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I have heard it said that you should not let your past control you. How often do we hear of people whose present actions are somehow influenced by their past? When was the last time you did something simply because you have always done it that way? We are all under the influence of our past. Whether we like it or not our present reality is influenced by where we have been, what we have experienced, and the things we have done. The question we are confronted with is to what extent we are to be held prisoner by our past.

There may be no areas in which people struggle with the issue of overcoming the past than in the area of regret or guilt. Most people by the time they’re my age have done something they regret. We have all made ill-informed or foolish decisions. For a lot of us, those regrets are relatively harmless, but for others they are more serious. And to make matters worse, sometimes those decisions involve moral failures on our part. So, now regret turns to guilt. We try to hide it or forget about it, but the reality of our guilt tends to nag at us. Our failures have a way of not letting us forget.

But what if I said that our problem was not our ability to just put the past behind us, but rather an unwillingness to look beyond our own lives to another event in history that should have a radical impact on who we deal with regret and guilt. I am talking about the death of Jesus Christ. It is fitting that I write this with Easter approaching. This is supposed to be the time of year when we as Christians take a hard look at what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and the effect it is supposed to have on our lives today.

The past is important…just read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the first fourteen versus, he reminds us over and over again of what God has already done in the past. He “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (1:3, cf. 1:6)), “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (1:4), “he predestined us for adoption” (1:5, cf. 1:11), and “he lavished” his grace on us (1:7). All of these blessings are stated in the past tense as a reminder that they have already been done for us.

However, the past is not without its present implications. In the same passage, Paul reminds us of the present benefits believers now enjoy in Christ. He reminds us explicitly that “we have redemption…the forgiveness of our trespasses” (1:6) and that “we have obtained an inheritance” (1:11). Even more, we know that we now enjoy the benefits of having been adopted into God’s family and the privilege of calling him, “Father.” We know that if our sins have been forgiven, then our past regrets and guilt should no longer hold sway over us.

So while our past may be full of regrets, as those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, they no longer need to weigh us down with guilt. Instead, let them remind us of what we have been saved from, and let them fuel our worship of the One who died, so that we might live, and who was condemned, so that we could be set free.

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Yesterday I was having a conversation with a co-worker who is Muslim. We were talking about matters of religion and the fact that we both recognize that we are bad people, or at least that we do bad things. She as well as I both recognize that we are in need of forgiveness. The problem is that her belief system does not provide a basis for a holy, righteous, and just God to forgive without compromising his character.

As I was thinking more about the nature of forgiveness and Christ as the exclusive basis for our forgiveness before God, I was reminding of Ephesians 4:32,

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

“Just as” – those words are strong and yet seem so vague. We are to forgive others “just as” God has forgiven us in Christ, but “just” how has God forgiven us in Christ? It is a question we every Christian must endeavor to answer, if they are to be able to forgive others in like manner. So if you will join me in considering the following ways in which God has forgiven us in Christ:

  1. He forgave those who had offended Him. This may go without saying, but the very fact that forgiveness is need points to an offense. That we have in some way offended and wronged God, that we have sinned against Him.
  2. He forgave in kindness not retribution. His forgiveness was done is such a way that we need not bear the retribution for the wrong that we have done to whom, rather He Himself has choose to bear the retribution do for the very offenses that were committed against Him. Even more He has done us good in giving us forgiveness. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (2Pet. 3:18)
  3. He forgave in a way of tenderheartedness and sympathy. The securing of our forgiveness before God was secured in a way of compassion and piety. For Christ knowing from times past the depravity of man’s hearts and the desperate state of His peoples condition, set to deliver them from their helpless condition. Yet Christ compassion and sympathy for His people is not merely cognitive, but experiential as well, in that He partook of the same nature and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. As a man he endured those temptations and trials of heart which are common to all men. Yet as the Son of God, he endured them all to their fullest extent and yet was without sin. Thus their is no degree of temptation or trial with which the Lord Christ is not acquainted and has not overcome. Thus the author of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:14-16, emphasis added)
  4. He forgave them completely and finally. In saying that He forgave them completely, I mean that He forgave their sins once for all. He has already satisfied all the demands of justice regarding both that obedience or righteousness required by the law and that wrath or penalty that our disobedience to the law requires. In saying that He forgave them finally, I mean that the death He died and the life He lived shall always and ever more be the believers also by means of their union with Him. All whom God in Christ forgave, he forgave forever more and He shall remember their sins no more.

Yet there is no other person who has provided the grounds for forgiveness and at the same time upheld the requirements of divine justice. And who so so in such a way of love and grace, that He would bear their iniquities so that He might forgive them. That He would become under wrath of God, so that God might turn His wrath from them and grant them forgiveness.

So might find it odd that I would right so much about Christ’s life and death at time of year when many will remember His birth. But is that not another testimony to His kindness and tenderheartedness in forgiving us, that He who gives to each of us breath and life and being would stoop down and become a man. Furthermore, that he he would enter into His creation in a way of humility being born in stable to a poor Jewish peasant. That He would be a king who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life – to die – as a ransom for many. So that God might in Him forgive us.