This sermon is part of the sermon series "Living Free". See series.
In this last session of our series, we're going to talk about three subjects that bring a lot of questions and even opposition: generational sins, soul ties, and curses. No matter where we go in the westernized world there will always be skepticism about these truths. Even I was very skeptical earlier in life, and it took a lot of close looking at the Scriptures before I could buy into these issues. But as we've ministered in other cultures outside of the western world—such as Puerto Rico, parts of old Europe, Africa, and Asia—we've found much more openness to these issues. In fact, believers we've met in those cultures will enthusiastically teach on these subjects. Regardless of what our culture thinks about these issues, we need to understand what Scripture says.
My approach in addressing generational sins, soul ties, and curses is by asking this question: How can we disengage and dismantle strongholds in our lives? These are each ways through which the enemy gains access in us. What do we need to do to dismantle these strongholds the enemy can use so we can move forward in God's design for us?
Let's begin with generational strongholds. I want us to think about this in terms of the power of community. Community is very powerful, and God puts great emphasis on community and generations. In America we're very individualistic, but God designed us for community and thus we experience the impact of generation upon generation upon generation. Other cultures around the world still have a sense of generational relationships.
I think we see this ultimately in Romans 5:15: "For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many." Here we see that because of the sin of one, Adam, who is the father of all of mankind, sin and death actually passed on from generation to generation to generation. That's why every individual that is born in this world is born with the propensity and the capacity to sin, and we all do sin. We don't have to learn how to do it. Sin comes naturally for us as part of the generational relationships God has designed.
There are also verses that refer to generational sin in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20, as God was beginning to introduce Israel into a relationship with him and they were going to become his people, his nation, he wanted them to know from the beginning that the lives they lived as individuals and as a generation were going to affect generations beyond them. If there was sin in a particular generation, three and four generations beyond that sinful generation would have to pay for it. If there was obedience to God in a generation, there would be thousands of following generations reaping the joy of that obedience.
Each generation had the capacity of beginning a new legacy either for good or for evil. In Psalm 112:1-2 the Psalmist says,
Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
What motivation that realization gives us! We can live in such a way that our children and grandchildren can be mighty.
In Matthew 27:24-25, Pilate washes his hands free of the crowd's demand to crucify Jesus: "So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, 'I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.' And all the people answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children!'" That statement was the beginning of a cycle. Over the last 2,000 years, Israel has had a difficult time as a nation, and I think part of that is because of a generational curse that was put on them with that statement from Matthew—a statement that went back straight to the time of Christ.
Living free means that we're not living out the sin patterns of generations before us. We can break free from them. So how can we identify sin patterns? How can we identify generational issues in our lives so that we can be set free from them? It's important for us to open our eyes and consider these things, rather than passively make peace with how we're living when there are difficulties. Let me give you four specific things that can help you identify generational patterns.
Number one is the experiences of your life. Is there a problem in your life that stubbornly resists any genuine attempts to bring a change? Nothing seems to work long term, including prayer, counseling, medical intervention, and even intensive discipleship. You may get a bit of a reprieve from it sometimes, but it's a problem that always plagues you. Think about any experiences you have like that.
Second, use observation and research. The problem might be visible in other family members in various forms in various degrees. If we're close to our relatives, it can be helpful to sit down and talk with aunts and uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, to learn a little bit about our family. Sometimes we can see certain issues start to surface, like addictions or other besetting sins. There can also be health issues. It's just good to hear about what has gone on in our families. Then we want to find the source. When did these issues happen? Why did they happen? We need to learn as much as we can through observation and research.
Third, use discernment. We may have an intuition that there's something more to an issue that mere physiology—more than what meets the eye. We need to be able to ascertain what is going on through discernment.
Lastly, we can employ prophetic revelation. We need to go before the Lord with other believers and ask him, "What is this that I keep wrestling with? Why can't I break loose of it?" See if the Lord speaks prophetically as to what the issue might be.
Dismantling generational sin
How do we dismantle generational issues once we've identified them? Scripture is very clear concerning this. We see in Leviticus 26:40-42 a prescription that God gives the nation of Israel concerning how to break generational sins and curses: "But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me … then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land." God is saying that if sin enters your community, and your community has struggled with it from generation to generation, the generation that is living needs to take responsibility for it. We must identify ourselves with the generations before us, confess the sin, and repent of it. Then God will heal the land. God will respond to that prayer.
In 2 Samuel 21 we see that Israel had been experiencing a famine for three years. Finally David sought the cause of this famine by inquiring of the Lord. The Lord told David that the famine was because of the sin of King Saul. King Saul was dead, but when he was alive, he had killed Gibeonites, a people who had a covenant with Israel for over 400 years. King Saul had broken that covenant, and now Israel was suffering the consequences. What had to happen? David had to take responsibility for Saul's sin. David made restitution to the Gibeonites, and God heard the prayer. He healed the land, and the famine came to an end. We see the same kind of thing happen again with Nehemiah and with Daniel.
To dismantle strongholds in our lives, we must take upon us the responsibility of repentance. As we do that, we will take the authority that God has given us in Jesus Christ and sever the generational ties. We must determine that the sin stops with us, in our generation.
We've got to take the four Rs that we've learned about: repent, rebuke, replace, and receive the filling of God's Spirit. We're using those four Rs corporately, in light of our own generation and the generations before us.
Next we want to talk about soul ties. If generational sins demonstrate the power of community, soul ties demonstrate the power of relationships and how sometimes good relationships can go south a bit. I want you to understand that soul ties and bonds are actually healthy. God's designed them. Marriage is a prime example of a soul tie established by God. A man and woman are to cleave to one another in marriage. When someone loses a spouse or goes through a divorce, he or she may feel like a tearing takes place. That's because soul ties are real, and they're good. But the enemy wants to do everything he can to pervert and distort what God has created. Living free includes cutting off invisible bonds that come into our lives and affect us in a harmful way.
A soul tie or soul bond is when there is a relationship that affects us beyond godly ways. In other words, it's an influence on my life through a relationship with someone that is beyond God's design for the influence of that relationship. It becomes debilitating in different ways. Sometimes soul bonds and soul ties can be as simple as trying to please someone else. I might decide how I conduct myself based on how I think someone else will respond to it. I'm letting my perception of someone else govern my actions. In that relationship, the other person has more influence over my life than God does. That is a harmful soul tie.
We can see a soul tie at play with Peter when he was in Antioch with the Gentile and Jewish believers. Peter was engaging with the Gentile believers freely until some Jewish brothers came up from Jerusalem. The text goes on to say this:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Here we see a bond between Peter and James that influenced Peter to act in an ungodly way. The apostle Paul had to confront Peter on his ungodly response to James' friends.
What are some characteristics of unhealthy soul ties? First, unhealthy soul ties can develop through sin. One example is sexual sin. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul commands that a man should not join with a prostitute, because in that joining the two become one. The Hebrew understanding of becoming one flesh goes far beyond the physical joining of two bodies; there's a joining of the essence of their beings. Paul warns against sexual activity that would create such a bond between two people.
Second, soul ties can develop through misplaced trust, fear, and need for approval. This can be called the fear of man. I've seen this in relationships of an emotional or spiritual nature, where people have entrusted themselves to other individuals in an almost cultic environment. There's something that happens in these spiritual oaths and prayers. A spiritual connection is made that will have an unhealthy influence on people's lives. We can all be manipulated by the opinions, the resources, and the pleasures of other people. We can feel controlled instead of living in freedom, and there's a soul tie when that takes place. When we are more dependent upon or fearful of or influenced by what someone else thinks about us than what God thinks and what God says, that is an unhealthy soul tie that must be broken.
Third, soul ties can be caused by abuse and violation. Sexual violation and abuse causes more than just humiliation and indignity. A perverted connection takes place as the victim experiences such horrible manipulation. The person feels a lot of guilt and betrayal. They may find it hard to break loose from the person abusing them. These abuses and violations can affect the mind. They can affect the emotions. And they can affect the will of the victim. There needs to be a severing of that soul tie.
Finally, soul ties do not cultivate the edification of a person; rather, they foster control and manipulation, self-interest and shame. Biblically unhealthy relationships will bring about the debilitating strongholds of confusion and anxiety, unrest, shame, guilt, and oppression. All of these things come out of the soul ties and soul bonds.
Dismantling soul ties
How do we break loose of soul ties? First, how did a soul tie come about? Is it because of some volitional engagement of mine? If so, I need to ask God's forgiveness. Again, we return to the four Rs: repenting, rebuking, replacing, and receiving God's Spirit. I need to take responsibility for where I have engaged in any of this manipulative activity.
Once I have taken responsibility for my part, I pray the prayer simply by the power and authority of Jesus Christ, and I severe the soul ties. I imagine a great, big, thick cord, and I just chop it. I cut it off, so it does not have any kind of connection to me whatsoever.
But maybe the soul tie exists because I was acted upon. Maybe it was something that happened to me. What I need to do then is grant forgiveness for the act that was acted upon me. I need to grant forgiveness for how it made me feel. I need to grant forgiveness for what it did to me. I need to be thorough in granting forgiveness.
Then I need to ask forgiveness for how I responded in an ungodly way. Maybe it was out of fear. Maybe it was out of shame. God will reveal this to me in prayer and through others with whom I'm praying. But I need to be specific about any ungodly response I've had.
Once I've done that, I repent. I rebuke the enemy. I make a declaration of replacement. Then I'm going to receive the infilling of God's Spirit and move on in that freedom.
Our third issue is curses, the power of words. Curses are not a part of our westernized mindset. We tend to think of curses as the stuff of fairytales and folklore, but curses are real, and we need to understand them biblically.
A curse is that which is done with words that are spoken. There's power in words. Proverbs tells us that the power of life and death are in words. God created this world by speaking it into existence. When Jesus was on Earth, and he was in the boat during a storm, he literally spoke, "Peace, be still," and stopped the storm with the words he spoke.
Words are extremely powerful. It's been documented that the third leading cause of death in Mozambique is curses. People live in the reality of curses there, and the enemy moves powerfully in them.
Let's think about this practically. How many of us believe there is power in prayer? How many of us believe that when words are spoken in prayer something happens? If we didn't believe that praying actually had power, why would we pray? But we believe there's power in words. We believe there's power in declaration and power in blessing. If we traced the curses and blessings that Jacob pronounced on his sons in Genesis and followed the history of each of the tribes of Israel, we would see that these pronouncements were fulfilled. In the New Testament, James speaks about curses in James 3, and Jesus speaks about the power of words again and again.
Proverbs 26 tells us that just like a bird that flitters about with no place to land, so it is with a curse. A curse cannot have an impact if there's no place to land. So I must ask myself: Is there anything in my life that provides a place for a curse to land and be engaged with my life?
One Sunday morning when I was pastoring at my old church, the service had ended and several people were lined up to receive prayer. I noticed a man several people back, and I got a bad feeling deep inside of me. As he made his way to the front of the line, I asked, "How can we minister to you?" and he said, "I'm not here to receive anything from you. I'm here to let you know that I'm part of a local coven, and we are praying and praying and fasting against you and this church. And I just want you to know you're not the only ones that pray." I felt the Lord's presence, and he put these words in my head in that moment: "Well, I just want to let you know that greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world. We have absolutely no concern whatsoever because of the blood of Jesus Christ." The man turned around and walked out. Words are powerful.
Let's think about this practically in one other vein. How many of us believe that when we pray we are actually partnering with God to build his kingdom? God uses agents, human beings, to partner with him. We pray, and as we pray God dispatches his kingdom work through our prayers. It was the fervent prayers of Elijah that accomplished much. And so we believe there's spiritual power that takes place when we are praying to God.
How many of us believe that Satan exists as a created being? He's not equal to God, but nonetheless, he has a lot of spiritual power. He's the ruler of this world. Satan can have human agents, too—human agents who will pray, make incantations, and pronounce curses. These rituals actually energize and release dark spiritual activity that comes from Satan's kingdom. It's the same principle.
So what are sources and access points of curses? First, there are generational curses that families can live under. Another way curses can come upon us is through involvement with cursed objects. Scripture is very clear about this. The jurisdiction can be given to the enemy in a family or a community through defiled objects and activities. Second Corinthians 6:17 says, "Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you." Ezekiel 44:23 says: "They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean." There is a reality of unclean objects.
My wife and I were ministering in Europe, and the people we were staying with had been missionaries in Africa for several years. They'd returned to Europe 20 year earlier, because the husband had gotten ill with constant aching and fatigue. The couple asked us to pray for his healing, and so one night we did. As we prayed, my wife honed in very quickly on a beautifully ornate chair in the corner of the room. We felt the Lord saying that this couple had been cursed while they were missionaries in Africa, because they had offended people with the truths of God. We knew that a curse had been put on an object that had been given to them, for the purpose of bringing illness. We asked them about the chair, and they told us they'd purchased it from a vendor on the side of the street there. They also said it wasn't uncommon for there to be spiritual activity with objects that were sold on the streets. We shared our sense with them that this chair was perhaps a cursed object, and the next day, the man was burning the chair in his backyard. The day after that, he got up, and for the first time in 20 years, he bought a pair of running shoes and went for a run. He was able to run regularly after that, and to this day he is still in good health and pressing forward. If you're going to bring the kingdom of God somewhere, and the enemy's had a stronghold in that area, do you think he's just going to roll over and let it happen without opposition?
A third type of curse is a territorial violation. There are demonic religious places that can be cursed, and sometimes physically removing objects from them or traveling through those locations can cause problems. There's an island in Hawaii that we visited where we were warned strongly not to take any lava rocks for souvenirs. There are countless stories of people taking lava rocks home with them and then experiencing financial or physical ruin. When people got rid of the rocks they took, remedy came. As westerners we might think that's a little weird, but that is the world we live in.
People can also be cursed by associating with demonic rituals or defiling activities, such as an Ouija board, séances, psychic readings, or demonic worship. Engaging with the demonic is going to bring about a curse. Many people don't realize the danger of what they're getting into when they engage in these activities. They may play with an Ouija board at a party, thinking it was insignificant. Sometimes, though, people engage the demonic maliciously, with an objective. Ezekiel 8:9-10 speaks to what happens around demonic rituals and defiling activities and the curses that come as a result.
Lastly, there are simply word curses. They can be intentional or unintentional covenants that grant a place of jurisdiction for the enemy. There are prayers we engage in that create a spiritual bond from which curses can spring. Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." And James says in James 3, "But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers these things ought not to be so." One of the most powerful and damaging stronghold activities is that of jealousy. Words spoken out of jealousy are powerful. They bring ruin. They bring destruction.
We're probably all thinking of words that have been spoken against us, but what about words that we speak? Jesus says in Matthew 12 that out of the heart come the issues of life. We're actually going to have to give an account for every word that we speak. How many of us say words like this even to ourselves? I'm just so stupid or I can never be like … or I will always be poor or you just fill in the blank. We don't realize it, but a lot of times we're actually cursing ourselves.
A man my wife and I were praying for was filled with cancer. He had tumors throughout his torso, and we were praying for his healing. As we prayed, my wife received a phrase in her mind that didn't mean anything to her or to me. When she asked the man about the phrase, he knew exactly what it was: it was a lyric to a song he used to listen to in college before he had become a Christian. He had a clear memory of being at a concert, singing lyrics over and over again. They were words of death and destruction. We walked him through the four Rs, so he could sever the curse of these words by the blood of Jesus Christ. Then we prayed healing for him. Several weeks later we received an email that all the tumors were gone. His cancer was connected to self-inflicted curses.
The words that we speak are so powerful. We need to take seriously words we speak to ourselves and to others.
So how do we dismantle curses? First, we need to confess any sinful activity. If there is anything that I've engaged in that was not honoring to God, or that opened up an opportunity for the enemy to have access into my life, then I need to ask forgiveness for that. As I ask forgiveness, I repent. As I repent, then by the blood of Jesus Christ I severe the curses that have come as a result. If I was acted upon, I need to grant forgiveness, and as I grant forgiveness, I need to ask God to forgive me for any ungodly response I had to the way I was acted upon. Then by the blood of Jesus Christ, I sever the curse in his name. And wherever a curse is found in my life, I then pronounce blessing, the opposite of that curse.
These are all very heavy issues, but addressing them is for our freedom. We want to identify where the enemy comes into our lives and suppresses us from living in the fullness of how God designed us to live.
God has given us a purpose on this earth. He has a mission and a purpose for us to advance his kingdom in other people's lives, to advance his name, to advance his church. This Living Free series has been about us increasingly becoming fit for this purpose, so we can live in the power and authority of Jesus Christ and live for that which is larger than ourselves, namely, God's glory and work in this world. That's the only reason we're here.
Breaking free from generational sins, soul ties, and curses is part of how we realize the gifts God's given us, the passions he's given us, and the truth he's given us of who he is.
Mike Riches is pastor of Harborview Christian Fellowship in Gig Harbor, Washington, director of the Sycamore Commission, and author of Living Free.