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Dealing With Our Past

Dealing With Our Past

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
January, 2002

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Last updated:
January 26, 2002.

ONE THING WE ALL HAVE IS A PAST. For all of us the past represents a patchwork of right and wrong, good and evil, sweet and bitter. Our emotional health and well being in the present often depends on how well we handle our past. Without God's revelation of the Truth the ordinary man doesn't know he lives in violation of the will of his Creator. You see, "the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

Living In The Past

Some people make the mistake of trying to live IN the past. They are forever dreaming of "the good old days," wishing things were like they used to be. Maybe they've overlooked that the Scriptures say "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). In many, even Christians, this nostalgic longing for the past keeps them from being productive today, and truly enjoying the present.

Our recognition of our sins, faults and failures affects our self- esteem. The person who doesn't know sin, and its consequences, walks in a world of delusion and false security. The apostle Paul wrote, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death" (Rom. 7:9,10). When men realize that God declares, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4), and that "all have sinned," only then will they examine themselves, realize their guilt, and seek a remedy for their sins.

We need to acknowledge that all sins are condemned before God. Although men place more importance on some sins than on others, the word of God teaches that any sin demands the Lord's punishment. Galatians 5:19-21 condemns "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like... they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Romans 1:29-32 includes some of the same sins and lists others, "unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, coven- antbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."

Some people think that backbiting and lying are trivial things, while murder and incest, for example, should send an offender directly to Hell. But the truth is that backbiting, lying, murder and sexual sins are equally condemned in the Scripture (See Rev. 21:8). Even some Christians think it's okay to wallow in self-pride while being unmerciful toward others.

Some men who know the judgment God has placed on fornication are proud of the fact that they have never committed such an act, and arrogantly condemn another who has sinned in this way, but somehow ignore God's condemnation of their own lusting heart, (1 John 2:16; Rom.10:6; Gal. 5:16). Does a person demand great respect who whispers his suspicions about another committing adultery when he himself is a voyeur? The man who lustfully spies on others engaged in sexual acts is damned equally with the adulterer. Jesus said, "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28).

Only ignorance of the Truth, a seared conscience or possibly both, will allow freedom of self-guilt without God's remedy. The one who giddily recounts his engaging in bestiality has not repented. In the Old Testament God demanded people who did such a thing be put to death - "if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Lev. 20:15,16). Do you suppose that the Lord smiles with approval upon such degradation today? Of course not! Such perversion is condemned with other terms in the New Testament.

Living On The Past

Others make the mistake of trying to live ON the past. Many people have been successful in a particular undertaking, and now they spend their days glorying over a bygone accomplishment. Some people have been baptized; maybe that's all. That's not enough. However, there are those who live ON the past trying to stretch the credit of yesterday's success into today - a self-defeating attempt, to be sure. Yesterday's successes weren't meant to be our strength for today. Each day has its own challenges loaded with possibility for success or failure all on its own (James 4:13,14).

Living With The Past

Even worse than trying to live IN and ON the past is trying to live WITH the past - living with a hideous heap of regrets. A destroyed marriage, a lost opportunity, a painful failure, or a dreadfully embarrassing sin may litter our past. We must first feel the pain and guilt and then seek the remedy. We must each understand that the smallest lie that I told, the most insignificant rebellious step I took against my parents demands, the bit of gossip I spread, or that one evil thought I had was in God's sight a hideous, damnable sin. We all need to know, understand and feel how guilty one sin makes us before God. Being freed from the guilt and pain of these sins is what we want to address here.

We've all met people who are so negative, so suspicious and resentful it's a burden to be around them. The radiant glow of the beautiful sunrise is blinding light to such people. People like this are annoyed by the lovely song of a mockingbird outside their bedroom. How did they ever get this way? In all probability, injuries, failures and disappointments of the past are to blame. Their irritating, sour disposition is little more than a hangover from their past. To go through life with an unresolved past can be a bitter existence.

One thing we can't do about the past is RE-LIVE it, and thereby change what happened. Angry words can never be called back; sinful acts can never be redone; lost opportunities are gone forever. No matter how profuse our apologies may be, the words have been spoken, the deeds have been done, and all are recorded by God (Matt. 12:36; Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12,13; Matt. 25:31-46).

Judas had no sooner betrayed Christ than a terrible sense of remorse overwhelmed him. Hoping there might still be time to undo the past before it slipped away, Judas, with the money in hand, rushed to the temple and tried to cancel the deal, and, for all we know, maybe gain Jesus' release. But when that was proved impossible, knowing that he would have to live with the horrible memory of what he had done, Judas tried to escape the past by taking his own life. Friend, the countryside is littered with early graves of many who were trying to escape the past in this miserable manner. Obviously this isn't the answer. There has to be a better way to handle the past.

Others try to escape the past by shifting the blame for what they've done onto someone else. Man has been like this from his beginning. Adam attempted to make himself seem better than he really was by shifting the blame to Eve. It was as though he were saying, "God, the woman that you gave me did this thing to me; it's all her fault. If Eve hadn't tempted me, I wouldn't have eaten of the fruit of the forbidden tree." This was a shrewd but dishonest attempt to excuse his own behavior. Sadly, Eve didn't do any better. She blamed the serpent. Isn't that human nature!

We're forever and ever blaming others for what we've done. "I'm just a victim!" "I can't help it!" "Look, what you make me do!" Blame- shifting seems to make us feel better, maybe look better than we really are, and think ourselves less guilty for what we've done.

Many of us have been victims in one way or another, many of us have been abused in at some time, but we still must bear the responsibility for our own deeds. Yes, for many of us the road has been made more difficult than for others, but we must accept the responsibility for our own sins and move on. Don't magnify the sins of others in an attempt to make yours less noticeable. Just deal with your own and move on.

God isn't fooled by our blame-shifting any more than He was by those tactics in Adam and Eve. Of course they became painfully aware of this fact when He, as it were, "pointed his finger at the garden gate" and said, "get out!"

Repressing The Memory

Another way people try to handle failure and guilt of the past is by repressing it - pushing it to the back of their minds. This may bring a false sense of release. It isn't the solution however, for two reasons - first, the past keeps rearing up its ugly head to haunt us; second, and most importantly, God's judgment still has to be faced. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ec. 12:14).

Just imagine, not only what you do but what you say will be there. "Every idle word which men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36). Yes, that bit of gossip, told in such "holy tones" will be there. Isn't that enough to send a guilty soul trembling with fear trying to hide in some dark cave? (See Rev. 6:15-17). But repressing the past, pushing it to the back of our minds, may bring some temporary relief, but it doesn't solve the problem.

We may refuse to accept the truth again and again, and without a love of the truth we will be sent "a strong delusion to believe a lie" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). The strong delusion may be a mistaken security, a feeling that we will never have to face the past (this is the lie), but in reality, one day the past will be dredged out and dealt with in God's severity. Paul wrote, "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Rom. 2:5).

If suicide is not the solution, if shifting the blame is not the solution, if repressing the bad memories of the past is not the solution, what is? The way to resolve the past is to face it head-on, admit to it honestly, and receive God's forgiveness.

All Sins Removed

If you are not a child of God you must be born into His family. You must hear the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:17); you must believe Jesus Christ is the son of God (Heb. 11:6); you must confess Christ before men (Matt. 10:32); and you must be baptized into Christ and thereby put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). At that point you rise to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4); old things are passed away, all things for you have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). In baptism, the sins of your past are washed away (Acts 22:16). The Bible say clearly that faith in the blood of Jesus shed on the cross is "for the remission of sins that are past" (Rom. 3:25).

God didn't stop loving us when we did wrong any more than our parents stopped loving us when we did wrong. His overwhelming love for us is what caused him to give His son to die. "God commended his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). If God loves sinners enough to give his son to die, surely He will be eager to forgive our past when we meet His terms.

When someone in God's family sins, the Father is willing to forgive. How willing is He? As the father of the prodigal eagerly awaited his son's return, God longs to see the erring Christian repenting and returning to Him, so He can receive that one in His loving arms and restore him as His dear child (Luke 15:20). How many times will God forgive, until seven times? Men like to limit God in various ways. One way is to limit the number of times He will forgive. Peter asked Jesus the limit he should place on forgiving his brother. He asked, "until seven times?" The Lord told him, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Luke 18:22). That's four hundred-ninety sins and forgiveness for each in a day (See Luke 17:3). Wow! If this were a literal number, that would be twenty sins per hour each day. Does God demand us to forgive more than He'll forgive? Absolutely not!

You see, in baptism the believer receives the benefit of the blood of Christ shed on Calvary's cross (Rom. 6:1-6), but that is only the beginning. God provides for Jesus' precious blood to continue to cover our sins day by day as long as we strive to walk with Him. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 1:6-2:1).

Confess And Forsake Our Sin

Non-Christian counselors will probably advise us to not feel guilt for anything we have done; they say, "if it's what you wanted to do, it was all right to do it." They may also tell us that if we do have feelings of guilt just suppress our past, to push it to the back of our minds, and try to get on with life. God advises a Christian to do just the opposite - to feel the guilt of it and confess it fully. You see, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13). The things God requires before forgiveness can be obtained are the confessing and forsaking of our sins. It is whoever "CONFESSETH and FORSAKETH" their sins shall have mercy. God's willingness to forgive is contingent on our willingness to confess and forsake. Until we are willing to submit, we need not pray.

When we are ready to do our part - to confess and forsake our sins - God will gladly to do his - to forgive us. Remember, Christian friend, you cannot gain forgiveness for one sin, while harboring in your heart another sin. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18). But when the Christian forsakes a sin and confesses it God is faithful to forgive. How can we be so sure of this? How? WE "HAVE HIS WORD ON IT!" God wasn't obligated to promise us anything. But since he promised it, He has no choice but to do what He said, or go back on His word- and this He will never do (Titus 1:2).

Here is where Christian faith is active. Faith is trusting God to do what He said, for no other reason than, because He said it. He said if we would confess our sins, He would be "faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). No matter how heinous the sins, He will cleanse us totally and completely - "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). This may sound too good to be true, but that's what God promises and that's what He'll do.

You don't have to be burdened down with the past or to carry a load of guilt through life. Bring those past sins, faults and failures to Christ - confess and forsake them, and he will cast your sins away. An Israelite said, "Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back" (Isaiah 38:17). God's people of old were promised, "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). God told Old Testament sinners, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee" (Isaiah 44:22). And He also said, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). Our shallow minds have difficulty understanding how the Omniscient God can "remember no more" anything, but since He said it, it must be true.

Can't the Lord do the same for repenting and confessing souls today? Oh, thank God, yes, He can, and does! This promise is repeated in the New Testament for Hebrews 8:12 tells us, "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I REMEMBER NO MORE." We can't go back and relive and undo every sin of the past, but we can receive the forgiveness of God and go on. And what God forgives, God forgets. That's our good news!

This is not simply groundless, wishful thinking. This is the message Christians must repeat - you can enjoy the forgiveness of your past. That's our call. In Christ we're freed from the guilt and shackles of the past, the past bothers us no more! Oh, yes, we know it happened, but Christ has set us free! What God chooses to remember no more, we must put behind us and then press on.