courses but in my tenth grade year when my brother was a senior, he was not the favorite student of the band director. Graduation night came and the concert band always played for the ceremony. The local university always hosted the graduation, so not being on school property, my brother walked out of the auditorium and lit up a cigarette right in front of the band director. Since that day, the band director never spoke to me again. I quit band because of this and was obviously branded as a horrible smoker because smoking seemed to run in my family.
The Israelites said a similar statement:
The fathers eat the sour grapes,
But the children’s teeth are set on edge
God, however, took issue. Of course the proverb meant that the sins of the father will be punishable crimes on their children, and the Israelites were blaming their predicament on the sins of their fathers rather than their own. We can see how they come to this conclusion since one of the Ten Commandments actually contains this nugget:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:4-6, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8-10).
This terrifying sentiment is also associated in Numbers 14:18, 1 Kings 21:29, and Jeremiah 32:18. It is easy to see how the people could come to the conclusion that they were being punished for their fathers sin, but understand that God has never visited the personal iniquity of the father onto the child. Moses did make that clear in the law:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).
However, the sins of the parents can have an impact on their children. The phrase “more is caught than taught” comes to mind and it is true that how the parents live their life usually has a sort of bearing on the final behavior of their children. Chip Ingram notes this in a sermon where he says, that if we are concerned with how our kids drive, we should ask how we drive. If the parents are concerned about the websites their kids may visit, which websites do we visit? All generations have faults and generational sin is a common occurrence. Typically families that have social sins like alcoholism, workaholism, or abuse repeat those sins in future generations. I am reminded here of a childhood friend that I had whose mother was a drunk. I did not recognize it as much as a child, but I came to understand it as a teenager. My friend would dump his mother’s foul drink down the drain and curse the booze daily. I lost touch with my friend and then met back up with him about ten years ago. I went to visit him only to find that he, too, was an alcoholic. John Calvin writes that “God is at liberty to punish the crimes of the fathers upon their children and descendants, with the proviso that they, too, may be justly punished, as being imitators of their fathers.”
Generational sin is a horrible thing, but it can be broken, and for those of us who have broken it, the blessings of God flow to our life. Ezekiel clarifies this point in my favorite chapter of the Bible. Ezekiel begins chapter 18 by writing:
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying,
‘The fathers eat the sour grapes,
But the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
As I live,” declares the Lord God, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
Reading through the rest of the chapter, God declares that whoever sins will bear the burden of that sin, and if that person has a child who sees what the sins of the fathers have done, and does not do them, God declares that son shall live (Ezekiel 18:14-17). The prophet summarizes God’s words in verse 20:
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
This chapter in scripture impacted me more than any other, and I have not read or studied any other part of the Bible more than this section for good reason. I am from a long line deep sinners, not fallen people humbling themselves before God, but sinners caught in snares and traps. Sinners that openly reject and rebuke God, sinners who have worshiped money and sex, sinners to the core. I stepped out of that life and into a family redeemed by the blood of Christ, and I have experienced the blessings as a result.
Many people have asked about how I grew so much in Christ given such a horrible background. Below are my tips to grow in Christ.
Spend a Lot of Time With God
One sermon a week did not give me the knowledge I needed to live by God. Hosea says that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). I wanted knowledge of God and since I was not brought up in a church of any kind, I had no presuppositions, no Christian sentiments, no knowledge of great hymns, just a God who saved me and showed me the way, but my sanctification was up to me. What I did was first, listened to sermons when I could whether in the car, or walking, or working if possible. I also needed to prioritize reading, so I set out to read the Bible, and I still attempt to read the scriptures through one time per year in addition to my other studies.
Turn Off the Filth
It does not do much good adding so much purity and truth to your life if you keep on allowing in the soiled lies. I have found that television, news, and many other types of music became a distraction from my walk with Christ. I have never paid for cable television, I am not sure I want to pay someone to run that much filth into my house, though some programming is good. I cleared out old movies and started to live by a philosophy that if something huge is happening in the world, I will find out about it. I do not need to watch the news much at all.
Learn to Pray
Prayer works and it can be difficult for many Christians. I have learned over the years that the Bible is the access to the mind of God, but prayer is the access to His heart. For us academics, reading scripture and learning what the Bible says is pretty easy, but praying can be difficult and sometimes needs to be scheduled in. If you feel like praying, do it. If you do not feel like praying, do it anyway, this way you will get into the heart of God.
Watch Your Associations
I do not advocate for only have Christian friends. We need to have a lot of friends from a lot of walks in life, but be mindful about who your close friends are. I found some good growing mentors and let them speak into my life. I was very open with those people, but I do not go around and broadcast my challenges and struggles with just anyone. Make sure you have confidence and trust, and keep those that know you to deep degree at a minimum, but with all other people, love them and help to point them to Jesus any way you can.
Never let your family background be an excuse for not living a godly life. We all have challenges and some of our challenges are more difficult than others. We may come from a background that literally taught us to sin as the pattern of our life, but we do not have to act on that. We can change our ways. Do not let your earthly family define you, but let your God who adopted you with the price of His blood define you. He loves you and his plans for your are far greater than you think. Follow Him in faith.