Quiet moments of nostalgia seem to grow proportionately with age. I suppose this makes sense. As we grow older, we certainly have more memories from which to choose as starting points for our little excursions; assuming, of course, we’re not so old we can only remember that we use to be able to remember. As believers, though, we all know our hope squarely rests in the future, not in the past. Therefore, the continual “living in the past” that marks the ways of many suffering unbelievers will not characterize our lives. Nonetheless, even spiritual trips down memory lane seem normal, and perhaps also potentially helpful if our memories are viewed in the proper manner.
There is a certain axiom that holds for all believers. At NCBF we remind each other of this often. It goes like this: “As believers, we’re not what we use to be. But more than that, we’re not what we will one day be.” The obvious message is this: “Progress happens”. You grow, you change and you become more Christ-like… IF you’re a believer. We always add that big IF on at the end, because progress in holiness is one of the defining marks of a real believer. All real believers move forward; all pretending unbelievers don’t. For the most part, it’s really this black and white. The sticky point can come up, however, when little progress over some period of time is noticeable to us. Generally, however, we can’t always get far enough away from ourselves to see ourselves clearly. Therefore we desperately need others to point out change or the lack thereof. Consequently, if believing friends confront us about a lack of change in our lives, we should take this very, very seriously.
It is an encouragement to all of us who are believers to remember that we are not what we use to be! But, recently, I have seen how easily this knowledge can be twisted by the deceitfulness of pride to become a subtle trap. My pride wants to say, “Look at the progress I have made.”, or maybe more subtly, “Lord, thank you so much that I am no longer like I use to be. I see the struggles others have and remember those same struggles. Thank you for moving me beyond that…” Suddenly I begin to take just a little credit in my mind for the progress that, even before time began, was promised to me. Or, if I don’t explicitly take credit, I may subtly begin to wear whatever maturity I may have gained as a badge of honor in hopes of displaying my own worth. This is all very vile indeed.
What benefit does remembering the past have? I think Paul captures it in
Phil 3:2-8, which says:
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh- 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Verse 7 is the key. When I look back over my shoulder at that from which the Lord has saved me, do I see the vileness of sin more clearly or do I focus solely on the distance traveled? Do I see the absolute worthlessness of living for myself? Is it the vileness of my sin that motivates me to run the race harder, or do I smugly look back at the distance I have traveled and think this amount of progress is better than some others I know? With the added clarity of a bit of distance, do I see the complete waste of life my sin produces? Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 2:9-12
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
When I travel down spiritual memory lane, do I remember the depth of that from which I was saved? Does the vileness of sin, the worthlessness of a life given to the pursuit of self motivate me to press harder on towards holiness, or does pride creep in and take that which is good and twist it to evil? Sin is profoundly deceitful, but God is yet more gracious. May He contrast then infinite worth of His holiness, the holiness he promises to produce in us, against the vileness of our own personal sin so that we chase after him all the more vigorously!