Let It Go

This week, we’re continuing our message series based on NBC’s TV series, “AD.”
This morning, we once again take a look at the life of Saul to better understand how life change takes place.  More importantly, we’ll learn how to deal with the past in both our lives and in the lives of others.
We’re reminded again of this scene following Saul’s choice to place his faith in Jesus and be water baptized when he chooses to depart Damascus and return to Jerusalem.
* AD Episode 9 Clip *
We can only imagine how difficult it must have been both for Saul and for Peter to reconcile who Saul used to be and who he now was.
All of us, when we chose to put our faith in Jesus are aware of this struggle.  It seems as if though simultaneously everything instantly changes and yet everything is so difficult to change.  Those who you once considered to be good friends now want nothing to do with you.  Those who actually were your good friends are confused and try to change you back to who you used to be.
Religious people judge you and look down on you because you are still struggling to overcome life-long sinful habits in your life.  You don’t belong in the world, but many make you feel like you don’t belong in the church, either.  You even struggle to live within your own skin. The person who you used to be keeps trying to rise up again.  The person that you know you can be and who God desires you to be keeps getting stifled by the person who you used to be.  Some things change for you instantly and without any effort, but some things still cling to you and seem to take all that you have to try and change.  You sort of feel like Tolkien’s creature,  Smeagol also known as Gollum.
Take heart, however, Saul actually struggled in this exact same way that we all do.  In fact, he wrote about it here:
Romans 7:15-25
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Living life as a true disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean that we live a perfect, sinless life.  Only Jesus Christ has ever done that in this human flesh and He’s for certain the only one who ever will do that.  The fact that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory is simply evidence that we all still need Jesus.  In fact, the day that we think that we no longer sin, scripture tells us is the day that we have deceived ourselves and that the truth of God is no longer in us (1 John 1:8).
What makes us a true disciple of Jesus is our genuine love for Him that motivates us to do our best and to always desire and to make every effort to live a sinless life.  It also means that when we do sin, we openly confess it, seek forgiveness for it, and turn away from it in the future.  We don’t blame, we don’t make up excuses, and we don’t minimize our error.  We man up and accept full responsibility for our actions and do what we can to right our wrongdoing.  We allow ourselves to be held accountable for our lives.
Being a true disciple of Jesus means that we learn from our mistakes and continue to run the race that He has set before us with perseverance and commitment.  It means that we may have messed up yesterday, but that doesn’t define who we choose to be today.  We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and never give up.
None of this is possible, however, until we commit to know God as our deliverer.  Even as Saul declared, Jesus Christ is the only one who is able to deliver us from our past, recreate us in the present, and shape us for our future.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be struggles, that doesn’t mean that it is going to be easy, but it does mean that by the empowering grace of God, it is possible!
When it comes to the past, we have to learn to let it go!  Putting the past in the past is God’s design.  We end up so hurt and damaged by the past when we try to cling to it and drag it into the present because we were not designed to be able to do that!  It is contradictory to both the natural and supernatural world that we dwell within.  We were simply not designed to be able to stop time and live in a moment for the rest of our lives.
This is not only how we deal with the past; with our own life and the choices that we have made, but also how we deal with the lives of others and the choices that they have made.  How do we do this, though?
1. Forgive
Forgiveness is agreeing with God.  Forgiveness doesn’t water down the past or brush it under a rug.  Forgiveness fully and honestly confesses that what was done was absolutely wrong and that there was no excuse for it.  Forgiveness, however, let’s go of the past.  Forgiveness is choosing to let go of that offense and to put it in the hands of God.
When that offense is in God’s hands, only then can He begin to heal and restore us and administer justice.  God will not tear that offense out of our hands, He will take it only when we are willing to give it up to Him.  As the Lord says:
Romans 12:19
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
and also:
Matthew 6:14-15
14 if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If we do not seek out forgiveness from the Lord for our own sins, if we do not forgive ourselves for our own actions, and if we do not forgive others their sins against us, we are only hurting ourselves.  Our unforgiveness barely has an impact on the person who sinned against us, but it destroys us.  If we choose not to forgive, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
By choosing not to forgive, we are breaking God’s natural order of life where the past remains in the past.  Worse, we are breaking God’s supernatural order of life and fooling ourselves if we believe that we can be right before God when our hands are stained with the bitterness and unforgiveness that we hold toward ourselves or others.
Thankfully, while we still draw another breath, there is still time for us to set our lives right.  There is still time for us to allow the past to remain in the past.  We can choose to forgive!
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
We are forgiven the moment that we ask God to forgive us.  We are purified and righteous in His sight.  Although we deserve hell for our actions, God looks on the broken body and shed blood of Jesus and legally allows His sacrifice to atone for our sins.  We are forgiven and free!
However, there is a disclaimer that I must give at this point that we often fail to understand.  Even though I have been spiritually forgiven and free and even though stand righteous before God, there are still natural consequences.  These consequences are not punishments.  These consequences are not signs that the Lord has not forgiven us.  These consequences are evidences of God’s love for us that not only set us free, but wants to keep us walking in freedom.  God’s discipline is encouraging to us because it displays His great love for us.  He cares enough about us to steer us away from our past.
Hebrews 12:4-11
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
To let go of our past so that it becomes our past, we first must forgive and train ourselves by the consequences.
2. Believe the Best About Others
One of the hardest things to do in life is to choose to see the potential in people instead of their past.  When the disciples looked at Saul, they saw a bitter murderer determined to destroy them.  Barnabas, however, saw something different in Saul.
Acts 9:27-28
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
When people who have hurt us in our past claim to be changed by Jesus, try not to doubt their change.  Believe that Jesus can transform others in the same way that He has transformed us.  It’s easy for anyone to look at a person and remember only the past.  A huge part of putting the past in the past is choosing to believe the best about others and not keeping them bound by their past mistakes.  After all, if the Lord can believe in the best for us and cast our sins as far as the east is from the west, to the bottom of the ocean floor, then shouldn’t we do the same for others?
3. Know the Difference Between Discernment and Judgment
Even in forgiveness, there is still room for wisdom, caution, and accountability.  If someone’s life has truly been changed and transformed by Jesus, then their actions will prove it.  There is a difference between discernment and judgment.  Discernment is about perceiving and determining someone’s current motives and actions.  Judgment is about making forming opinions of someone currently based on their past.
Saul had a life changing encounter with Jesus, however, that single encounter was proved true by his life choices following that encounter.  The disciples had every right to be cautious and discerning in regards to Saul joining them.  However, they had no right to hold Saul’s past against him.  As Barnabas encouraged them to, they forgave him and allowed Saul to join them and gave him a chance to prove his transformation with his actions.
We, also, should give people the chance to prove their change through their actions.  This takes wisdom and discernment, but is a necessary step to letting the past in the past.  No, I don’t recommend that an abused spouse move back in with their abuser who claims to have changed.  However, there are small steps that can be wisely taken to prove their change and to bring about reconciliation in time.
This morning, we can walk away from here a free people.  The past that has kept us bound for so long can finally be behind us where it belongs.  This is all made possible by Jesus as we choose to be forgiven, forgive ourselves, and forgive others.  Then, we can believe the best about others and, using discernment and wisdom, prove the change that the Holy Spirit has done in our lives and in the lives of others.