Sound familiar? All clichés. They may sound nice, but clichés are often just like Band-Aids on cancer…useless.
We all have a past. We all—without exception—have a skeleton hanging in the back of our closet. What do you do about your past? Let’s check out lessons from the Apostle Paul in Acts 9:21-31.
To say that Paul had a bad past is a gross understatement. As Saul, Paul lived the worst kind of sinful life you could imagine—persecuting, killing and binding up the saints of God. In fact, at this point in Acts, Paul had just participated in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church.
What did Paul do about his past? What can you do about your past?
You and your past are forgiven.
Paul handled his past by knowing in his heart that he had been forgiven (Acts 9:17).
In 1 Timothy 1:15-16, Paul, as an old man, writes, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
God has declared every believer forgiven. You may think, That may be fine for you, but you don’t know my sins. I did things you just wouldn’t believe. I blush at night when I think about them. You are not the exception. You are forgiven. God sent his Son, the only perfect One, to die on a cross for the imperfect ones. In his sacrifice, Jesus Christ shed his blood for us—for you and for me.
As a believer, for God’s sake, stop whining and wallowing in your guilt. Christ died for your sin. Christ died for your past. Anything less than recognition of this fact is to make a mockery of his blood.
Not too long ago, we were having lunch at a restaurant. When it was time for me to pay the bill, the waiter came up and said, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.” I asked, “What do you mean I can’t do that?” “Someone has already taken care of your bill,” he answered. “But,” I said, now getting agitated, “I want to pay it!” The waiter finally said, “You can’t. Your bill has already been paid. It’s been taken care of and we don’t need the extra money.”
God says exactly the same thing to us: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). When you blow it, get on your knees and confess it before God. And when you confess it the second time, God asks, “What?” He has already forgotten your sin.
Your past strengthens your present.
Paul’s past was used by God to strengthen his present (Acts 9:22). Paul had just come from unbelievable sin…and he was forgiven. I suspect Paul thought, God forgave me for the worst. If I fail now, he will forgive me for that as well. Paul had a memorial in his life that strengthened his present.
You may remember the account in Joshua 4 when God backed up the water of the River Jordan so the people of Israel could walk across on dry land. God said to Joshua, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’” This was to serve as a “sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’” With the stones, the people of Israel built a monument to God’s action in their lives.
Likewise, you should be in the process of building a memorial out of your past so that it strengthens you in your present. Is God’s arm shortened that he cannot save? Has God’s arm been shortened in your past that he has not saved? Think about it, live with it and let it bolster you in the present.
Your past is used by God.
Paul took his past, sanctified it and gave it to Jesus Christ. Your past may have been horribly bad and painful. Regardless of your past, let me tell you something: no accidents happen in the life of the believer. The Bible teaches, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you are a believer, it means that in God’s timing, understanding, sovereignty and providence you were a believer before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1). It also means that even your sins are a part of the wherewithal God uses to build your present. Give your past to the Father and let him use it. The fact is he never wastes our pain and struggle. We need to trust him on this.
Accept your past.
Paul's past had scars, but he accepted those scars by God’s grace (Acts 9.23). Paul’s past began to catch up with him and it just about killed him. Simply put, there are certain spiritual and physical laws in the universe. If you break God’s laws, you’re going to suffer for the breaking of those laws. You are still forgiven, but there are consequences to our actions.
We all have the scars from the sins we have committed. That is a part of the past. Those scars are a part of the price we pay because that is the way the universal laws work. God, in his love and grace, though, takes those scars and uses them for ministry.
God is sovereign over your scar. He can take your scar—whatever it is—and use it to his glory.
There is a before and after.
Paul’s past became an illustration of God’s before and after (Acts 9:28-29).
The Father is in the business of change. Thank God for your past. I am not telling you to go out and sin; but in a sense, the worse your past was, the better it is for your testimony right now.
An illustration of God’s before and after doesn’t just happen in salvation. We ought to have a before and after every day of our lives. The before was yesterday; the after is today. While we aren’t going to reach perfection in this life, we are called to move towards it…by God’s grace. And when we get to heaven, when Christ appears, we shall be like him (1 John 3:2).
Each of us has sins with which God calls us to deal…so we can then, by God’s grace, point to the before and after in our lives. There should be a before and an after in our actions, thoughts, hurts and desires as a part of God’s process in our lives.
And that is evidence of God’s grace at work.
Time to Draw Away
Read Jeremiah 29:11 & Joshua 4
Do you believe that your past is not only redeemable, but can be used by God? Two things to remember: If God is sovereign (and he is), then he is sovereign over your past and everything that has happened to you has first passed through the palm of a nail-scarred hand. If God is your loving Father (and he is), then you can trust him not only with your past, but with your present and future as well. It really is all about grace.