Forgiving the Past and Pressing On

Forgiving the Past and Pressing On

Happy New Year! Do you make New Year resolutions? I don’t, but I heard an interesting one: "I have resolved not to do drugs anymore, because I get the same effect just by standing up really fast."

Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?

Look back at 2016. How do you see it now? It probably looks a little different than it did back at the beginning of the year. Now we can see all the pounds we lost—or gained. We can see the sorrows and the joys we didn’t expect. We can see the resolutions and promises we broke.

The news media, through television, radio, and magazines, is always looking back over the year. You may be tired of these reports that rehash old news, but please allow me a brief analysis. As I look back over all that’s happened in 2016, what I see most is division.

We’ve just endured one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history. Some vow to keep the contention alive, so we can expect to see more of that in the news. We are strongly divided as a nation along political lines. People don’t listen to each other and discuss the issues rationally. They lie, deceive, and riot. There is talk about rebellion from both extremes.

We’re also divided along skin color and cultural lines, and there are some who have a political and financial interest in keeping it that way. And many times, we’re just divided because of personal offenses, grievances, and grudges—often with other Christians.

Will Ford, at the Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas notes, “I’m seeing Christians say some of the most hurtful things right now. We’re not taking time to respond in the spirit of Christ. We’re just reacting to all this junk that’s around us—which is exactly what the devil wants.”

To heal the divisions, Christians must live in a fundamentally different “system” than everyone else. Think about that. If we’re just ingesting the same junk as the rest of the world—through media and social media—it’s inevitable that we’re eventually going to produce the same junk.

These are the days in which we need, more than ever, the wisdom to know how to be “in the world and not of it.” What are feeding ourselves? What are we meditating on? Are we allowing the world’s view to penetrate our hearts and skew our perspectives to something other than God’s view? That’s what will happen if we spend more time viewing television and the internet than we spend reading and hearing God’s Word.

The enemy’s tactics are diversion, deception, lies, divide, and conquer. We are not ignorant of his devises, but we must stay vigilant and guard against his attacks in our personal lives and in the Church. Otherwise, we will be walking down the broad road that leads to destruction with everyone else. We must stay on the narrow way, following Jesus Christ.

Yes, the devil comes to church. He attends more regularly than most members. His purpose in coming is to divert our focus off of Jesus and His commission. If we hope to harvest any souls, we need the love and unity of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we’re made to be interdependent upon one another—not independent. That dependence extends to other congregations.

So let’s lay down our politics, preferences, prejudices, and be the Body of Christ—healthy and functioning at full capacity—by coming together at the Cross. The only way the people in our nation can live in harmony is if the Church leads the way.

2 Chronicles 7:14 if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

God waits for a willing Church to respond to His call of repentance, to reach out to a world that desperately needs to hear His message.

Colossians 3:12-14 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and, forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

God is commanding us directly and personally to give up our grievances, because a grievance will develop into a grudge. A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads us to act like the devil: creating dissention through diversion, deception, lies, and rumors.

Grudges are destructive. Grudges destroy marriages. Grudges break up families. Grudges ruin friendships. Grudges split churches. One of the scandals of the Church is the grudges that Christians hold against one another. This ruins our witness to unbelievers. Satan keeps us divided and fighting each other so that we won’t fight against him and his kingdom.

Grudges are also self-destructive. When you hold a grudge against someone, you will hurt yourself more than you will hurt the person you are holding it against. Make no mistake about it, if you keep harboring a grudge, it will eventually destroy you, if not physically, certainly emotionally and spiritually. It will make you a bitter, unhappy person.

Do you remember the parable that Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount? That unforgiving spirit caused him to be put into prison. Unforgiving people always end up in prison. Prisons of anger, guilt, and depression.

God says “forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone”.

Notice what God is saying and not saying here. He isn’t telling you to ignore whatever the person has done to you. He isn’t telling you to pretend it did not happen. He doesn’t tell you to condone it, or pretend it didn’t matter. What God tells you to do is to forgive the grievance. That means to acknowledge what was done to you was wrong and painful, and to decide to forgive the person who sinned against you.

It is for your benefit to forgive because unforgiveness is self-destructive. Forgiveness does not relieve the person of responsibility of their actions, but leaves them in the hand of God, who rightly metes out justice. God isn’t telling you to trust the person, but He does tell you (listen closely) to love your enemy, to do good to them, relate to them with gentleness and kindness, and to pray for them.

Some of you need to forgive the grievance you have against your parents for what they did or didn’t do. Some of you need to forgive your children for the same reason. Some of you need to forgive a spouse or an “ex” for emotional or physical abuse. Some of you need to give up the grudge you have against someone at work because of the way they have treated you. Some of you need to give up the grudge that stems from an argument you had with someone. Some of you probably need to give up grudges you have against other people in this congregation.

What better time to make that difficult decision to forgive than the start of a new year?

Now don’t tell God you can’t forgive, because what you really mean when you say that is that you won’t forgive. If Christ can forgive you for your sin despite His innocence and the pain of the cross, then surely, by His grace, you can forgive your grievance whatever the cost? The question is: will you do it?

Romans 12:17-19 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The important phrase there is, so far as it depends on you. God is telling each one of us to do all we can to restore our relationships. Some people might not want that relationship restored with you. God recognizes that. That is why He starts by saying “If possible”.

Therefore, start 2017 by giving up all your grudges and grievances to the Lord. Start the year free of unforgiveness, bitterness, and depression by forgiving others as God has forgiven you.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Before we can see great things done in our Church, we must see great things done in our own lives. We must not give the enemy a foothold in our Church or in our personal lives by harboring grudges, grievances, unforgiveness, or any other sin.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The race we are all running is a long-distance race. It requires patient endurance. It is easier to run if we are not burdened with sin because sin causes us to stumble and fall. It wounds us and hinders our running. All of us have wounds from sin and some of them occurred last year.

We cannot change last year, it is now a closed chapter of history. But we do have a New Year before us. What are we going to make of it? Will we come back in twelve months with similar regrets, or with a sense of joy?

To run this race that is set before us, I will alter my tradition and suggest a New Year’s resolution: Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Regardless of what happened last year—good or bad—the command is to “press on”. However, that doesn’t mean keep doing what you have always done. Otherwise, you will get the same results. In fact, we need to change some of the things we are doing. God gave us the Bible to guide us every day. Read it and obey it! Ignorance of God’s Word is not an acceptable excuse. If we get into a mess in our lives, it is almost certain that we have disobeyed one of the commandments or principles laid down by the Lord in His Word!

To apply God’s Word, we must break bad habits of reacting according to our flesh and emotions. We have to form a good habit of listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit. Daily, concentrate on God’s Word and do what the Lord says. Let me remind you that God’s ways are not our ways; they are better, higher, and greater than our ways. Therefore, we need to do what He says to us, even if we do not understand why we should do it!

John 2:1-5 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

That is excellent advice! Jesus’ instruction seemed odd to the servants. He told them to fill 6 twenty-five gallon jars with water and serve that to the wedding guests. They obeyed, and Jesus turned the water into a premium wine. As long as the instruction is from Jesus, obey it, for He will make it work beyond anything you can imagine!

We all have regrets in 2016—things we wished we hadn’t done, things we wished we had done, things we wish we had done differently. Whatever the regret, last year is gone, it is history, and cannot be changed. However, it can be forgiven if we confess it to the Lord and repent.

Now it is 2017. Although we cannot relive the past, we can certainly learn from the past and not repeat our mistakes. Therefore, let’s determine to “leave the past behind” and “press on”, facing the future with expectancy, as we diligently obey God in everything, leaving the results to Him.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Hebrews 10:35-36 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

What have you learned from your past mistakes? Have you made time for the Lord to speak to you through His Word and prayer? He can speak to you, and would like to, but you must make time to listen to Him. Then “press on”.

Look at this Scripture again. Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  

Notice there is a prize at the destination point. The question arises, are we pressing on toward the goal to receive a prize, or are we just aimlessly living according to our flesh?

If we are going to see the blessing of the Lord poured out upon us; if we are going to see people coming to know the Lord as Savior; if we are going to see growth in our own lives and in the life of our Church, if we are going to see the division in this country healed, then the upward call of God in Christ Jesus must be the direction of our lives. The direction is “upward”. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Let nothing cause you to deviate from this. Follow the Holy Spirit. Make your will and desire subordinate to the will of the Lord!

Notice the text speaks of being “in Christ”. If we are “in Christ”, then we are “in Christ” at all times; every moment of every day; in every place that we visit. Being “in Christ” includes our daily living, as well as our eternal security!

If you are here this morning without Christ as your savior, then none of God’s promises are yours. Your destination is an eternity in Hell. However, you can change that destination today, the first day of a new year. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who atoned for your sin on the Cross, then repent of being your own god and living in sin. Make Jesus your Lord and Savior by confessing this with your mouth before this congregation and give your life to Him by following Jesus in baptism. His promise is that your sin will be forgiven and you will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will lead you and guide you to your new destination—eternity in Heaven.