There are four purposes for posting selfies on social media—to show the world: 1) how we look, 2) who we’re with, 3) where we’ve been, or 4) what we’ve accomplished. This post begins the third item on that list: Where We’ve Been
Tropical sunsets. The Eiffel Tower. The Grand Canyon. A fancy restaurant. These are places we visit sometimes and want to record our being there with a photograph. Occasionally we want to see our own images in the foreground (a selfie) so that when we put these on social media, it is proof that we were actually there. And that’s a good thing. It’s nice to chronicle our adventures that will produce memories later or get a response from our followers. It’s good to look back—sometimes.
We study history in school to connect with those who have gone before us—and to learn from their mistakes—hopefully so that we won’t repeat them. That is essential to our carving a better path for the future. However, looking back in our own lives (where we’ve been) is not always healthy, especially when we find that through remembrance we are bound by shame—or fame. That’s right—fame. Painful memories of our sins can shame us. This is something that we already know. But past fame or accolades are just as harmful if we let those praises make us believe that we are immuned to failure. Just because you were once a beauty queen or captain of the soccer team doesn’t mean that this is who you are. (We’ll discuss accomplishments further in subsequent posts.)
In most cases, however, our failures haunt us more than our successes. I know I don’t often want to even see a person that I knew at certain times in my life because I wasn’t being obedient to God then. God forgave me for those sins, but it has taken awhile to forgive myself. Still I don’t want to be reminded of those transgressions of my youth.
I occasionally hear the concept of past “sin” being referred to as “mistakes.” There’s a fundamental difference in those two words. Let’s call these acts what they are. First, sin is a deliberate act of disobedience—or a conscious decision to not act upon what God has told us to do. We’ve called these sins either “acts of commission or acts of omission.” In God’s eyes, these are both intentional. We knew it was wrong and we did it anyway.
Second, a mistake could be the result of a bad or hurried decision. In math, for example, the sum of numbers can produce the wrong answer, but it isn’t deliberate. It’s a mistake. We just calculated wrong. Sometimes we act upon a decision without having all of the facts. Directions to a destination, even with GPS, can sometimes be inaccurate and, therefore, lead us astray. Or often it’s carelessness. Have you ever set your alarm clock to wake you up in the morning, but you set it for p.m. instead of a.m.? That’s a mistake and not one you want to repeat. But it’s hardly a sin.
When there is sin, the only option is to repent before God and, perhaps, before the person you have wronged, if that applies. Then, with God’s help, change the behavior. With a mistake, true repentance isn’t called for. Just make a “note to self” about it.
The prophet Isaiah writes this: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Is. 43:18)
The author of Hebrews (who is unknown to us) writes, “By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust.” (Hebrews 8:12) The coming of Jesus, the scripture says, changed everything, and you and I are part of that new plan.
Consider a good reason to look back: to review mistakes and even sins so we can make course corrections and repent.
Also consider what I call the poison of the past. Bitterness because of personal failure and/or the pain of being betrayed is not only a joy stealer, but has consequences regarding physical health.
There are many studies that reveal that holding a grudge can make us feel physical pain or at least make our pain worse. Here is one take on the subject: “Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia found that people who said they held a grudge for years had an increased risk of multiple health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, back pain, and headaches.”[i]
Making amends to someone you have hurt or who has hurt you can be painful. And sometimes what we perceive as our truth can only be categorized as honesty. Our honest assessment of a situation might contain truth, but it might not. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Be careful when dealing with these two concepts and assessing your past.
Honesty can be a powerful tool when Truth is also applied. But honesty can also be a powerful tool in the hands of…a liar. And we know that Satan is a liar, but he’s quite sincere, and that’s why so many buy into his lies. In John 8:44, Jesus says to the unbelieving Pharisees, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So, he’s not only a liar, but the father of lies. The truth is not in him although he appears truly authentic in the words he whispers in our brains. In times of shame and regret, especially, Satan likes to tell us that we can never recover from our past sins.
Theologian and hymn writer John Wesley wrote this in 1739. The first verse is a declaration of absolute praise to the God who saved him.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace!
The fourth verse, which I consider the best part, says,
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
This is to say that even after realizing that God has forgiven us for our past, it can still have power over us if we let it. And Satan loves to remind us of our past in order to steal our joy and, therefore, our witness. Author Christine Caine in her book Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny puts it this way: “I have learned that in order to get unhooked from the pain of my past, I have to continuously choose to change my perspective. I need to look at things through God’s eyes—through the resurrection power of Jesus.”[ii]
STOP: Are you bound by your past sins or mistakes? Is it hard to move forward because of your past?
LIE: You’ll never get over your past. You’ll never be worth much because of the pain of your history.
TRUTH: …if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (1 John 1:9-10)
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
[ii] Caine, Christine, Zondervan. Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny