Your Disappearing Past
I hope you’re surviving these sweltering temperatures. My prayer for you this week has been that the Holy Spirit would pour out God’s love in your hearts (Romans 5:5).
Since 2001, I have officiated at dozens of memorial services. I’ve preached at funerals of faithful believers (including many folks from Northpoint who have gone to be with the Lord), and I’ve offered the gospel at the “celebrations” for staunch atheists. I’ve seen all kinds of enigmatic (and heart-breaking) behaviors. I’ve seen drunken relatives seize the microphone for ill-advised and poorly timed comments, and I’ve seen family feuds that would make Steve Harvey blush. I’ve seen more than one shouting match. But, by God’s grace, I’ve never had anyone yell at me during a service.
As a first year seminary student, I heard Dr. Benjamin Baker tell the story of delivering the message at the funeral for a well-known drug kingpin in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Baker said that he made the point in a crowd of addicts, prostitutes, and ex-convicts that God had the power to erase their past records and make them new. But when he announced to the audience that, “God can give you back your virginity,” that was more than one lady could handle. Standing up in the middle of the homily, she shouted angrily, “You’re crazy. You don’t know what I’ve done.” (Naturally, this makes for an awkward moment for a preacher. Do I respond? Look away? Attempt some humor? Crawl to the nearest exit?)
Despite the protestation, the reality is that Dr. Baker was exactly right in what he was saying. According to the Scriptures, believers in Christ enjoy something seemingly impossible: A completely clean slate.
The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus lived a perfect life, obeying fully all of the Father’s commands. He never sinned. Even so, for the sake of our justification—the divine declaration of the unrighteous as positionally righteous—God punished Jesus for our offenses. Even though “he knew no sin” God “made him to be sin,” in that, Jesus became a “sin offering” for those he would save.
And through his sacrifice we became righteous.
What happened on the cross was: God put the ledgers away and settled all accounts. He put all of our offenses on Jesus. Never again would God’s children have to worry about God’s wrath. Never again would we, as God’s sons and daughters, have to worry about how God sees us. At the moment God saves us, when we put our faith in Jesus, Jesus’ record becomes our record. His merit becomes our merit. God treats us as righteous because he treated Christ as unrighteous.
The sixteenth century German theologian, Zacharius Ursinus, said it this way: “God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me” (italics mine).
When God sees us, he looks at us as though we have never sinned. That’s pretty incredible. And it gets even better: God sees us as not simply as innocent or morally neutral, but as perfectly obedient, forever wrapped in the righteousness of our Savior.
In other words, we are given a new identity and a new history.
To be sure, in one sense, what’s done is done. Jesus is not like Superman who flies around the earth at the speed of light in order to turn back time (as Christopher Reeves’s character did in the first Superman movie). What’s already transpired can neither be changed nor revised. Nor should we deny that our past shapes us in some way. It certainly plays a part in how we view the world, ourselves, where we call home, how we respond to trials. But it doesn’t have to define us.
So often people spend their whole lives dwelling on their past—analyzing, scrutinizing, and reliving it, trying desperately to understand it. Others invest much of their emotional energy trying to hide their past, going to great pains to keep some past behavior from their friends, family, and even their spouse. And all those efforts simply lead to exhaustion because they give the past an unhealthy prominence.
But God says, the past has no prominence is his perspective toward us. He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). In other words, he no longer considers them. They are infinitely separated from his purview. Of course, the absence of vertical condemnation does not equal the removal of all horizontal consequences. For example, if you’ve committed a murder, even though God has forgiven you, there will still be consequences. But for the believer: Regardless of what you’ve done, neither your past sins nor failures determine who you are or your future with Christ. When God sees you he doesn’t even “recall” all those things you’ve done.
If you are in Christ, you are not a divorcee, liar, drop-out, adulterer, pornographer, convict, terminated employee, or sexual lothario—none of those things!—you are first and foremost a child of God. You are righteous. Because of Christ. You are beautiful to him. Your slate has been wiped clean.
Even your past has been re-written. God sees you as though you have never sinned.
For His glory,