Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. (Lamentations 3:40)
On Monday we basked in the blessing of knowing that our God is in the business of forgetting our sins . . . all of our sins. Today I want to take a brief look at what we are supposed to do with our past sins. Should we forget them? Or should we remember?
Should We Forget Past Sins?
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
For Paul, looking back at his past would undoubtedly have been very painful. As Saul of Tarsus, he persecuted the early Christian church, arresting those who were followers of Jesus Christ, putting them into prison, and even killing Christians. He had held the coats of those who were murdering Stephen and looked on with approval. Then Jesus Christ confronted Saul on the Damascus Road, asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus raised Saul from death to life, and Paul knew what he had done to the Christians.
It would have been easy for Paul to be paralyzed by his painful past. If Paul had been unable or unwilling to forget what was behind him, he would never have been able to press on toward the goal that lay ahead: the new calling that God had placed in his life as the preacher and pastor of the church.
Should We Remember Past Sins?
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12).
Here Paul tells us to never forget when we were separated from our Savior. This is not intended to paralyze us, but rather to propel us into our promised future. When we remember what we were before Jesus showed up, we are to be both humbled and encouraged because of the grace God has freely and lavishly poured into our lives. I’m reminded here of the lovely old prayer: “Lord, I ain’t what I ought to be; I ain’t what I want to be; and I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But, oh, thank God! I ain’t what I used to be.” We remember our past sins and rejoice in the amazing grace of God.
I’ve said it here before; the best way I know to frame out the truth about forgetting and remembering is to treat our past as a school. We are to learn from our past — which requires us to remember — but we are never to live in our past — and that requires us to forget. By remembering the past, we take the lesson and the move on, leaning into our promised future, leaving behind the sin that has been nailed to the cross of Christ. Because God remembers for our good and forgets for our good, we too must remember for our good and forget for out good, in order that we can live lives that manifest the love of God to others.
So how are you doing at both forgetting and remembering? The apostle Paul tells us that getting good at both will ultimately be for our good and for God’s glory.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!