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How do you view your past? What do you do with your past memories? If you’re a believer, you can easily look in the past and recall sinful memories. Do we just try and forget those past memories? “I wish they would go away” is probably a common thought. Sometimes past sins come to mind and we struggle through them. Often drunks are coping with the past. Does the Bible call us to forget our past? Does God forget our past? “I’ve been forgiven, I don’t remember.” Is that the right response? How do we view our past?

Robert D Jones argues God wants us to have three convictions regarding our past memories:

  1. God was “in” your past.
  2. Your past might influence your present conduct but it does not determine them.
  3. Your memories result from your act of interpreting the past. [1]

So what do we do with our memories? Paul, the great apostle does not shy away from his past.

“Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul recalls his past actions. Today we would say Paul is a good candidate for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But Paul does not shy away from his memory. He does not forget the past. He never advocates “forget your past.” Instead he interprets his past according to God’s Word. He says, “I acted ignorantly in unbelief.” When Paul considers his violent aggressions toward the church, like the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1), he interprets is as a man who did not believe the Lord and pure ignorance. Our past sins are the same, done out of unbelief and ignorance. Even the past sins of a believer stem from these same principles.

Paul’s past is a life of wrong belief leading to wrong actions called sin. His sin is against God Himself rendering Paul guilty before the Lord.

The Lord does not intend any person to forget his or her past. In fact, God says we should feel shame for our past, “the things of which you are now ashamed?” (Rom 6:21). The past actions of sin that lead to death, those actions believers should now, presently feel ashamed of. In other words, your interpretation of sin should cause shame. God tells the Israelites the same thing, “You shall know that I am the Lord, 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 declares” (Ezekiel 16:62-63).

His past actions bring shame, but Paul does not live in despondency because he lives in the present reality that God saves! God redeemed him. Because of Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection, Paul is found in Christ, redeemed. God forgives Paul — meaning God will not bring his sin up against him again. God chooses not to charge the sin to our account. He is born again to a new hope. He is declared righteous. His nature is no longer as an offender against God but as a child of God.

“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. 1:15-16).

Paul’s life is an example that God forgives people and grants them a new life because of Christ’s work. This present reality leads Paul to praise and thank the Lord! (1 Tim 1:12 & 17). We too need to interpret our past in light of God’s present grace.

Our memories of the past, especially sinful actions, should lead us to feel shame at one level, but ultimately should lead us to praise and thanks because God saves believers from our sins! We need to interpret our past according to God’s Word. We need to live in the present reality of His grace. A troubled past does not mean a troubled today. The God who lavishes grace, lavishes more grace and mercy through His Son and is sufficient for our present life!

[1] Robert D Jones “Redeeming the Bad Memories of your Past”, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, (Fall 2003), pg 41.