Personal Sin Goes Beyond the Person

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This verse caught my attention in my study of the Book of Exodus: “…yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:7b). Some of the initial observations are:

  1. God is absolutely holy.
  2. God does not tolerate sin.
  3. God’s holiness is displayed through his punishment.
  4. Sin is costly. It often costs more than the one who sinned. That is, “personal” sin goes beyond the person.

According to D. A. Carson:

This is because sin is social. Sin is never merely individualistic. You cannot commit any sin, no matter how private, without it having repercussions not only in your own life but in the community where you live. Maybe the addiction is as private as looking at porn in secret: surely that is not doing any damage to anybody but you (if it is doing any damage at all). But in reality, if you focus in secret on porn, the way you view the opposite sex will gradually be changed, and that will reshape family dynamics, which will in turn influence your children. Your sin has social implications to the second, third, and fourth generation: that is what God here says. God transcends time and space, and he can see the ramifications that you cannot see.

From The God Who Is There (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 68.