When Israel lacked faith in God that He could deliver them safely in to possess the land of Canaan, God punished them by making them wander in the wilderness for forty years—one year for each day they spied out the land—until all the older generation (those twenty years old and up) died in the wilderness (Num. 14:20-35). Later, Moses rehearsed this matter and made this observation, “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Deut. 1:39). These little ones and children are described as having no knowledge of good and evil. Children are born innocent. They receive pure souls from God (Ecc. 12:7; Zech. 12:1; Heb. 12:9). They do not yet have the capacity to make decisions between right and wrong. Paul described this early period in his life before he committed sin, and thus died spiritually, by saying, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom. 7:9). Sin is transgressing God’s law (1 John 3:4). Little children have not transgressed God’s law by being born into this world. God is just and allows people to make their own decisions. God did not hold the little children in the wilderness responsible for their parents’ decisions.
While we may be heavily influenced by others, especially our parents, Ezekiel 18 shows that each person will answer to God for the decisions they have made once they have matured to the point they have the capacity to know right from wrong. This chapter shows that a righteous man may have a son who turns from the godly example set before him and walks in iniquity; however, a wicked man may have a son who sees the sins of his father, and—even though we might think he has no chance—chooses to live a righteous life. God deals with people according to the decisions they make, not what their parents or children have done. The most prominent verse in the chapter highlights this by saying, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor 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).
Revelation 20:12 presents the great final judgment where the dead stand before God to be judged “according to their works,” not the works of others. God will judge individuals for their secret thoughts and purposes (1 Cor 4:5), for every word—even careless words—they have spoken (Mt. 12:36), and for every deed they have done in their body (2 Cor. 5:10). I must answer for my thoughts, words, and deeds just as you must answer for yours. As Romans 14:12 declares, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
You can become pure in the sight of God again by becoming like a little child (Matthew 18:3). By being born again, born of water and the Spirit in water baptism, you can become a child of God (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; Gal. 3:26-27). If you have been born again but have gone back into sin, you can come back to God by repenting of your sins and confessing them to Him (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). The decision is yours.