Anecdotally at least, it seems that bad memories of our past sins afflict Christians more than many other issues. It’s this difficulty that accounts for a large portion of the circumstances that bring Christians and non-christians to the aid of counselors, and it's really no wonder why: bad memories seem like a plague, they can be crippling, and they accompany large portions of our lives. Many people want to forget their past and feel the relief of forgetting the shame they have experienced, and if that is the goal then the world has a plethora of options to choose from. Some people drink alcohol to take away this pain, others elect for medical procedures, and still others opt for demon deliverance. However you slice it, bad memories and the shame they bring are a serious issue that everyone deals with.
Transformation, Not Evasion
What does the Gospel do? Well, it transforms us into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) and unites us to Christ (John 17:21, 23). However, it is common for Christians to think that the Gospel saves them and transforms them somehow, and it does, but we still need to grow and mature. We must perpetually proclaim the Gospel to our hearts and fall upon it for assurance and confidence. In other words, whether it’s done intentionally or unintentionally, most think the Gospel is just the beginning, training wheels type stuff, and it must be moved on from after conversion.
The Gospel is the truth that must be gone back to time after time so that the Christian can live in faithfulness and the joy of the Savior who redeemed him or her. In this light we must ask, “Does God seek to transform everything about us?” The answer is an emphatic, yes! And, this includes our memories. And this also means that as Christians we must recognize God’s goal is transformation, not evasion.
God’s Stupendously Wonderful Ways
It has been my observation that the life of the Christian is difficult. This being the case, God’s ways may sometimes seem harder and more cumbersome than the world’s ways. But, let me remind you, the prevailing ideology of the world is ordered by a sinful mind and the deceitfulness of the devil (Colossians 2:8) and not after Christ. So it makes perfect sense that the world would devise ways of doing things that 1) seem easy compared to the alternative and are appealing, 2) but are contrary to God’s word, and 3) are ultimately impotent and hollow, affecting nothing, because they are not God’s way. So what is God’s way?:
1. Remember that even in your past God purposed all things for your good (Genesis 50:20). He wasn’t 9 holes into a round of golf, he was intimately involved in everything about you and your life for your good (Romans 8:28).
2. Your past influences your present, it doesn’t control it. This strikes hard at the beliefs of some people. Many want to believe that they are victims to outside forces (including their past) but this simply isn’t true. If you're new, then you're new (2 Corinthians 5:17)! And we must walk in full trust that our past has been dealt with by the forgiveness and mercy of God.
3. Because your past is only your interpretation of past events, and not what actually happened per se, your past can be re-interpreted objectively through the lens of scripture. Like Joseph (Genesis 50:20) you are enabled to portray past horrors as glorious victories because of the Gospel.
This is but a small snippet of what the Gospel does for those who are saved by it, and how to view a very prevalent problem. We don’t need to forget what has happened, but rather have our view of those events transformed. When bad memories rear their ugly little heads, recognize them as fiery darts from your enemy (Ephesians 6:16) and thank the Lord for grace and forgiveness that saved such a wretch. Be humbled by how great a Savior you serve. Thank him for turning your folly into an occasion for praise! And ask him to allow your past to be a way to do effective ministry for others who need the Gospel. God is so good, that even darkness is light to him, so we ought to be the first to rejoice when light is shed abroad on the sin that the Lord has forgiven through his own blood!
Nick Muyres is a Navy veteran and lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and children. He is a graduate of Liberty University and is a Certified Biblical Counseling with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Nick also writes for reformconfess.com