Do you have something in your past that hinders you from doing the right thing in the present?
Have you ever, in the past, done something for which you are now ashamed? I have! I am also pretty sure that anyone who is reading this article has, in all probability, done things in their past that they now regret having done. It is human nature to look back upon the past. Some things we recall with fondness; other things with shame or embarrassment. The past often has a way of catching up with us. Our past sins, if unrepented of, must still one day be reckoned with – “be sure your sin will find you out…” (Deuteronomy 32:23). Nevertheless, even past sins for which we have been forgiven, have a way of haunting us in the present. Sometimes the consequences of our past sins are still felt many years after repentance and forgiveness. In my case, my conscience still bothers me about some of the things I have done in the past. Even though I realize that God has forgiven me of those things, I sometimes have a hard time forgiving myself.
The apostle Paul had things in his past that could have hindered him from doing the right thing. He had plenty of cause to be remorseful. He had persecuted the church in Jerusalem and other places, “…Beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it…” (Galatians 1:13); “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison…” (Acts 8:3); “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2). He was even an accessory to murder at one point in his life! Remember when Stephen was stoned to death by an angry mob, that it was a young man named Saul who held the cloaks of Stephen’s assailants. “And cast him [Stephen] out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul… And Saul was consenting unto his death…”(Acts 7:58; 8:1).
Even before Paul’s conversion, Ananias was apprehensive towards him when the Lord commanded him to go to Paul and teach him what he needed to do in order to be saved. He said, “I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name…” (Acts 9:13-14). After Paul’s conversion, the consequences of his past sins were still felt. Some years after his conversion, the Christians at Jerusalem were still wary and mistrustful of him, “And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26).
Paul had reason to regret his past. First, because of the way his conscience must have bothered him for the things he had done, and second, because of what some others thought about his sincerity. How did Paul deal with this adversity? How did he put his past behind him? Did he run away and hide? Did he forsake God? NO! In his own words, he said, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul’s answer to his regretted past was to forget it, to get over it and to reach for the things that were before him. He did not waste time on “what might have been,” but instead he strove for “what may be.” He pressed towards the mark!
Baseball coaches say that one of the most important attributes of a good pitcher is a short memory. If he throws out a pitch and it is knocked out of the ballpark, he must forget about it and move on. If he is still feeling timid after the last pitch was hit for a homerun, he has a problem. His next pitch is liable to leave the ballpark as well. The same goes with us in our religious life. If our past keeps haunting us, or if we let the feelings or attitudes that others have toward us affect our Christian walk, then we have a problem. We need to let go of the past and ignore what others may think of us, and press on in our Christian life. If we would continue to walk after the way of Christ, in the face of adversity, we will be richly blessed. It is said, “Time heals all wounds.” If we faithfully follow our Savior, in time, the guilt we feel or the negative feelings of others will fade. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33). Strive towards the mark of salvation! Do not let your past, or other people’s attitudes towards it, hinder you from doing what is right! If you do these things, you shall never be ashamed and everything else will just fall into place.