Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. Today we are on week four of our series “Getting past your past” and I truly believe that this series was birthed by a burden from God, because so many of us are held in bondage by things that happened in our past. We’ve been talking about how to forgive, how to overcome our own sins, and how to initiate restoration in our relationships. And this morning, we’re going to talk about “Moving On,” getting past the failure in your life. So important because failure is inevitable, it’s unavoidable, it’s a fact of life, but the good news is that failure is not final.
George Woodberry once said this, "Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure." As a matter of fact, the Bible in Proverbs chapter 24 says this, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…” (Proverbs 24:16). So to fail doesn’t make you a failure, but failure can have a profound effect on us, because others use our failures to define us, and often we even use them to define ourselves. And so today, we’re going to talk about getting past our personal failures. This could be in our personal lives, like failing to lose weight, failing to kick a habit, or failing to reach a personal goal. It could be a professional failure like losing a job, a business, or promotion. And it could be in our spiritual lives, like a reoccurring sin, something that you do and then you pray for forgiveness and swear you’ll never do it again. And maybe you go a couple days, a week, or a month, and then you fall into it again and you feel this immense weight of failure burdening you, because you can’t shake this sin that takes you down and holds you back from experiencing God’s best in Christ.
Now I don’t know what that is for you, but in some way or another we’ve all allowed failure to define us, because all of us at one time or another have done something that we wish we hadn't done. And even though we know that God has forgiven us, we have a difficult time forgiving ourselves and now years later, there’s the baggage, the weight, and the guilt, and maybe it’s affecting your relationships, your marriage, your joy in life, and you’re wishing that you’d never done that. You know that God has forgiven you, yet there’s this aching feeling, this sense of failure, and you just can’t quite forgive yourself; and so you keep wondering if I just tried a little harder, if I just prayed a little more, if I just worked a little more at it, and yet so many of us feel like David did when he said this in Psalm 38:4:
“My guilt has overwhelmed me. It's overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.”
Today I want you to realize that there is some good that can come out of failure, not in the failure itself, but in the very fact that you tried. You see, in life there will be wins and losses, good seasons and bad seasons, and the more that you’re prepared for it, the better off you’ll be. For that matter, let me share with you a list of people who have experienced financial failure in the past. Maybe you will recognize a name or two, there are those like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Burt Reynolds, Walt Disney, Milton Hershey, H.J. Heinz, Wayne Newton, Larry King, Tom Petty, Mickey Rooney, and even Johnny Unitas. Each one of these experienced financial failure but the label of failure doesn’t exactly fit any of them does it? You see it’s the difference between a failure who has tried and a failure who hasn’t.
Pastor Rick Warren once said that for the epitaph on his tombstone he wanted it to say, “At least he tried.” And maybe you know that Warren is pastor of one of the largest churches in America. He is the author of “The Purpose Driven Life” which is one of the best-selling hardbacks of all time apart from the Bible. And so you could say that Rick Warren has experienced a level of success that puts him way past the “at least he tried” stage, but most of us aren’t past that stage. Our lives are a cycle of wins and losses, successes and setbacks, one step forward and two steps back, and yet by the grace of God we can get to the point of taking two steps forward and only one step back. That’s where we make progress and that’s what we need to strive for, because every believer has a past, and every sinner has a future. And so it doesn’t matter where you look, every person that God has ever used in a good way has a past that the power of God enabled them to overcome. And so every single sinner, every single one of us, has a future, because through the power of Christ, God can help you overcome your past.
I could go on to tell you of the worst things I’ve done in my life, I could testify to some amazingly poor choices, because my life, particularly in my teen years and early 20s, was a series of messed up failure after failure, but you know what, I won’t speak of it, I won’t give Satan the glory, but instead I’ll tell you of the power of Christ as we’re talking about getting past our past. You see, the bottom line is that far too many of us are still living in the past, we’re still gripped by the thought of that failure, or that series of failures, and it’s time to get past our past.
So let’s look at how we do it? Well, the first point in getting past our past failures is to recognize that our biggest sins are not too big for God’s grace. Yet many of us live our lives day in and day out consumed by guilt, because we’ve allowed our spiritual enemy to keep us stuck, paralyzed in this pit of guilt and failure. Yet Jesus said very clearly in John chapter 3, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And in verse 18 Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” (John 3:17-18).
You see, your biggest sins are not too big for God’s grace and so he sent the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin” (John 16:8), and it’s just another facet of the grace of God, that God would send the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, because that’s what produces change in our lives. It’s the Holy Spirit that gives us that little nudge to move in the right direction and as the Bible tells us in first John, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And so this is one of those passages recorded in the New Testament that you’ve just got to know, because it’s one of the most powerful Scriptures in all of the Bible.
I don’t know if any of you remember the Etch A Sketch? But you would turn those little knobs and make lines and boxes and skyscrapers and when you did something wrong you just shake it and it’s wiped clean. It’s beautiful and that is exactly what God does for us. Maybe today in your life, on your Etch-a-Sketch, there is no Taj Mahal, but it’s “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (Colossians 3:8). Maybe jealousy, resentment, bitterness, unfaithfulness. What’s on your Etch-a-Sketch? The Bible says that God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin, but he doesn't just stop there, in Jeremiah chapter 31 the Lord says: "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). When God erases your Etch-a-Sketch he chooses to limit his memory, he will remember your sins no more, and so if you want to get past your past you have to recognize that there is no sin that you will or have ever committed that’s too big for God’s grace.
The second idea is that you’re not what you’ve done, but who God says you are. When it comes to getting past your past failures you need to remember you’re not what you’ve done, your sins and failures don’t define you, your identity is not in what you’ve done, but your identity is in what God has breathed into you. You are the product, the creation of the living God who’s saved you, redeemed you, and given you purpose. It’s what God has said and what God has done that defines who you are.
Now of course, the enemy comes and he wants to twist the Word of God. Jesus calls him a thief and says this in John chapter 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). So the enemy comes and he gets us all messed up. He discourages us, he whispers words in our mind, he says, “You lost control, you blew it, you were over the top angry so you’re a murderer. You were unfaithful, so you’re an adulterer.” Or maybe you took something that wasn’t yours and he says, “You’re a thief.” And so he personalizes our sin, our failures, and speaks condemnation over us.
But listen to what God tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In other words, when a person comes to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ they’re given a new identity, they’re transformed, and this change is so drastic, so invading, so all-encompassing that the new person in Christ appears to have been born again. And that’s exactly what’s happened spiritually, for having died to sin, they’re now a new creation, raised to walk in newness of life with Jesus. That’s what the Bible tells us in Romans chapter 6, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again... In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:8-11).
Now having lived in Maryland and Pennsylvania for most of my life I’ve become quite accustomed to potholes and the way that they’re repaired. You know, one month it is a pothole, the next month it’s a speedbump; and before you know it the patch breaks up too, so then they put a patch on top of the patch. And we are all too familiar with our method of putting patches on top of patches, but Jesus Christ doesn’t just patch up your old life. He comes in and digs up the old life, completely rebuilding you, you’re raised from the deadness of sin to walk in newness of life with Christ. What was dead is now alive!
Way back in time, what I call BC, or before Christ, I was defined by my sin and you were defined by your sin; because outside of the cross of Christ none of us have any hope. We were literally a prisoner of our sin and it does in fact define you. Some of you know my story, but I wrestled with God for 34 years before I finally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The first 23 years of my life could best be described as a rebel, an outlaw, at times even a fugitive, because I was in rebellion. In fact that very word was spoken over me many times by my parents and even juvenile services. I was in rebellion to authority, life was all about what I could get out of it, but marriage slowed me down a bit, and enough so that I began to notice the Holy Spirit working and speaking to me. I remember having children, trying to be a good father, watching my oldest son Matt and thinking, “How would you feel if he grew up to be like you?” And that thought paralyzed me, because I didn’t want him to be anything like me, to struggle with anything that I struggled with, or to fail in any of the ways that I’ve failed. And so through the gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit, God who as Nehemiah said is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Nehemiah 9:17) poured out his grace in my life and I experienced the forgiveness of Christ. He began to gently and radically change me as he convicted me of sin and began to speak things that were true about me. Those things that I once felt defined me were gone, the new had come, everything was brand new and God gave me purpose, hope, and a future.
Today there may be some of you listening to this message and right now you’re experiencing the presence of God, your heart’s racing, and he’s speaking blessing into your soul. You may have been in chains to the past and to your mistakes, but your sin and your failures are an event, not who you are. God is calling you out, he’s calling you to put your faith in Christ, to believe who he says you are and how he sees you, because anyone who belongs to Christ, who finds their identity in Christ, has become a new person, the old life is gone, and all things have become brand new.
You are who God says you are, because the Bible says that the same Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the grave lives in those who have surrendered their will for his. Therefore it’s the Spirit of the living God that gives us the ability to overcome, to be victorious, and to know what’s true about who we are. So if you’ve trusted Christ with your sin, you’re not what you’ve done, it doesn’t control you, it doesn't define you, and your sin isn’t too big for God's grace. You’re an overcomer, you’re free in Christ, you’re not what you’ve done, but who God says you are.
The third thing you need to know is this: you may not be able to change your past, but Christ can change your future. You can’t change what you said, you can’t undo what you did, nor can you change what someone else said or did, but pressing forward, and moving on, the power of Christ in you can give you a hope and a future. When someone molested you, when you lost your marriage, when you were young and did something you shouldn’t have done, made a decision that you regret, said something you shouldn’t have, my heart breaks with you, because you can’t change the past. But move on, because you have a bright future through the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ!
You’ve got to remember that whenever Satan, your spiritual enemy, tries to remind you of your past. Whenever a demon of hell tells you that you’re this or that and tries to bring up your past, you just get right back in his face in Jesus name and remind him of his future! You remind him that he’s nothing, that he’s been defeated by Christ, you’re from God, the risen Christ lives in you, you are an overcomer, and the Bible tells us, “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
None of us can change what happened in the past, it’s gone, it’s over, but we serve a good God through whom all things are possible and Romans chapter 8 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). So our goal, our objective, is to move on and to leave the past behind. Now few goals are accomplished overnight, but if you want to start walking a mile every day, you need to do it every day and not just once or twice a month. And more often than not, unless Jesus performs a miracle, which sometimes he does, that’s why they call it a miracle instead of Monday or Tuesday, but creating lasting change in your life takes time. Even the apostle Paul recognized that changes don’t always take place overnight, but he knew that was no reason to give up. I love what he said in Philippians chapter 3 at verse 12:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:12-15).
In other words, what he’s saying is, “Day by day I keep moving forward. I may not be perfect now, but I keep pressing toward the goal.” In the same way, we need to focus on progress not perfection. Christ is calling us to move on, to forget what’s behind, and to allow him to change our future. Every single saint has a past and every sinner has a future, because Christ can do more in you and through you than you could ever imagine.
Some of you, your past has been haunting you, that name has held you hostage, but you need to move on, purposefully leaving behind your past. You need to intentionally reject it, to forget it, and cease remembering it anymore. When the apostle Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind…” What that means in the original Greek is to treat the past with thoughtless inattention, to willfully neglect it, to intentionally leave it behind, to banish it from one’s thoughts, to disregard on purpose, and to cease remembering it. I love the passage from Isaiah chapter 38 when he says to God, “You have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17). Or when the psalmist praises God for his great love saying, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). In the same way, as you’re “Getting Past Your Past,” you purposely ignore, you disregard, you cease remembering that which is behind and that for which Christ has forgiven you, because there’s no sin too big for God’s grace, you are not who others say you are, you can’t change your past, but the risen Lord Jesus Christ can and will change your future. Amen!
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
September 04, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.