Children Have Free Will

By Frank Jamerson

God, through Ezekiel, said, “Behold, all souls are Mine: The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine: The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, NKJV). Most readers of this article will agree that children do not inherit the sins of the father, but do we agree that the father does not inherit the sins of his children? Do we agree that righteousness, as well as sin, is not inherited? Why is it that faithful parents have children who never obey the gospel, or have children who fall away? Why do unfaithful parents sometimes have children who become faithful Christians? The answer to these questions is found in the fact that children have free will.

Individual Accountability

Children inherit physical, social and maybe mental characteristics from their parents, but not sin or righteousness. Paul said that all are “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29), and that “we have had human fathers who corrected us, shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9) The fact that our spirits come from God, and not from our parents shows that we do not inherit sin from our parents.

Ezekiel said that a just man may “beget a son who is a robber or a shedder of blood, who does any of these things and who does none of these duties, but has eaten on the mountains or defiled his neighbor’s wife; . . . His blood shall be upon him” (not upon his father) (Ezek. 18:10, 11, 13).

There are many Bible examples of righteous men who had unrighteous children. Eli had corrupt sons (1 Sam. 2:12-24), David, the man after God’s won heart, had a son who rebelled and tried to overthrow his own father (2 Sam. 15), and righteous king Hezekiah, who was granted fifteen extra years to live, had one of the most corrupt sons who ever ruled in Judah (2 Kgs. 20:6; 21:1-6). In the New Testament, the father of the prodigal son was not blamed for the sin of his son! In fact, the father represents the attitude of God, who has “nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me” (Isa. 1:2). Those who have been Christians for long, can give contemporary examples of parents who have been faithful Christians but have a child, or children who have rebelled against everything they have been taught.

Bad parents may also have good children. Ezekiel said that if a son who was rebellious to his father “begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise . . . he shall not die for the iniquity of his father; he shall surely live” (Ezek. 18:14-17). One of the wicked kings in Judah, Amon, had a son, Joash who became one of the few good kings (2 Kgs. 21:9; 22:2).

How did Ezekiel explain this? He said that “if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all my statues, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die,” but “when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and th sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezek. 18:21, 24). If a righteous man can turn from his own righteousness, he can certainly turn from his parents’ righteousness! If a wicked man can turn from his own wickedness, he can certainly turn from his parents’ evil! Parent have a strong influence other their children, but children are responsible for their own decisions. The proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” was not true in Ezekiel’s day, and it is not true today.

The “sour grapes” proverb is dangerous from two aspects. First, children may excuse themselves for their sins because of the sins of their parents, and second, some may assume that they are righteous because their parents were righteous. We are not robots, who have been programmed to do good or bad regardless of our desires. Each person is accountable for himself before God.

What About Provers 22:6?

Parents who have children whose souls are lost, naturally wonder what they did wrong. If that is not agonizing enough, someone will remind them that Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Like Job’s “friends,” they will say, or insinuate, “you are reaping what you have sown,” and “God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth” (Job 4:7; 1:6).

A “proverb” is a wise saying that is generally true, but there may be exceptions to it. The wise writer said: “The fear of the Lord prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Prov. 10:27). Is that always true? Have you known any wicked people who lived a long life, or righteous people who mat an early death? He also said: “Wealth makes many friend, But the poor is separated from his friend” (19:4). Are the wealthy always blessed with friends, and the poor always cursed with the lack of friends? These things are generally true, but there are exception. Children who are trained in the way of the Lord will generally continue in that way, and those who were not will generally not be interested in God, but there are exceptions! Most of you can think of exceptions. I knew a man who debated Ben Bogard, but today one of his sons is a deacon in Mr. Bogard’s denomination! I also know a man who left the Lord, but today has two daughters who have obeyed the gospel!

Parents have the responsibility to train their children, by teaching and example, in the way God would have them go. Most of us would make some changes in the things we did, if we could do it over, but we did the best we could at the time. Children are responsible for their response to that training, whether it was good or bad. In the final analysis, each individual is responsible for his own soul. The child who was not taught, has the responsibility to learn, and the child who was taught has the responsibility to apply it to himself! We parents should not take too much credit for the faithfulness of our children, nor too much blame if they go astray! “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, not the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20).

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 12, pp. 388-389
June 15, 1989