Reversing the Curse
Lesson 12: Overturning the Impact of Generational Sin
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
While still in the womb, without any initiation or cooperation on our part, the devastating consequence of Adam's sin was imparted to us: We were all born with a sin nature separating us from God. This is the deep wellspring of all the generational sins against us which followed and it will not be removed in our lifetime, unless the Lord returns first. Fortunately, we can become free of the impact of ancestral sins in our generational line by reducing or eliminating their 'strong hold' upon us.
As it happens, the first unavoidable strongholds any of us encounter are not our own, though they may very well become our own. They are the strongholds of generational patterns of sin in families. Before we were conceived these strongholds were already in place. Since no one is perfect, every family line has sin patterns which negatively influence succeeding generations. We can see the evidence of this: Children of alcoholics often become alcoholics, many diseases run in families and some children are born with dreadful genetic defects.
Life is tough enough, so it hardly seems fair that the sins of previous generations could be allowed by God to have any impact, let alone a devastating impact at times, on the lives of innocent newborns. The question has to be asked: How can it be right for children to be 'punished' for the sins of their ancestors? Why do we suffer from sins in the past?
Why the Problem Exists
The important thing to keep in mind is that because God lives outside of time, un-repented sin is always a fresh stain before the eyes of the Lord: He sees past wrongs as present sins. This is why generational sin continues to 'live on' even after the person who sinned has died—that sin was their choice and God sustains the reality of the world formed by our choosing. This is the dignity and the terrible responsibility of being given free will in a real world.
Upholding the 'moral order' we choose to create is part of God's self-revelation to Moses: The sin ledger isn't canceled at death.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord... a God merciful and gracious... but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.' Exodus 34:6-7
Un-repented sin doesn't just evaporate; it continues to wreak havoc in the generations. Since the time of Abel the blood still cries out from the ground.[i] Lest we get the wrong idea, God is not the one doing the punishing—He punished Jesus for our sins fully and completely.
God does not willingly desire to see us afflicted.[ii] It is the reality of choice that He gives to 'the fathers' that releases the consequences of their iniquities on the earth. By choosing sin, we 'choose' the consequences of sin to come, even to the following generations. God has 'no choice' but to allow the 'punishing' effects of sin to visit the earth until someone recognizes it as sin, takes responsibility and carries it captive to Him.
We may rightly cherish our heritage (generational blessing is very real), but we need to also be honest about the sinful side and bring it to God. This kind of responsible repentance is what God desires.[iii]
'But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers... and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob.' Leviticus 26:40-42
The Pattern Is Not Compulsory
No one has to walk in the sins of their fathers (or mothers). The reality of sin's effects on the generations does not mean that children have no free will, but that un-repented sin creates a negative legacy within the family and the nation. For good or ill, whether intended or not, 'like begets like' by an invariable mandate of the original creative process.[iv] In Ezekiel the Lord speaks of each individual's responsibility for their sin and the ultimate penalty (death). The son will not die as a direct result of the father's sins; each person stands (or falls) as an individual.
'The soul who sins shall die... Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise... he shall not die for his father's iniquity; he shall surely live.' Ezekiel 18:4, 14, 17
Although, the righteous avoidance of the father's sins is a shield against the curse, only repentance can remove sin and its effects (past or present). Remember that God as a responsible Creator has to maintain true justice and therefore He 'by no means clears the guilty.'[v] He can only put sin and its consequences under the Blood of Christ if one of us repents and asks for mercy.
Until then we, who still hold dominion over the earth, are choosing (often unknowingly) to let the curse of past misdeeds remain in effect. Let us also keep in mind that God's stated desire is to pass on blessings. Surely He chooses our parents to pass on the blessings of their generations—not the curses.
'Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children... but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.' Exodus 20:5-6
How Generational Sin Is Passed Down
We were 'programmed' by the enemy from birth—set up by sin in the generations going all the way back to the Garden. God makes us 'very good' in the womb,[vi] but even as He is working to create us in His Image, the sin of Adam and the sins of our fathers were also at work, 'unmaking' us into something less than God intended.
The enemy was working against us before we were born, hating us 'without cause.'[vii] If we fail to understand this reality, we will unwittingly blame God by 'crediting' Him for fallen ways that we and others may have: 'I hate being shy (or hot tempered or nervous, etc.), but that's just the way God made me!' No it isn't, that's the way the enemy bent and bruised you by sinning against you in ways that you couldn't notice or can't recall.
Our personality structure according to psychologists is shaped in early childhood.[viii] How much of that shaping process do you remember? Consider these two powerful personality shapers that are not of God:
1) Original Sin: Adam's sin has blocked all of his children from being born as God intended—united to His love and living in His Presence.
2) Generational Sin: The sins of preceding generations as they reached us through our bloodline, through the womb, and through our home environment began to set root issues and carnal patterns in us.[ix]
There are three ways that the curse (sin's consequences) may be passed down the generations:[x]
1) Nature: Our genetic inheritance can be physiological and psychological. Damage in the genetic code at birth does not come from God's design or intervention, but results from the effects of the Fall upon humanity. God's work is without defect.
2) Nurture: The emotional environment and training in the home shapes each child. The good that is in us often passes into our children (we like that!), but so does the bad.
3) Spiritual: Spirits drawn to families (due to habitual sins) may carry patterns of the curse down the family line.[xi]
Evidence for Generational Patterns
It doesn't require faith in God or the Bible to see evidence of generational patterns. For instance, doctors routinely take family histories because many diseases are known to run in families.
As with prayer or anything else God does, we cannot exactly describe how He works or prove spiritual realities against all doubt. Nevertheless, consider the following story as further uncanny evidence for the truth of both generational sin and blessing. A study was done in the eighteenth century of the lives of the following two men.[xii]
1) Max Jukes lived in New York in the late 1700s. He did not seem to believe in Christ or pursue a Christian manner of life. He had 709 known descendants. These included 280 pauperized adults and 140 criminals: 7 murderers, 128 prostitutes, 280 described as harlots and 60 who became thieves. His family members cost the state $1,308,000 (a staggering sum in those days)—and they made few positive contributions to society.
2) Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state at the same time. He loved and served the Lord, raising his children in church. Of his 1394 descendants there were 'practically no lawbreakers': by actual count, more than 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 13 college presidents, 100 professors, 60 authors, 60 doctors, 100 ministers and missionaries, 75 military officers, and 80 elected to public office. His family never burdened the state, but contributed immeasurably to the common good.
You cannot change your ancestors, but you can significantly impact the generations that follow you.
The Motivational Power of This Truth
This lesson on the consequences of generational sin is not meant to put anyone on a fear trip (about what sins may lie with their ancestors) or a guilt trip (about what they may be passing on to their children). Let it be a reality trip. The fact is that our lives powerfully impact other people—especially our natural or spiritual children—whether we want them to or not.
It is important to know this because one of the enemy's favorite tactics is discouragement when we are down: 'No one cares about you... your life doesn't matter to anyone.' That's a lie! All of heaven cares about you and stands ready to pass on your every effort to be faithful as a benefit to someone else down the line.
There is at least an echo of this reality in the psalmist's choice to make his stand for truth be something that would powerfully affect all later generations. And do you know something? It has! God preserved that psalmist's witness and it continues to uplift us even to this day.
I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 89:1
The knowledge of this truth can be a powerful weapon in our arsenal against the enemy. Let it spur you on to heroic efforts of hanging in there when the going gets tough, because your life really matters!
Desperate or discouraging moments may come when we are going to need motivations larger than ourselves to keep our feet moving in the right direction. The truth is that living for oneself alone is not sufficient motivation for anyone. It was never meant to be.
If we are only seeking our own comfort, or success, or satisfaction, then those self-centered motivations will often fail us in the times of trial. We will need to learn to reach for better, stronger and higher motives if we want to find the inner strength to keep from quitting when the chips are down.
God supplies that strength whenever we realize that the lives of people we love hang in the balance. It matters to your children that you are trying to be faithful—even if they don't know it, even if it is killing you, even if it doesn't seem to be making any difference in your eyes. It even matters to the generations that haven't been born yet.
In addition to natural children, God also supplies those in our lives who are a spiritual heritage. Like Paul we are all raising the next generation.[xiii] Will it be for good or for ill? You decide!
'But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' Joshua 24:15
The Way to Freedom
Many generational patterns of sin are hard to recognize because it seems like that's just the way things are: 'Doesn't everyone act that way?' Other patterns are hard to escape because from an early age we resented family members for sinning against us and those bitter judgments bound us to their behaviors.
1) Once you discern that a family pattern is not of God, be sure that you fully forgive the family members who are caught in it.
2) Then take full responsibility for agreeing with it and walking in it yourself: Repent, renounce and carry it captive to Christ until you can release it to Him for His help in removing it.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him that He is working to overturn every curse with a greater good!
Take your stand—knowing that God will use it to reverse the curse off your generations!
Dear Heavenly Father, in the Name of Jesus, I choose by an act of my will to forgive my father (or other family member) for all the ways that he failed me or hurt me. I renounce the sins in my generational line and I repent for having walked in them myself. Forgive me and break their power over me. I put the Blood of Jesus between me and any generational sin and I cancel all assignments of the enemy in Jesus' Name. I choose to fully accept myself as the child of the father You gave me. Holy Spirit please come... heal my broken heart and show me and tell me Your Truth.
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Reversing the Curse and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
[i] Genesis 4:10 Lamentations 3:31-33Daniel 9:1-19Genesis 1:24Exodus 34:7
[vi] Genesis 1:31
[vii] Lamentations 3:52
[viii] Robert B. Ewen, An Introduction to Theories of Personality, Third Ed. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., Publishers, 1988) p. 523.
[ix] Thomas Verny, MD, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (New York, NY: Dell Publishing, 1981) p. 49.
[x] Teaching and insights about these three ways that generational curses are transmitted from Be In Health® teaching and materials, Dr. Henry W. Wright, Thomaston, Georgia, seminar notes, October 2000.
[xi] See Leviticus 19:31 for 'familiar spirits'
[xii] Compiled. The survey on the Jukes family was done by Richard Dugdale in 1877; the one on Edward's family was done by A. E. Winship in 1900. There are exaggerated versions on the web, but these figures go back to the original reports.
[xiii] 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Timothy 5:1