What It Means to Deal with Our Past as Christians
Have you ever felt like something is hampering your progress as a Christian? Do you feel as if you’re being held back? Could something from your old life be keeping you from going forward?
Before we were saved, every one of us had a past life. We committed many sins, and our life as unbelievers included things that weren’t pleasing to God. But praise the Lord, when we’re born again, the blood of Christ washes away our sins. All of our sins are forgiven and forgotten by God.
Before God, we are justified, saved from condemnation, and freed from our sins. But in our practical daily life, are we free from our past? Or do things from our past life still cling to us and hinder our walk with the Lord? For us to be free to go on in our Christian life, these hindering things from our former life need to be cleared away.
Why do we need to clear up our past life?
The foundation of our salvation is grace. Because the Lord Jesus shed His blood, we are forgiven for every evil thing of our past. God cleansed away every trace of our former sins. We don’t have to be bothered by what we did or who we were before we were saved. We must be very clear about this.
But when we’re saved, we’re not only forgiven; we also become a new person, part of God’s new creation. From that point on, we begin a new life and we should have a new living. If we remain in our old way of life, we are hindered from experiencing a new start and going on in Christ. Things of our past life will drag us down and hold us back. We need to put an end to those things and stop their further influence in order to progress in the Christian life.
So how do we go about putting an end to things from our past life?
The feeling in our conscience
One of the first things that happens after we believe is that our conscience is awakened. Previously, our conscience was somewhat dull and in some cases, even dormant. Things that didn’t bother us before are now brought to light as sinful, worldly, unrighteous, or inappropriate. This is because our newly awakened conscience functions so we can perceive right from wrong. Without having to consult with others, we know what’s wrong in our living and what’s displeasing to God.
For example, perhaps we previously used crude language, and even took the Lord’s name in vain, without feeling like anything was wrong. But after we were saved, we began to have an uneasy feeling whenever we would speak this way. This feeling comes from our conscience, and if we go along with it by ceasing to use such language, we will feel peaceful, and this matter will not be one of the things that holds us back.
This is a normal experience that comes from being saved. If we remain in something improper from before we believed, we have an uneasy or frustrated feeling. We have the feeling that we need to put an end to something to be able to go forward in our Christian life. The way we deal with the past is by going along with that feeling.
The New Testament gives us examples of what a believer must terminate from the past in order to grow in the life of Christ. These examples help to sensitize our conscience and make us aware of some of the things the Lord might shine on in our living.
Idols and idolatrous things
The first and most important thing we should rid ourselves of is any idol or object related to an idol. First Thessalonians 1:9 says, “You turned to God from the idols to serve a living and true God.”
Idols are lifeless images that are worshipped in place of the living and true God. God cannot tolerate idols. For us to hold onto an idol is a serious matter. Our God is a jealous God who wants us to worship and love Him, the unique living and true God, alone.
We may think we don’t have a problem with idols because we never bowed down to one. But even possessing an idol for any reason or having an inclination in our heart toward one is objectionable to God. The apostle John warned the believers in 1 John 5:21 by saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
Our dealing with idols must be decisive and absolute. It’s not sufficient just to put it away, out of sight, in a closet somewhere. To be free from their effect, idols must be destroyed, not even sold or given away. Objects related to idols, such as things pertaining to superstition, fortune telling, horoscopes, and religious icons, also need to be completely eradicated from our lives.
We must forsake anything related to idols immediately and thoroughly after we believe in Christ. But sometimes idols may not be obvious to us. Even if you believe you do not have any idols around you, you can take a moment to ask the Lord for His feeling.
“Lord Jesus, I don’t want to have any idols in my home or heart. I love You and I don’t want to be near any idol. Lord, show me if I have any idols or things related to idols that You want me to remove from my life.”
Improper objects and filthy things
Perhaps we don’t have idols, horoscopes, or superstitious things in our home, but we possess something improper from our old life.
Acts 19:19-20 gives an account of people in the city of Ephesus immediately after they believed in Christ:
“And a considerable number of those who practiced magic brought their books together and burned them before all; and they counted up the price of them and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. Thus, the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
What caused these believers to do such a thing? What made them realize their magic books, which were of great monetary value, were improper and demonic and needed to be burned?
No one told them, “Now that you are saved, you must destroy these books.” They took this action not because of an outward commandment but because of the inward work of the Holy Spirit who lived in them. Their salvation experience was dynamic, motivating them to forsake and burn wicked books that were once precious to them. They would not even sell them. They had a firm, freeing, absolute separation from them. And the result of their actions was that the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
This account of the Ephesian believers shows us that improper objects that are sinful or filthy—pornographic material; indecent clothing; gambling paraphernalia; items related to drug and alcohol abuse; improper books and pictures; and things related to witchcraft and magic—should all be destroyed. A thorough clearance of even the remnants of an ungodly life will release us from the hold of our past.
“Lord Jesus, make me clear. Make my conscience sensitive. Shine on anything improper or filthy in my life, Lord. Help me rid myself of these things so I can go on with You in an unhindered way!”
Repaying debts and making restitution
Luke 19:2-8 records the story of Zaccheus, a tax collector who met the Lord Jesus as He passed through Jericho. As soon as the Lord spoke to Zaccheus and told him that He would come to stay in his house, Zaccheus said to the Lord, “Behold, the half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore four times as much.”
As soon as he met the Lord Jesus, Zaccheus was instantly convicted of his sins, especially of extorting money from people, and professed his desire to repay them fourfold and give half of all he had to the poor. Again, the Lord didn’t command him to do this. Zaccheus was saved in such a genuine and living way that he instantly knew what he should do to clear up his former dishonest way of living.
Zaccheus’ declaration was the spontaneous result of his having received the Lord Jesus as his Savior. Even the amount he repaid—four times as much—was the result of the Lord’s life within him, not of an outward regulation or command. The divine life within Zaccheus motivated him to clear up his past in this particular way.
Restoring to others what we owe them should also be an outflow of the divine life within us, as it was with Zaccheus. The leading of the Spirit within us makes us conscious of what we need to repay and to whom. Perhaps we need to repay money we borrowed from someone long ago, or perhaps we need to return items to our workplace. If we allow the Spirit to speak to us, we’ll be clear about what we need to deal with and how to do it.
We can seek the Lord concerning how to repay our debts, trusting Him to help us make things right.
“Lord, work in me. I don’t want anything wrongfully acquired in my possession. If I owe anything to anyone, show it to me and lead me how to repay them.”
If after praying we’re unclear about how to practically make restitution for something we wrongfully acquired, we can seek fellowship with someone who is more experienced in the Lord.
Our former manner of life
Ephesians 4:22 says:
“That you put off, as regards your former manner of life, the old man, which is being corrupted according to the lusts of the deceit.”
Our former manner of life is a broad area that refers to how we previously conducted ourselves in every aspect of our daily living. It encompasses things like the people we associated with, our way of speaking, how we dressed, places we went, how we spent our time, our relationships with people, how we spent our money, and so on.
After we’re saved, our whole way of living needs to have a change from what it was before.
If we open to the Lord and ask Him to shine His light, we’ll realize many things in our living are unbefitting for a child of God. For example, perhaps we wore certain kinds of clothing before we became a Christian, but after we believed into Christ and became one with Him, we feel uneasy about wearing them. In that case, we should go along with this feeling, which is the Lord within us, and either alter the clothing or replace it with something else.
The new life of Christ within us wants us to have a new living that corresponds with Him. We need to ask the Lord to tell us what areas in our living He wants us to deal with. He may speak to us about certain things we used to do, places we used to go, music we used to listen to, and many other things.
As He speaks to us, we need to respond to Him by getting rid of what displeases Him, discontinuing certain practices and activities of our former life, and having a change in the way we live now that we’re saved people.
Not a matter of regulation outwardly but of the new life inwardly
Dealing with things of our past isn’t a matter of fulfilling an outward regulation. It’s a matter of being sensitive and obedient to God’s life within us. We can’t find direct teachings in the Bible related to the clearance of our past, but we do have clear examples of it in the Scripture passages used above, and many others.
Now that we know we need to clear up the things of our old living, what should we do? The best thing to do is to bring this matter to the Lord Himself. We don’t need to take it upon ourselves to dig up things we think might be a problem. The One we received as our Savior is living, real, and full of feeling. He is also very definite and specific with us. We can open our hearts to Him and ask Him to point out the improper things that may still be present in our living.
“Lord Jesus, thank You for saving me. I want to have a free way to grow in You and walk with You. Lord, touch any improper thing in my living that hinders my going on with You. Shine on it, and help me remove any such thing completely from my life!”
The Lord Jesus lives inside us and wants His life to grow in us. Surely He will answer this prayer. We don’t have to remain in the former things and be held back from enjoying Christ and growing in Him. He will reveal what impedes us in our Christian walk. By cooperating with the Lord to deal with our past, we can go on and experience Christ every day.
If you’d like to read more about terminating the past, we recommend chapter 3, “Terminating the Past,” in Lessons for New Believers, by Witness Lee. You can find the book to read for free in this alphabetical listing of the publisher’s online library.