You are not who your past says you are. You are who Jesus says you are now!
Well, hello, there, everybody and welcome back to this week ‘s message. Last week we celebrated Easter Sunday and we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we also began a new sermon series called Love Reigns. It’s a 4-week series that will be focusing on the love of God that is shown to us through His Son Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made for us on the cross. Today we’ll continue that by looking at how love reigns over our past.
You know, I think all of us have things we’ve done in the past that are silly and funny, and some of the decisions we’ve made have had consequences that have lingered for far too long. Every sports franchise has a story like that where ownership or management has made a decision that’s led to negative consequences. One of the most famous streaks was the misfortune of the Boston Red Sox. In 1919, Harry Freeze decided to sell the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees. A decision that would lead to a curse of 86 years without a world championship. For all that time, many people blamed Harry Freeze and blamed the curse of the Bambino and they’ll never be able to win another championship because of a decision that was made so long ago. But in 2004 the curse was broken and the Red Sox were able to win a championship.
I think about the mistakes that I’ve made in my life. And I think about some funny mistakes that I’ve never been able to live down. And maybe you’re like me. You go to gatherings with old friends or people you haven’t seen in a while, and maybe there’s a story about you where people come, say, “hey, remember when?” And you always know what’s going to come.
There was one time when I was working with a carpet and floor cleaning service and fire and water restoration service that we had been on a water damage restoration all day. Me and my partner had been a long day. We were tired. It was Friday. We were just ready to get home and start the weekend. But we had one last task to do. We had to take the covered trailer back to the shop, unhook it, then take the truck back to the boss’ house. Well, we did all that. We got the trailer back and we unhooked it and we drove off. And we went to the boss’ house. The next morning, we got a message asking us what we had done. You see, it was my job to unhook the electrical components from the trailer to the truck. Well, I forgot to do that, and as we drove off we pulled the entire electrical box off the back of the truck, cost hundreds of dollars to fix, and a story that I will never live down. When I see those people today it’s always, “hey you remember that time”, especially the boss, “where you costed me hundreds of dollars by ripping the electrical box off the back of the truck because you forgot to unplug it?” Interestingly enough, when I’m with my dad and we’re hauling the trailer around the first and last thing I always do today is check to make sure the electrical is plugged in or unplugged before I drive away.
You know, that’s a silly story for sure, and we all have stories like that, but we also have other mistakes. We have other decisions that we’ve made in our past that have caused more serious consequences. Things that are staying with us even to this day. You know things we do in the past are hard to overcome. Decisions that we made as teenagers may stay with us far, far too long. Teenagers today, every decision you make, you need to weigh the long-term consequences of those decisions and how they will affect your present and your future.
But for many people, the past, is also a hindrance. For many people they allow the past to control and dictate their present and their future. For many people they’re afraid or they don’t think they can be a Christian because of their past. They think what they have done, the mistakes they’ve made, are far too great to ever be forgiven. But today we’ll be looking at a passage of Scripture and 2 Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul makes it clear to us that our past is not a hindrance to our present and our future. Our past is not chaining us down to what God has in store for us. As followers of Jesus, we are not who we used to be. And that’s such an encouraging thing that I want you to hear today. When you decide to follow Jesus, you are not who you used to be. You are who Jesus says you are today. You are who Jesus is making you to be for the future.
I’m so encouraged by so many New Testament stories of people with shady past, who have encounters with Jesus that forever changes their life. People like Matthew, a tax collector, one of the most hated despised individuals of the Jewish community in the New Testament. He was a guy who was seen as betraying his people. He took advantage of his people. He was extremely sinful and his choices and the way he treated others. And yet, he had this encounter with Jesus while he’s sitting at his tax collectors table and Jesus simply says “come follow Me” and it changed Matthew’s present and it changed his future forever.
We see a lady like Mary Magdalene, who we believe was a prostitute. And yet when she had an encounter with Jesus, it changed her life. Her past no longer defined her. Jesus forgave her and transformed her into who God wanted her to be.
We read another story of a woman who Jesus meets at a well, a woman who had had five husbands and the person she was living with was not her husband. A shady past, bad decisions. And yet Jesus changes her life and makes her new.
Even the Apostle Paul, whose past was a little bit different. It wasn’t necessarily shady, but his past was one of persecuting and killing Christians. And yet Jesus goes to him, meets him on that road to Damascus and Paul’s life is changed forever. So, Paul has experienced the life-giving reality of a faith in Jesus Christ. Paul has experienced a new life that he’s going to talk about in 2 Corinthians 5.
He writes this in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” You see, we are new creations in Christ. I love that word in Christ. You see it throughout the pages of the New Testament. Paul uses the phrase in Christ about 216 times in his letters. It’s a way of showing a connection to Jesus, a union with Jesus. When we are united with Jesus because of our faith in Him, we experience a transformation. He makes us new, and this newness, this reality removes the oldness in our life. In a sense when we say yes to Jesus, it’s out with the old, it’s out with the past and it’s in with the new. The love of God that reigns in our life removes all of our old sin. It removes all of our old shame or guilt or regret our failures from our lives. When God’s love reigns in us, it overpowers the hold that our past has on our life. But you have to allow Jesus to clean up your life. You see, it’s not just something you can do. It’s not just this instantaneous reality. Oh, you’re instantly forgiven, but the life God wants you to have; that new life is a process and you have to allow Jesus to come in and clean up your old habits and your old ways.
Jennifer and I love watching HDTV. It’s one of our favorite stations to watch. We like Fixer to Fabulous, Fixer Upper, Good Bones, Home Town, all of them. It’s so amazing to see how those people can go under these old rundown, well established houses and see a bright future. They can look past that dingy wallpaper. They can look past the rubbish that may be on the floor or the outdated cabinets and countertops and they can see the potential. They can see what it’s going to be when it’s made new.
The first step in any remodel is the famous demo day, isn’t it? That’s my favorite part of the shows. You just see him tear stuff apart. If I ever remodel a house that’s the part I’m going to do is demo day. I can’t fix anything, so I can tear it apart so other people can fix it. But demo day is so important because you gotta get rid of all the rotten wood. You’ve got to get rid of all the broken stuff, because if you leave just one of those things, if you leave just one ounce of rotten wood or one bad electrical system, or one bad plumbing system it’s going to come back to haunt you later on.
You see when God comes into our life, He doesn’t simply ignore our sinful past, He forgives it. And He does remove it from our lives when we allow Him to work in us. We allow Him to remove the power of sin. The power of shame, the power of guilt that’s been weighing us down. We allow Him to clean us up. We allow Him to take away all that stuff that has been weighing it down. The first thing we have to do is we have to confess to God that were messed up. We have to confess that we have these dirty lives that need to be cleaned up and confession means that we just agree with God. We just simply say God I agree with you that I’m a sinner. I agree with you that I’m just dirty rags and I’m filth and God, I’m just confessing it and I’m just going to give you all the mess and let You clean it up for me. To let you make me new.
When that happens, we allow God to move in us and we go from telling lies to speaking truth. We go from its selfish ambitions to selflessness. We move away from spreading gossip to offering encouragement. We move away from burning with anger to being filled with joy. We move away from addictions and into freedom from those addictions. We move away from complaining and grumbling and into service and missions.
When remodeling a house, it’s important to get rid of all the old stuff. When you decide to follow Jesus, when you want to be made new by the Lord Jesus Christ by being in Christ, it’s so important that you give your whole life to Him. It’s so important that you give it all because I think, for a lot of people, we just say “God, You can have this, You can have this, You can have this, You can make all of that new, but I’m going to keep this one thing.” Well, that one thing can come back to haunt you. That one thing can set could just hurt your relationship with God as you move forward. That one thing can stop you from becoming the new creation God has in store for you. And I just want to be honest with you, this isn’t easy. It’s not an easy thing to allow God to chisel away at your old habits. It’s not easy to get rid of old relationships that are just not godly. It’s not easy to say bye to friends. It’s not easy to say bye to maybe that girl or guy you’ve been dating who’s just a bad influence on you. It’s not easy to say bye to drugs and alcohol. It’s not easy to let go of habits. It’s not even easy to let go of TV shows that we shouldn’t be watching. It’s not easy to let go of things we browse on the Internet that you know you shouldn’t be watching. But they must go. It’s hard, it’s painful, but it’s necessary, and it’s possible. It is possible because the Spirit of Christ is indwelling in you. The spirit of Christ is giving you the power to overcome those old habits and those old temptations. It is possible because you have been forgiven. You just have to abide in Christ. You just have to allow Him to work in you.
Psalm 103:12 says it this way, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” We do not have to walk around defeated. We don’t have to walk around full of shame anymore. We are Christians. We are disciples of Christ and we can be confident in the fact that we have been forgiven, that our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. You are a new creation. Your past no longer defines you. And what I want you to know today, this is a gift from God.
The Apostle Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. “Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’”
Reconciliation is changing a relationship for the better between one or more people. Theologically, reconciliation refers to the change of relationship between God and man. You see naturally from childbirth, really from conception, we are children of wrath. Our natural inclination and our natural tendency is to sin. We see that in Ephesians 2:3. We are enemies with God and that’s in Ephesians 2:11-15. But we are reconciled to God through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ in Romans 5:10. Because of the death of Jesus, Christians have a relationship with God because it’s been changed through Christ. We are now able to have fellowship with God 1 John 1:3. Whereas before we could not. So, we are reconciled to God and the problem of sin that separates us from God has been addressed and removed at the cross of Christ, and it was accomplished by God in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:18.
You know, we’ve all experienced some form of reconciliation and separation. If you’re a parent, you probably know this well. There’s been times where I’ve caught my children doing something that I specifically told them not to do. For example, let’s say you can’t have that candy until after you eat supper. A little while later I go to the trash can and I see the candy wrapper in the trash can and that I know wasn’t there before. Well, they’ve disobeyed the rule and so I confront them. I say, “hey, you know you ate the candy and you weren’t supposed to.” Well, naturally, children often deny having any wrongdoing. They say “oh, no! We didn’t do that. We followed the rules.” So I confront them with the evidence. Here’s the paper. I found it in the trash can. Oftentimes they still deny it. Well, that creates a little bit of animosity and creates a little bit of anger in me because they’ve now lied to me and they’ve now broken the rules. So they’ve really broken two rules. And so consequences have to be dished out. There’s punishment and the relationship is strained just a little bit. Not quite like the relationships then strains, but has between us and God. But there’s that tension in the parent child relationship.
Eventually, though, most of the time the children will come back and they’ll confess. They’ll come back say “yeah, I did it.” And when that happens, I tell them I love them. I give them a hug. I tell them I’m proud of them. The tension is gone. There’s been reconciliation even on a small scale.
As Christians, I think we do the same thing, right? We’re confronted with our sin almost daily. We hear a message like this and like last week, and we know that we’re all sinners and we fall short of the glory of God. But yet we often deny that. We often don’t want to live up to that, or confess that we are sinners. And so there is a tension between us and God. There is a large separation, a large gap because of sin. But yet when we confess, and yet when we tell God we’re sorry, He reaffirms His love for us and He reconciles us to himself through Christ.
But if you also notice in this passage, we have been given a message of reconciliation. God loves us for sure, but God wants to love through us. We are a mission-minded people because we have been given a mission from Christ. Some of Jesus’ last words were “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” We have a message of reconciliation that we have to tell the world. We have to tell the world around us, at our jobs at our schools, everywhere, that God wants to be reconciled with you. God desires a relationship with you. The biggest misconception is the in the world is that God sends people to hell. Listen, God doesn’t send anybody to hell. We choose to go there when we choose to rebel against Him. When we choose to reject the offer of reconciliation. God’s desire and God’s love that needs to reign in our life is He wants everybody to be reconciled to Him. His desires that all men be saved. Jesus came not to condemn, but to seek and save. And so we have a mission to take this message to the world. People need to hear it. We proclaim it with our mouth. That’s what evangelism is. It’s telling people, Jesus has changed me. Jesus has reconciled me.
They want to hear it, but they also want to see it in our lives. Listen, if you walk around claiming to be a Christian and you don’t live like, you hurt your witness. If you walk around said, “oh, I’m a Christian” and you grumble and you complain and you gossip, what does that say to the rest of the world? We have a message of reconciliation and the world needs to see how it has changed our lives and they need to hear how Christ has changed our lives.
Listen, I could ask you today to tell me about your favorite movie, couldn’t I? I bet you could tell me everything about it. Or your favorite sports team? I could tell you everything about my wife. That’s how much I love her and how awesome she is. And we’ve got all this stuff that we could talk about because we love it and we’re passionate about it. But how about this? Are you passionate enough to talk about Jesus? See when you realize how much God loves you, it’s going to ooze out of you like when you take a Snickers bar and break it in half and all that ooey, gooey goodness just oozes out. I mean that is good stuff and we’ve got the good Gospel message. It just needs to ooze out from us as we live our lives and as we tell people about it. We should be so in love with Jesus that the fear of sharing it is overcome. Because listen, my fear is this. If I don’t share, someone is going to die and go to hell. That is my fear and that fear is greater than me being rejected.
So we have a message of reconciliation that the world needs to hear. We have a message that love reigns in our life and love can reign in the lives of other people as well. So Jesus wants to make His appeal to the world through us. He wants us to share the Gospel with others. A part of that Gospel message is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You see, our wrongness is replaced by God’s righteousness. There’s an incredible exchange that takes place at the cross of Calvary. Jesus takes our wrongness a wrong living, and He gives us righteousness. The Greek meaning behind the word righteousness is this idea that we are approved in the eyes of God. We have His divine approval. That we’ve been made right in His eyes.
Now maybe some of you listening today need to hear this and I want you to pay very close attention. Because for a lot of people, maybe your parents didn’t affirm you or they didn’t encourage you. They didn’t give you words of affirmation or approval. But I want you to hear this when you say yes to Jesus the Heavenly Father approves of you. The Heavenly Father accepts you. Through Christ, you are approved and accepted. You are loved. You may have never heard that before from anybody else but the Heavenly Father says “welcome to the family, good and faithful servant.”
I mean, that’s such a powerful thing. I know there’s a lot of broken families in this world. But the Heavenly Father can restore that relationship with Him through Christ. If you are in Christ, by your profession of faith, God does not see your sinful past. He looks through the blood of Christ and He sees that you are forgiven. And it seems so simple, but it’s such a powerful truth that I need you to understand.
This week I read a story about a company that made cake mixes. You know, you go to the grocery store, you see all the big boxes you can get the cake mixes. This company decided they were going to make a very simple recipe. They were going to be successful. All you had was their mix and you added water. That’s all you needed. They thought it would be simple. They thought it would be easy. They thought it would sell like hotcakes. The problem is it didn’t because people thought it was too soon. People didn’t think it was the right way to make a cake. So, they did some research and they found that it wasn’t that people didn’t think it was trustworthy. So, they did one thing. This company said to add water and then you add one egg. Still pretty simple, isn’t it? Once they made that decision to change it, it was wildly successful.
You know, I’m afraid that a lot of people see the Gospel as too simple. They say surely that can’t be all we have to do. We have to offer God something or we have to do something. We have to pay some price to be able to follow Jesus. There’s a lot of faiths out there that say that aren’t there. There’s a lot of things and a lot of groups that say if you really want to be a Christian then you have to do this and this and this. I want to tell you something. Friends listen, the Bible is very clear. You don’t have to do anything. Christ has already done the hard part. He hung on a cross and exchanged your sin for His righteousness. All you have to do is make the decision to follow Him. Jesus says throughout the Gospels come follow Me.
Are you ready to have a new life? Are you ready to experience Christ? Then just follow Him. Say yes to Jesus and He’ll begin to transform you into a new creation. It’ll be hard. It’ll be painful, but it’ll be worth it. Are you ready to follow Jesus today? Don’t let your past mistakes hold you back because Jesus will wash those away and make you as white as snow.
Let’s pray together.
Father, I thank You for the new life that You give us in Christ. I thank You for the reconciliation that we can experience when we say yes to You and we say I’m going to follow You. A lot of times we don’t know what that’s going to look like. We don’t understand how it all works, but Your Word just says come follow Me. Father, I pray if there’s anybody watching this message today that and they’ve never said yes to You, that they’ll do that. That they’ll say I’m going to be a follower of Jesus. I’m going to give Him all of my filth. I’m going to give Him all of my dirty rags. I’m going to give Him my whole past and I’m going to let Him control my present in my future. And Father, I pray that You will work in them in such a way that they would grow into a disciple of Yours, committed to making disciples for You.
And Father for Christians who have been following You for a long time. Re-energize us to have an attitude of missions. Not just giving, not just praying, but going to our next-door neighbors. We pray for them, that they would be receptive to hearing the message of reconciliation. We pray for the nations as You bring them to this country that we would have the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ with them, and that they would receive it. Give us boldness and courage. We ask all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen and Amen.