Dealing with the Past, Pt 3
Should we forget past sin once it is forgiven? It might seem it, especially in light of a verse like Hebrews 8:12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (NAS). That is one of the chief blessings of the New Covenant. When a sinner is brought to repentance and faith in Christ God forgives and forgets his sin. However, a verse like that is sometimes misunderstood. That New Covenant promise simply means that God does not remember our sins against us and treats us accordingly. It does not mean that He suffers from self-inflicted amnesia and is no longer conscious of our past sins. It is important that we recognize that because if we think that the former is the case, then it can lead to wrong applications to Christian experience. Perhaps you have heard it said, “God has forgotten my past, and therefore, so should I. From this moment on, I will never again reflect upon my past life of sin.” Now that is commendable because it is an effort to express just how completely God has forgiven us, but it is not an accurate application. Ironically, it robs the Christian of blessing and motivation. Should we remember our past? Absolutely.
It Keeps us Humble and Magnifies God’s Grace
The Apostle Paul had a past, one of which he was terribly ashamed. How did he deal it? This is what he said, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God and I am what I am , and His grace toward me did not prove in vain” (1 Cor 15:9-10 NAS). Again, on another occasion he wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and violent aggressor. Yet, I was shown mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason, I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Tim 1:12-16 NAS). Obviously, Paul never forgot his past. Evidently, he remembered it in detail. It did two things for him. First, it was a means of keeping him humble. No one was more used of God to establish the Christian church. Never forgetting what and who he once was guarded him against getting the ‘big head’. His past was a constant reminder to him that all he did for Christ was of grace and grace alone. When we remember what and who we once were, it provides tremendous protection against pride. No matter how far we advance in holiness, or are used of God in extending His kingdom, our past is there is to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Remember, and remember that it is all of grace!!”. Second, if I can say it reverently, Paul’s memory of his past give him a platform to brag on the Lord Jesus. What a Savior!! According to Paul, if there is anything that reveals what a might Savior He is, it is who He saves-sinners. Sinners in every sense of the word. He traveled the Roman world with his past testifying to the power of the gospel. Dear Christian, to act like your past does not exist can veil Christ’s glory and power in the gospel. Like Paul, the memory of it gives you opportunity to tell people that there is hope in Jesus Christ.
It helps us get Safely to Heaven
Ashamed??? What?? I know it is out of step with 21st century American culture to suggest that one ought to be ashamed of sin or an aberrant lifestyle. It is often deemed judgmental or intolerant. Yet, God’s word teaches that sin is a shameful thing. Apparently, even eating something forbidden by God is enough to make one want to hide (Gen 3:8). The fact is, the Christian ought to remember his past and be terribly ashamed of it. Not, however, in the way that one might immediately think. The Christian has been forgiven of us his past, and set free from the chains that once held him captive. He is to longer to feel shame in the sense of needing to hide in the bushes. He can come out into the blazing and pure light of a holy God without fear of condemnation. All such fear is gone because he is now in Christ. It is not the shame associated with guilt. Such shame cripples the child of God. But there is a kind of shame for the past that forgiven people can and should experience. Once upon a time God said to Old Covenant Israel. ” Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord your God, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done, ” the Lord God declares (Eze 16:62-63 NAS). That’s strange. God said that His forgiveness of them would actually cause them to feel shame. That is just in the Old Testament, right? No. Paul said to the church at Rome,”Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? But the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 6:21-23 NAS). No true believer will return to sinful lifestyle where sin is his master and he will make it safely to heaven. But we are being told that shame over our past sin is one of the powerful means God uses to ensure that outcome. How does that work? People in general often look back at past sin, are ashamed and seek to mend their ways only to go back or switch their idols for new ones. However, forgiven sin produces a shame that makes one determined never to go back. When the Christian realizes that God, who would have been within His rights to condemn him, instead had mercy, he is ashamed to have ever lived in rebellion to such a gracious and kind God. When the Christian lives in light of what his forgiveness cost, the death of God’s Son, he is filled with a shame that makes him determined never to return to what cost the Savior His life. This shame also causes the Christian to long for that day when he will never again do something of which he is ashamed and displeases God.
I leave you with this word of counsel-remeber your past. But, always do it with the joy that comes from the confidence that it is all forgiven and that now you have been transformed by Christ.
Forgiven, ashamed and free, Pastor JJ