Moses writes in Exodus 20:5-6, "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." Much is said about children being under the curse of their parents' sin. Children are not responsible for their parents' sin. There are scriptures that clearly support this fact. "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16). "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son" (Ezekiel 18:20).

Notice again in Exodus 20:6, "but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." Our focus should be on this part of the so called "generational curse" in these verses. In a court case it was stated, "There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents." Children often grow up to be dysfunctional in their lifestyles when their parents were that type of role model. "If we, as parents, live sinful and psychologically unhealthy lives, there will be a profound effect upon our children, grandchildren, and perhaps other descendants as well. God is not punishing our offspring for our sins, we are, by not living the right way" (Meier, Ratcliff, and Rowe, 45).

In 2 Chronicles 33-35, there is a narrative of hand-me-down behaviors and a stop to this trap. Josiah was raised in what is called today a dysfunctional family. His grandfather, Manasseh, was a very wicked king. His influence harmed many people. "But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites" (33:9).

Amon was Josiah's father. Amon continued in his father's ways. "He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Mannasseh had made" (33:22). He was assassinated by his own officials, and Josiah became king at the age of eight.

Josiah did not follow the example that had been established by his father and grandfather but chose another direction for his life. He focused on "what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left" (34:2). He focused on the future instead of wallowing in the past.

While he was still young, Josiah went directly to God for direction. "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David" (34:3). He put action to his prayers by purging Judah and Jerusalem of false gods. He had the Baal alters destroyed and smashed the Asherah poles and idols. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and blaming his state of condition on the lack of funding by the Judean government, he assumed responsibility as evidenced by his action.

As in any society, when Josiah sought God and became responsible, his heart was drawn to the temple of God. The temple had been neglected, so he gave instructions to have it repaired. Money was given, and the workers were organized and worked faithfully. As they were working one day, "Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, 'I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD' " (34:15). When Josiah received the book from Shaphan, he repented and saw that his father had not kept the word of the LORD and had "not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book" (34:21). He immediately placed a priority on God's Word as the sole authority and proclaimed it to the people both small and great.

He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD-to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in the book (34:30-31).

The chain of hand-me-downs was broken in Josiah's life. His influence brought about a turn in the lives of the people throughout his entire life. "As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their fathers" (34:33).

Hand-me-downs are also discussed in the New Testament. "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (Luke 1:1-2). God's Word and influence can be handed down to the next generation. However, unhealthy paradigms can be handed down also. Peter described them as "the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18). Futile behavior patterns, traditions, and lifestyles are often handed down from generation to generation.

There is hope for sons and daughters who have been handed down dysfunctional pain. First, God is fair. Our Father "judges each man's work impartially" (1 Peter 1:17). Children reared by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing Him as their earthly father. The good news is our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair.

However, God's impartiality does not take away our personal responsibility. Although we may be influenced by genetic inheritance and social surroundings, this does not negate our personal responsibility to God. We can choose life or death, good or evil.

When one chooses futile behaviors, he or she can be led into enslavement. Paul asked, "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16). In his book, Daniel Speaks Today, Myer Pearlman said concerning sin, "A man is free to begin, but is not always free to quit" (54).

Second,Christ offers release from enslaving hand-me-downs. This comes "not with perishable things such as silver or gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ paid the payment of this release with His precious blood. Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Third, Jesus knows each of us personally. Before the world began, God had a plan for your release from hand-me-downs. "He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last time for your sake" (1 Peter 1:20). You are more than a number on a computer screen or just another name in a counselor's appointment book. Jesus knows who you are, and He knows your family tree.

Fourth, God will help you walk in His behavior patterns. "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22). As we believe and obey God's truth, a cleansing power will help us develop godly behavior patterns.

It is interesting to trace our family tree and even do generational behavior studies; however, freedom comes first by being "born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). To live a life free from enslaving hand-me-downs, it is imperative to walk out God's behavior patterns.

A person who receives Christ as Savior should immediately start a discipleship program to deal with hand-me-downs. Some people who have been saved for years still carry the baggage of hand-me-downs. They also need discipleship. God has boundaries that, when observed, bring His love and blessings. "Stay always within the boundaries where God's love can reach and bless you" (Jude 21, TLB).

Christ-centered support groups which provide both support and accountability can help people who struggle with hand-me-downs. The focus should be on Christ, and the curriculum should emphasize biblical principles of behavior. Confession has its place, but without faith in Christ, one will walk away empty. Paul said, "They must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21).

The grip of dysfunctional hand-me-downs can be broken. "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries. All Rights Reserved

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