Churched, un-churched, de-churched, over-churched, under-churched—just about everyone has something in their past which, when brought back to mind, can cause them to second-guess themselves.
It can make people insecure in themselves and in their relationships with God.
But here’s what I want you to know:
If you and God have dealt with it, you’re done with it.
At Crossings, we try hard to keep people from dwelling on their pasts. We deal with the past when it’s necessary, in order to walk with them through the journey of healing from shame and help them navigate the path forward. It’s our belief that you are not defined by your past failures but rather by your desire to move forward with the power of Christ at work in your life.
I love what the Bible says about this. The Apostle Paul wrote most of the books of the New Testament. He was an incredibly godly man who suffered hardships most of us can’t even imagine, all in the name of Jesus.
But he had a past. He was raised in a wealthy Jewish family, where his father made sure he got the best Jewish education available. Paul used his extensive knowledge and influence to try to stop the Jesus movement. He fought tirelessly, raiding homes and dragging believers to jail--and worse. The Book of Acts reports that Paul was present for and approved the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. His exact contribution to Stephen’s death isn’t known, but at the very least he was a consenting bystander, watching over the coats of those throwing the stones.
Then, Paul had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and it changed everything. It didn’t erase his past, but it changed him. Paul surrendered his life to Christ, followed Him, and wrote about His ways. In a letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote: "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).
Paul was acknowledging his past. It wasn’t as if it was a well-kept secret--he was famous for his efforts to stop Christianity. But living in the past wouldn’t do him any good. It wouldn’t move his life or ministry forward. He and God had dealt with his past. He was forgiven. The shame, the identity that was part of his past, was not part of his future.
Paul said, “I’m going to focus everything I’ve got, all of my energies, on one thing--and that is looking forward to what lies ahead. I’m going to press on toward that upward goal, to the prize in Jesus Christ.”
Then there’s the disciple Peter. I love Peter probably because he seems to be the guy that didn’t always get everything right, but Jesus still loved him. The final night of Jesus’ life on earth, Peter denied knowing Jesus. Even after Jesus told Peter he was going to do that and Peter replied that there was no way in the world he would turn his back on Jesus, he did. But look what happened next:
“When the women went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body and a man in white explained that Jesus wasn’t there and had risen from the dead, he told the women to go tell the disciples and Peter. It was Jesus’ way of making sure Peter knew he was welcomed back, because Peter probably felt like a loser. Peter felt awful for denying Jesus, and figured that he no longer had a place in Jesus’ ministry. But the women were to 'tell…Peter'” (Mark 16:7).
Jesus wasn’t done with him.
Toward the end of the Gospel of John, we read about a beautiful demonstration of restoration and confidence as Jesus reinstated Peter:
“Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter replied, ‘you know I love you.’
‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’
‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Then feed my sheep.’" --John 21:15–17
If I were Peter, at this point I would have been thinking, “Come on, I’ve told you straight out twice that I love you! Why are you asking me a third time?”
But then it hit me: Jesus asked three times for a reason. He gave Peter the opportunity to redeem the three times he had denied Jesus by professing his love three times. This is such a great picture of mercy. Jesus could have rubbed Peter’s nose in the mess he made. He could have done so many things that would have caused Peter pain. Peter had used his words to betray his relationship with the Lord. But now Jesus let Peter use his words to heal that relationship and to restore his relationship with Jesus.
No one restores so completely as Jesus does. After all this, after all the times Peter let Jesus down in word and deed, Jesus proclaims that He will build His church on Peter and his profession of faith. Peter isn’t to be remembered as the denier--he is known as “the rock.” His faith is the solid rock on which our church stands.
Read more on the subject of insecurity in my new book, Restored, hitting bookshelves later this month.