Answer: Children are not punished for the sins committed by their parents; neither are parents punished for the sins of their children. Each of us is responsible for our own sins. Ezekiel 18:20 tells us, “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.” This verse clearly shows that punishment for one’s sins is borne by that person.
There is a verse that has led some to believe the Bible teaches intergenerational punishment for sin, but this interpretation is incorrect. The verse in question isExodus 20:5, which says in reference to idols, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; 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.” This verse is speaking not so much of punishment, but of consequences. It is saying that the consequences of a man’s sins can be felt generations later. God was telling the Israelites that their children would feel the impact of their parents’ generation as a natural consequence of their disobedience and hatred of God. Children raised in such an environment would practice similar idolatry, thus falling into the established pattern of disobedience. The effect of a disobedient generation was to plant wickedness so deeply that it took several generations to reverse. God does not hold us accountable for the sins of our parents, but we sometimes suffer as a result of the sins our parents committed, as Exodus 20:5 illustrates.
As Ezekiel 18:20 shows, each of us is responsible for his own sins and we must bear the punishment for them. We cannot share our guilt with another, nor can another be held responsible for it. There is, however, one exception to this rule, and it applies to all mankind. One man bore the sins of others and paid the penalty for them so sinners could become completely righteous and pure in the sight of God. That man is Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus into the world to exchange His perfection for our sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ takes away the punishment for sin for those who come to Him in faith.
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