Getting Past the Past

Jessi Strong

My fiancé and I sat on the couch in our pastor’s office; he jiggled his foot nervously while I curled my legs underneath me and leaned against him. It didn’t matter that we were there by choice—I felt defensive even before the pastor began asking questions. I knew premarital counseling would help us learn how to communicate, fight fair and express love and forgiveness. But the experience was terrifying.

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It was terrifying because it exposed all my failures. The parts of my personality I attribute to familial quirks are really glaring shortcomings. I tell myself that my inherited conflict-avoidance is really just “being cautious.” But it’s accompanied by a destructive tendency to shut down when things get tense. The painful experience of dredging up past conflicts forced me to take a fresh look at my sinful habits—ones I’m now trying to break, but wonder if I’m doomed to repeat.

Joshua 24 records a conversation that addresses a similar concern. In God’s presence, as Yahweh renews His covenant with Israel, Joshua recounts the spiritual history of the Israelites: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants’ ” (Josh 24:2–3).

What follows is an argument between Joshua and the Israelites. Joshua insists that the people will turn away from the LORD; the Israelites counter this, promising to serve faithfully. If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you know that Joshua is right. The Israelites disobeyed God many times leading up to this covenant, and after they enter the promised land, they continue to perpetuate a cycle of disobedience, punishment and then, out of desperation, repentance. It’s a pattern I recognize in myself.

But when repentance follows cyclical mistakes, it opens the door for blessings that wouldn’t otherwise occur: forgiveness, restoration and redemption. In his first-century letter to churches in Asia, Peter reminds his readers that Christ’s work indeed brings them out of sin and death: “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet 1:18–19).

This reminder makes all the difference. I haven’t been charged with the unattainable task of making my own salvation. Instead, it comes through the blood of Christ. Although I may be heavily influenced by my unique experiences and relationships, I’m not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over: Jesus’ work redeems my past and—thank God—my future.

In our counseling sessions, we learned to respond to fear and sin with the truth of Christ. After being hurt or having to make a very personal confession or realizing that we’ve caused hurt, we now pray together, using Peter’s reminder to the early churches: You are no longer a slave to sin. You were “redeemed from the empty way of life … with the precious blood of Christ” (1:19).

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 1