It is no secret that some sins beset families from one generation to the next. Drunkenness (commonly called alcoholism) is perhaps one of the most obvious ‘sins of a father’ that reaches down through many subsequent generations. But in our times almost any bad behaviour is linked to siblings, cousins, parents, and grandparents who committed the same indecencies.
For some of these cross-generational sins there is an underlying hereditary medical condition that can be affirmed through normal medical tests. In cases like this we as Christians rejoice that not even a medical condition can keep us from holiness. Like a headache might make it more difficult for us to be kind and thankful, but not impossible, so a hereditary medical condition might make bad behaviour more likely for some than for others, but Christians always have a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
For most of these cross-generational sins there is a serious underlying spiritual condition. The world commonly refers to this condition as a psychological disorder, and the word disorder is indeed apt, although we as Christians know to replace the psychological part of the condition with the true study of the psyche (soul). If we don’t make this crucial replacement, we will sink under the same false fear of perpetuating bad behaviour through our generation to our subsequent generations. Our best hope will then be merely management of the behaviour through mood-altering medications with detrimental side effects. But we know better. We have a hope of sanctification even in conditions that make us more prone to certain bad behaviour.
Again, it is sadly very common that a drunkard father will have a drunkard son more than a sober father will have a drunkard son. However, that clear cross-generational link is not hereditary, forced, and unavoidable. Testimonies abound of a drunkard father having a son that despises every drop of alcohol. Likewise, many a sober father has a son who fell in love with the pleasures of drunkenness.
Ezekiel 18 is an entire chapter dedicated to sinful behaviour that spans across generations. vv. 5-13 is about a righteous father with a wicked son. vv. 14-18 is about a wicked father’s righteous son. The principle is clear in v20-21
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.Ezekiel 18:20-21 (ESV)
That is the hope Christians have, and offer, for all bad behaviour that has a cross-generational link. For every individual who turns to God and does what is right, there is no fear of enslavement to the sins of their family. God made us, God knows how we operate, and God is just and does not delight in keeping generations in a sin that will send them to hell (Ezekiel 18:23). The cross-generational influences might remain, but the cure for the sinful behaviour is turning to the Lord, repenting of the behaviour that is sinful, and living in pursuit of what is right.