Summary: Only as we deal with our past can we move ahead into God’s bright future.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).
I have a past. My journey back to God began with a pack of cigarettes and an offer to teach a Sunday School class. I was saved at nine, but I was now in my early twenties and had been experimenting in forbidden but enticing areas for around ten years. Forget what God wanted. I wanted what I wanted. And I fervently ran after it. By the time the offer disembarked, I had put aside my questionable activities-except for tobacco use. After all, the Bible didn’t say, “Thou shalt not smoke.” (But it did say my body was a temple of God’s Spirit).
The question instigated anxiety and excitement simultaneously: “Would you teach a young adult Sunday School class?” I agreed but felt ashamed when I stood before my pupils with cigarettes nestled in my shirt pocket. God overwhelmed me with guilt, and I suppose that’s why I was able to lay them aside without medical help.
I. Conquering the Past Means Conquering Guilt.
Guilt is either false or real. Mine was genuine. I had an issue needing attention. The guilt of God’s people in the Old Testament was no less real. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared (Hebrews 10:2 NLT).
As God graciously accepted those faith sacrifices and granted the worshipers forgiveness, so he did for me when I laid aside my damaging habit. Guilt is real when experienced because of unconfessed sin, and repentance is the only proper path of action to absolve it. Fortunately, God doesn’t require perfection, but neither will he use us when we consciously choose to wallow in disobedient lifestyles. If you’re experiencing genuine guilt over sinful practices, repent and choose a different course.
A couple of years later, I was a young adult feeling God’s call into ministry who was also feeling guilty. God’s call came on top of ten years of running and accumulated guilt-over ignoring the original call, bad decisions, bad relationships and bad habits. While all repented of, their memories tormented me. And Satan stoked the fire: “How could you claim to be a Christian and…?” Guilt can be genuine or false. Real guilt arises when God convicts us of sin with the intent we change courses. False guilt channels through the same path, but the author is Satan and his goal is destruction.
Paul had a string of reasons to feel guilt over his past, but he didn’t. His past included consenting with those stoning the first Christian martyr and also dragging Christians off to prison to be persecuted and perhaps killed. When Christ called him as a missionary, he could have absconded because of guilt over his past, but he chose to forget the past because it was forgiven. I did too.
God doesn’t require a spotless past to give us a bright future. Skeletons lurk in everyone’s closet. Some have more and others less, but they hang around nevertheless. The only ones that hinder God using us are those we haven’t turned our backs on. God doesn’t hold my past against me. He uses me in spite of it, and he’ll do the same for you. Don’t let false guilt over past mistakes keep you from God’s intended purposes in the present.
II. Conquering the Past Entails Receiving God’s forgiveness and Genuinely Believing He Gives It.
“I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I’m not sure he has.” Or “I’m just not sure God can use me with a past like mine.” Statements I’ve thought, heard or made but statements reflecting a misunderstanding of God’s forgiveness.
I have a past. I’m not proud of everything in it, and I’d gladly relive it, but I can’t. It is what it is. On the other hand, I’ve learned a great deal from my past mistakes and use personal examples to caution others about blunders and sins better left alone.
Only when I grasped the full extent of Christ’s forgiveness did I completely comprehend that my past doesn’t prevent God from using me in the present-even if others think it does or try to use it against me. There is one verse among many that reminds us how important Christ’s sacrifice was. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time (Hebrews 10:12 NLT).
A part of conquering pasts we aren’t proud of is understanding the comprehensive forgiveness received through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Old Testament believers continually brought sacrifices because their forgiveness was based on a future event-the death of Jesus. When brought in faith, God accepted the sacrifices and granted forgiveness, but they never felt forgiven because the ultimate price hadn’t been paid. Now that it has, we can be confident God has forgiven every sin we have or ever will commit. They’re all covered by Christ’s blood. Forgiveness doesn’t bring perfection, but knowing all our sins have been cleansed gives us assurance our past can’t hold us back.