“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].”
– 2 Corinthians 5:17
Sometimes our past tries to come back and keep us from the plans that God has for us. Sometimes that sounds and looks like old sins, past decisions, or regrets showing their ugly faces. Other times it makes us question who we are and Whose we are. We might feel as though the things that we have done will keep us from having a relationship with Christ. Paul is the perfect example of someone who, by the world’s standard, should never have been able to atone for the things he had done.
As Saul, Paul was a murderer. He was doing everything in his power to keep The Gospel from being spread. Even so, God still chose him (Acts 9:13-15). When you think about it, Paul’s reputation as Saul prevented him from being able to share The Gospel. After Saul had his experience with God, his name was changed. Name changes weren’t taken lightly within the Jewish culture. It was Jewish thought that a name was not merely an arbitrary designation or a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the thing being named. Names represent our identity, not simply because they are a convenient way to allow us to be distinguished one from another. It is because they define us. The names we are given at birth aren’t accidental. They are, to some extent, prophetic. They capture our essence. The Hebrew word for soul is “neshamah.” Central to that word, the middle two letters, “shin” and “mem,” make the word “shem;” Hebrew for “name.” Your name is the key to your soul!
When God changed Saul’s name to Paul, He was symbolizing that Paul now had a new identity. The old was gone and the new was here. Paul ends a section in Philippians 3:13-14 by saying, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The word “forgetting” in this passage means “no longer caring for, neglecting, refusing to focus on.” Our memories store millions of pieces of information gained through our senses from birth. Some experiences are impossible to forget and any effort to forget them only makes them more prominent. Paul is not advising a memory wipe, but he is telling us to focus on the present and the future rather than the past.
It’s easy to “live in the past.” Whether it’s a past victory that our minds continually replay, or a past defeat that hangs over us like a shroud. It needs to be left in the past. Nothing hinders present service quite like being mired in another time. Modeling Paul’s “forgetfulness” means we count the past as nothing. We cut the strings that tie us to that bygone moment. We refuse to allow past successes to inflate our pride. We refuse to allow past failures to deflate our self-worth. We leave it behind and instead adopt our new identity in Christ. If God chooses not to remember our past sins, then we can choose to set them aside as well, and instead, embrace the future He promises to those who love Him.
After this experience, Paul goes on to spread God’s Word everywhere. He is even the author of most of the New Testament. If God can use a murderer, why can’t He use you? Your past doesn’t define you, nor does it change your value in God’s eyes. In fact, you can use your past to be an effective tool for God’s Kingdom. Your experiences are unique and can allow you to minister to people in ways that others cannot.
Love and nuggs,