To forget the past simply means to yield it to God in Christ. This enables the transforming resurrection power of God to make the old new and bring liberty.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
There was a time in my life when God spoke to me in very vivid dreams of old houses. One was a recurring dream, over and over, but all these ‘house dreams’ had common elements. First, the houses were always in desperate need of repair. Another was that they were home. In my dreams, I lived there. Interestingly enough, other elements emerged – I would discover precious things hidden in the ruins, things I never knew or had forgotten I had. There were always basements with countless long corridors and locked doors. And there were never, ever any other people. It was always my ruined house and myself. The dreams stopped when I finally realised that the message was that I was living – and trapped – in the past. God was teaching me to forget the past.
What forget the past really means.
We often very glibly throw out the injunction to forget the past, but what does this really mean? It seems impossible, because the past is part of who we are. More than that, it seems to imply that we should forget the good along with the bad. If that’s the case, everything we have experienced seems to be a complete waste of time and effort. The criteria here is not so much of remembering or forgetting, but rather how we do so. If we understand this, we can grasp the importance of regarding both the good and the bad of the past in proper perspective. The Bible has many references to the fact that we should not ‘look back.’ The phrase implies ‘fixed or focused upon.’ In other words, our memories fill and influence our present. They control our here and now.
Memories – good ones, at any rate – are precious. They are poignant moments that encourage and uplift us and bring positive things into our lives. This is not what the Bible means when it talks of the need to forget the past. The problem is when we become fixated on the former things and long for their restoration. That’s ‘living in the past,’ and it overtakes our present and squanders the precious gift of life. Negative memories have a similar but far more insidious and powerful hold. They chain us to the bad, colouring every situation or circumstance. Their continual reminders of our hurts, failures, tragedies, and sufferings block out the blessings of today. Trapped in the past, we can see no hope for the future and live in a tortured present.
What to keep when we forget the past.
We cannot simply blank off the past and erase it from our memories. This defeats the very purposes of God in our lives. The Bible tells us that He uses all things to the good of those who love Him. All means all – the good and the bad. Today’s verse doesn’t say that all things are erased and replaced. It says all things are made new. What a powerful and encouraging truth. We don’t have to achieve the impossible. God takes the good and the bad and makes them new. This means that the value of each experience is transformed by the power of God. We forget the past by allowing God to use all of it and make it new. The memory remains, but its hold over us is broken. The experience is woven into our preparation for work in His kingdom, but the negative emotional chains are severed.
This truth is the principle on which the ‘heal the memory’ ministries are based. I can, however, find no Biblical validation for going back and ‘reliving’ the events. This is essentially immersing one back in the moment and so perpetuating the moment. The Bible tells us to look forward in Christ, not back in Christ. Jesus has gone ahead. He’s not hanging around in the past, waiting for us to revisit the pain and anguish. In this, I speak from personal experience. I have tried all kinds of ‘counselling,’ all of which ultimately left me worse off than before. It was the truth that set me free from the past. Today’s verse reveals that truth. God makes all things new in Christ. It’s about yielding the good and the bad to the present, eternal Christ in the here and now.
How to forget the past.
Like everything of God, there is no fixed ‘recipe.’ We’re all different. Our journeys with God are separate and individual, and our healing and liberation is tailor made for each of us. But there are principles that apply, no matter which road He leads us on. The first is that we must acknowledge that we need to forget the past. For many who have suffered, letting go is like saying our suffering means nothing. It’s irrelevant. We hold onto each and every tragedy and failure with grim determination, as if it were some kind of badge of honour. What we endured somehow validates our existence, and without it, we imagine we are nothing and have no value. This is how the past entraps us and overwhelms us and controls both present and future. Everything is measured by the past, even today’s good.
Once we confess and repent the reality that we have allowed the past to control us, the next principle is to yield it to Christ. Our verse today specifically points us to ‘in Christ.’ It is only in Him that ‘old things’ are ‘made new.’ This is a wonderful supernatural transformation by the power of God at work in us. We cannot do it. Counselling cannot do it. No amount of going back and revisiting our suffering will do it. Only God is able to transform all things, make the old new, and use all to our good. Discovering this truth brings enormous relief. Of course, it’s not an instant, automagic occurrence. It’s a process of yielding the emotions and instinctual responses that rise up, each time they rise up. We must yield both the situation and the emotions.
Forget the past and made new in Christ.
It’s important to grasp the truth that we are, in essence, the sum total of our life experiences. Who we are and our instinctual emotional responses are shaped by what we have lived. When we say the old is made new, we’re saying that we are made new. Both the good things and the bad things are part of us. God makes them new by making us new. He reshapes us and transforms us so that the past and our responses to it work to our good. This is only possible in Christ because it is His resurrection life which we now share in. The cross is the dividing line between old and new. We move into Christ through the cross and His life is now our life. This is why no amount of ‘heal the experience’ will ever be effectual. Liberation and new life only come through the cross.
Yielding is usually incredibly difficult. This is especially true when it seems our sufferings are all we have to remind us that we are alive. Letting go of these is like stepping over the edge of the cliff. Below is the abyss of nothing. Without the past, there is no reason to be there. It’s a convoluted and irrational reasoning, but it’s frightening real to anyone who has had to endure extreme pain and hardship. To forget the past does not mean to cast it aside and call it worthless. It means to yield it to Christ each time a situation or emotion or negative thought rises up. Being able to do this requires absolute faith that He will make us new. Today’s verse is our foundation. It has already happened. The power for transformation is already in place. That’s our assurance in Christ.
The power to forget the past.
Today’s verse is comforting to those who struggle to forget the past. We don’t have to do it in our own strength. Our moments of weakness do not mean we will never ‘get it right.’ All that we need has already been provided on the cross. Jesus paid for our liberation with His blood, and He shows us how to live our freedom. When He rose from the dead, He did not look at the cross and His suffering. He looked at His resurrection – at the new life in the power of God. Our task is only to recognise, confess, and then to yield. The power of God at work in those who are in Christ is all we need. To forget the past means to reach out for the abundant present and glorious future He has for each one of us.
Lord, Your grace is beyond measure. Thank You for the assurance that You are able to make the old new, to empower us to forget the past and to look only to You who are our present and future. Grant us the courage and the strength to yield all to You. Strengthen our faith that You will always do what You have promised. Keep us safely in Your blessed Son and the transforming power of His resurrection life which He purchased for us at such terrible cost. Thank You, Lord, that in Him, all things are made new.