The Bare Soul - January 16, 2011
Divine Forgetfulness

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Divine Forgetfulness" delivered to the homeless
at the Topeka Rescue Mission Chapel on January 12, 2011.

Divine Forgetfulness - January 12, 2011

Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.

Forgetfulness can be both a blessing and a curse. Many believers burden themselves excessively and unjustifiably with the weight of their past sin. Their memory betrays them regarding what they should forget and what they should recall. These would do well to remember that Christ paid their debt and has removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). Unfortunately, the enemy of our souls desires us to look through the lens of guilt rather than to focus our gaze through Christ's filtered light. When we gaze at our past through Jesus and what He has done, then we view the past correctly. Satan is not the only one who desires us to view ourselves outside of God's grace, but often there are those from our respective pasts that will always see us as they perceive -- through eyes that haven't experienced the depth of forgiveness it takes to look beyond their own failings. These often project upon others their own feelings of inadequacies because they are trapped in looking through lenses that are demonically tainted.

Probably no one understood the need to appropriately remember and to forget better than the Apostle Paul. The third chapter of Philippians is a testimony of Paul's ability to look into his own past, yet not be excessively burdened by his former life before knowing the Savior. This man of God knew that it was no longer he that lived, but Christ lived in Him (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, he could look with a sort of detachment at his past, circumspectly seeing a person that held no further sway over his resurrected life. Paul notes his past resume' in Philippians 3:5-6, stating both his favorable accomplishments as well as his past crimes. In verse six he admits to being a persecutor of the church, which was the huge irony of Paul's life for those who knew him before and after his conversion. Our first glimpse into the life of Paul occurs when he attends to the cloaks of those stoning the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:58). One might say that Paul didn't actually murder Stephen, but most assuredly he was an accessory to his murder. (Much in the same way that a driver or the "wheel man" of a bank robbery didn't hold up a bank, yet still he aided and abetted the holdup.) We are told in chapter nine that this singular act of hostility against the church was not enough to satisfy the young zealot. Acts 8:1-3 tells us how Paul obviously felt empowered to persecute the church in Jerusalem by having untold numbers thrown into prison. In Acts 9:1 we are told that Paul was "breathing out threats and murder toward the disciples of the Lord". He was undoubtedly much practiced and perfected in the persecution, so much so that he received the "nod" from the Sanhedrin to expand his "business" to Damascus. Scripture does not reveal how many (if any) were put to death through Paul's zeal against the church. However, if they were martyred, then Paul's list of heinous crimes became a point of revelation and sorrow on that fateful day on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-8). The horror Paul must have felt when Jesus revealed Himself to the soon to be apostle! He knew then that God had chosen the worst of the worst to represent Him and His message.

I have often wondered what the relatives of those who were imprisoned or martyred through the hands of Paul had to say to the man after his conversion. Especially, those who were not saved and didn't know the gift of forgiveness in their own lives. How would they have treated Paul? Probably with suspicion and contempt, to say the least. No matter what seemingly good things he might do, there would always be some who would see the "Old Paul". But of course this didn't keep Paul from KNOWING who he had become in Christ. While undoubtedly remaining patient with all men, regardless what they saw or didn't see in him, he continued to preach Christ crucified and newness of life to all who would believe. Therefore, he could speak confidently as he did to the Philippians regarding who he was and whom he had now become. Philippians 3:13 tells us that Paul was desirous to forget the past when it reared its ugly head and required justice for his crimes. Paul would simply point to the cross and declare, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me". Paul had learned the secret of knowing his past and yet not being in debt to it. The Lord had given him divine forgetfulness regarding his past sins -- a forgetfulness of the guilt and shame, but a remembrance of the price that Christ paid to absolve him forever. This is how Paul can say that he forgets the past laden with regret. In his words, it is now time to reach forward to what lies ahead.

Many of us who have come out of sordid backgrounds will undoubtedly have a few folks that will never be persuaded by our new life in Christ. No matter the distance we put between our lives today and that old way of living, there may be some who will be suspect of our change. If Paul were here and speaking with us, I'm certain he would say it doesn't matter. What does matter is that we don't live under the guilt and shame of a life that has been crucified and buried through the Lord's sacrifice. What He did is sufficient for us all, no matter how awful our lives before Christ might have been. The devil, along with others that don't understand, will desire us to look through that lens of guilt to attempt to atone for our misgivings. It can never happen. Jesus already paid the price for us to view our past with divine lenses that forget the shame and remember only what He has done on our behalf. Are you forgiven in the Lord? Then rejoice that the shame is gone and let no demon or man place it on you again. For we, like Paul, possess Christ's reality about our position in Him -- one that looks not with dread at a purpooseless past but one that looks to the future with eternal hope!

Lord Jesus, thank You for Paul's example. Thank You for taking the worst of the worst and making an example that we all can follow. For You took a man full of crimes against You, and turned him into an impassioned apostle of Your grace. Lord, we look to ourselves and know that if You can do this for someone like Paul, You can likewise help us to forget the past and reach forward to what lies ahead with great anticipation. Thank You for Your divine forgetfulness and Your holy remembrance of what You've done for Your beloved. In Your Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

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