In the fall of 1966 I attended graduate school at Harding Graduate School of Religion. Most of us who were students in the graduate school at that time were working full time for a congregation and commuting to the school one day a week. The school functioned on a special schedule designed for commuters. We could come to the school one day a week and take up to three courses. Each course was two hours long each day we came.

That was a great arrangement for us students until final examination time came. All the exams were timed, and all exams were taken on the day you took class. It was rare to have an exam that did not take two full hours. In fact, most exams were like a mental marathon--from the moment you began to take the test, you raced the clock. Two hours was all you had to take the exam.

That fall I took a course in restoration history taught by Dr. Earl West. He had a reputation among students for giving long tests. His students needed the full two hours for his tests--and then some! Like most of the graduate teachers, Dr. West did not want you to give him just the information he gave to you. He wanted you to prove you really understood what happened in the period of history he covered.

As soon as I received his test, I began writing furiously. We could choose from several questions. One group of questions were short essay questions, and one group of questions were long essay questions. I was really prepared, and information was pouring out of my head through my pen to my paper.

I wrote until my hand began to cramp--and I ignored the cramp. With about five minutes to go, I stopped just long enough to scan my long essay answer. And immediately, with terror, I realized I started my answer at the wrong place. And it made a difference!

So I began writing even more furiously to prove that I knew where I should have started. I tried really hard to correct what I knew I messed up! But it was too late. There was no time to make right what I messed up.

I knew I messed up before I turned my test in. I knew how I messed up before I turned my test in. And I knew messing up would affect my grade.

  1. In life, one of the really difficult struggles we all endure are the struggles created when our past affects our present.
    1. Sometimes we do not know what we did in the past to produce such consequences.
      1. We realize we did something, but we do not understand what.
      2. We just know that some mistake we made in the past keeps on producing consequences in our lives.
      3. Nowhere is that more true than in our relationships.
    2. Sometimes we do know what we did in the past to produce continuing consequences.
      1. We really regret making that past mistake.
      2. We wish we just had the power to erase the mistake, erase the past, and eliminate the consequences so we could live as if the mistake never happened.
      3. Again, that is especially true in our relationships.
      4. But all too often, the mistake seriously injured the relationship, and we simply cannot get beyond the consequences of our past mistake.
      5. The past continues to powerfully influence the now.
    3. If we are not awfully careful, we find ourselves in relationships where past mistakes have more influence on the relationship than the present has on the relationship.
      1. Too many of us struggle or suffer on an ongoing basis because of something we did in the past.
      2. It often seems that no matter how hard we try, our past controls our present.

  2. I want you to think carefully about 1 John 1:5-10. Read with me as I read from the New American Standard translation.
    1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
    1. I especially want you to focus on John's statements in verses 7 and 9:
      1. Verse 7:
        1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
      2. Verse 9:
        I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    2. In those two verses I want you to see John's emphasis in two things he wrote to those Christians:
      1. One emphasis was on God's promise and was declared in the word "cleanse."
      2. One emphasis was on Christian behavior and was declared in the word "confess."
    3. In verse 7 John wrote:
      1. When we as individuals are committed to living a life that reflects God's light in our lives, two things will be true:
        1. We will have fellowship with other men and women who reflect God in their lives.
        2. Jesus' blood flows through our lives continually cleansing us of sin.
      2. This does not happen because we are fabulous people who deserve such consideration from God.
      3. It happens because we are committed to reflecting God in our lives.
    4. In verse 9 John wrote:
      1. When we as individuals accept responsibility for admitting our mistakes, God can be trusted to keep his promises.
      2. What promises?
        1. The promise to forgive the mistakes we confess (the forgiveness of confessed sins).
        2. The promise to cleanse us of the eternal consequences of the mistakes we do not even realize we made (the cleansing from all unrighteousness).
      3. What does that mean?
        1. It means if my commitment to reflect God in my life is a serious, responsible commitment, God promises to do for me what I could never do for myself--forgive all of my mistakes.
        2. It means God allows the forgiving, cleansing blood of Jesus to continually flow in the lives of the men and women who are committed to reflecting God in their lives.
        3. It means that our forgiveness is not dependent on our perfection, but on God's cleansing.
      4. No person can be sinlessly perfect, but every person can be responsible.

  3. Because God does this, God can do something for us in our relationship with Him that does not typically happen in human relationships.
    1. God allows me to begin every day fresh and new in my relationship with Him.
      1. When I wake up each day, God does not require me to make my past a part of my present. God does not say:
        1. "Do you remember how horribly you failed last month?"
        2. "Do you remember what a terrible mess you made two years ago?"
        3. "You mean you have forgotten what happened five years ago? Well, I have not!"
        4. "You mean you do not remember what an awful background you came from?"
        5. "How can you live with the fact that you were so mean to people in the past?"
      2. If you want a wonderful insight into the nature of God's forgiveness, read the gospels and pay attention to Jesus' forgiveness.
        1. Jesus forgave people that religious people in his day did not think should be forgiven.
        2. Jesus forgave people that religious society thought should be rejected.
        3. Jesus' forgiveness was frequently given in the most unusual situations to the most (from our perspective) unlikely people.
      3. Jesus forgave people who wanted forgiveness.
        1. He forgave people who realized they needed forgiveness.
        2. He forgave people who, in their awareness, felt truly unworthy of forgiveness.
    2. Every day God says to each of us, "I do not care who or what you have been; I care who you are right now."
      1. "It is not what you were; it is who you are."
      2. "It is not about how you have failed in the past; it is about how you reflect My light right now."
      3. "It is not about the enormous messes you made in life in the past; it is about your living responsibly right now."
      4. "My love for you is sustained by the fact that you trust me now, depend on me now, and live responsibly now."
    3. The heart and soul of repentance involves our awareness that we must redirect our lives away from the past and toward God.
      1. When I repent, I make the commitment to refuse to allow my past to determine who I am.
      2. When I repent I commit to letting God be the power of my present.
      3. When I repent I declare God rules my now; my past does not rule my now.

  4. Please read with me Matthew 21:23-32.
    When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?" And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet." And answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him."
    1. Why would the Jewish prostitutes (harlots) and Jewish tax gathers (publicans) enter into God's kingdom before Jewish priests and elders did?
      1. Because they saw their need more quickly.
      2. Because they were ready to repent more quickly.
      3. Because they more quickly could see God's blessings in Jesus Christ for them.
      4. Because they more quickly believed what God made possible.
    2. Do you have the kind of need that quickly sees what God does for you?

God allows every person in Christ to begin fresh and new each day. God in Christ teaches us how to give people opportunity instead of judgment.

Have you realized what a great gift God offers you in Christ? Who else lets you live in the now instead of the past?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 December 2002

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