Foundations of Generational Sin

Discipleship // February 15, 2021 //

I often hear in Christian circles, increasing concerns over the present state of the world and the downward trend of our nation away from God. Christians are stunned by the rapid acceleration  towards moral depravity that is blatantly visible. This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve heard it all my life, yet most especially and understandably over the last decade. We’re long past the line of moral discomfort and some have become fearful of what comes next. The question is – should we really be surprised by moral depravity? How do we classify what we’re seeing more recently? Are current events just a forward-looking fulfillment of end times prophecy? Or is there something deeper, even historical going on?  

Let’s go back almost to the very beginning. Genesis 4 is the earliest record of human history after the exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Here we see the immediate and devastating effects sin has on all people right at the very beginning of civilization. It’s a terrible downhill slide that lasts for centuries, all bound within a single chapter.

Chapter 4 is most often regarded as the story of Cain and Abel. We know the story. Cain and Abel are the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was the older brother who worked the ground and Abel was the younger brother who tended sheep. Genesis 4:3 says that “in the course of time, Cain and Abel each brought a sacrifice to the Lord”. Abel’s sacrifice was obediently given in every way, thus accepted by the Lord, while Cain’s half-hearted offering was rejected. Cain killed his brother out of jealousy and the Lord curses Cain. The story of Cain and Abel is generally taught as a stand-alone, and yet what happens in the verses afterwards is causally related to our modern situation… even all events in human history.  

From the moment Cain is cursed (verse 12), nearly to the end of the chapter (verse 24), we read the historical accounting of what the world was like then and has been ever since. Seven generations of Cain’s descendants are listed as the downward fall of mankind is obvious. As you read, you see the common grace of God extended towards humans, however received with no acknowledgement of Him or His grace, and that leads people into moral decline and generational sins. 

To be more specific, verse 12 is when Cain is cursed by God for killing his brother. Verse 16 says that Cain went away from the presence of the Lord (how is that possible?). Then from verse 17 on, the generations of Cain are listed out, complete with contrasting aspects of common grace and demoralizing sin. Common grace appears in the references to growing cities and populations (vs 17), agricultural knowledge and wealth (vs 20), an appreciation of the arts (vs 21), and skilled trades (vs 22). All these aspects point to growth and development of civilization, which are good things for every society. 

However, there is also the presence of degenerative sin. As time continues, the ignorance of God and acknowledgement of his grace is appalling. Lamech is identified as Cain’s great (3x’s) grandson who took 2-wives for himself. This is the first recorded bigamy in scripture and outside God’s original design for marriage. Lamech then confesses to his wives that he’s killed a man in self-defense; but it’s okay, because the escalation to murder would send a message to others not to retaliate. Lamech’s attitude and choices were a clear indication of the harshness, brutality, and selfishness that was increasing in the world. Looking out for “my interests” and the “freedom to do what I want” without consequence was already alive and well even in the earliest society. In only a few generations, the world had already become overwhelmed by the devastating cultural effects of original sin. 

I believe we can tie these generational sins back to Cain’s decision in verse 16 where he was determined to move “away from the presence of the Lord”. The question I asked earlier is – Is that even possible? The answer is – yes, it is possible. In fact, it’s done by most humans most of the time. 

Let’s understand that by “presence”, we’re not talking about physical location. The truth is there is no place within the created universe that any human can flee the presence of God. Just ask Jonah (Jonah 1) or David (Psalm 139:7-10). No one can physically flee the presence of one who created both us and the universe. But what people can, and often do, is “flee the presence of the Lord” by removing him from your mind; by ignoring Him or denying His existence. If we successfully remove God from our mind, then in a sense we’ve fled from His presence, even though we’ve really gone nowhere.

And yet this is exactly what Cain, and his descendants chose to do. Cain “fled the presence of God”, whom he knew and had talked with, by choosing to remove God from his mind and regarding Him no longer. This made it easy for Cain’s descendants to deny God’s existence, because they had never heard or learned anything about Him from their fathers. All of this happened within a few generations and it can even be quicker. After the great accomplishments of Moses and Joshua, in service to God for the benefit of His people for generations, Judges 2:10 says, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” In this case, it took only a single generation for God’s own people to fall into cultural sin.

Therefore, our present experience in our nation is nothing new for humans. The choice to flee the presence of God by ignoring Him for the past few decades has opened us up to moral decay and as we’ve seen throughout history, the depths of moral depravity amongst sinful people knows no limits. We know this because only two chapters later (Gen 6), God is already preparing to wipe out all humankind except for Noah and his family. And yet, while there was somewhat of a “reset” with Noah after the Flood, every human lineage still ties back to Adam and the original sin, from which all generational sin is extended. Therefore, the sad truth is there’s no escaping what’s happened, happening, or will happen in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised by what’s happening in our country. Instead, we should have expected it, because it’s what’s happened everywhere since the beginning, and no place is immune.

Though still, there is reason to be encouraged and hopeful, because as bad as Genesis 4 is, the chapter doesn’t just end with utter moral delinquency. There is hope! Gen 4:25-26 says that to Adam was born another son (Seth), and at the time of his descendant (Enosh) “people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” For whatever reason, some people began to turn away from themselves and turn towards God. One might call this revival! It was through the lineage of Seth and his descendants that we find Noah, who found favor with God and even more, Jesus – God’s own Son – who would come to take away the sins of the world. 

So Christian – don’t be surprised, shocked, or frozen with fear as you look around our nation and the world. It’s true that the world is going down the tubes because of original sin and the tentacles of generational sins extending from it. However, there is hope against all sin (original and generational). God is still in control. He still finishes every story in accordance with His will. He has provided a way of righteousness and hope – and our hope has a name – Jesus! He is the solution to everyone’s concern. 

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About Rick Bertou

Rick moved from Pennsylvania to Tennessee in 2008. After 34-years in business, Rick became part of our full-time pastoral staff, responsible for pastoring our Adult Education/Ministries and leading our Financial Management Team. Rick and his wife Cindy have been married for over 30-years. They have 5-adult children.