Our past has become our present. Rare is the day when a public figure isn’t called out for a past sin or indiscretion.
Sometimes the past needs to be addressed. Most notably, evil predators who once used their power and position to abuse others, are finally being held accountable for their crimes. Courageous victims have been willing to risk everything in their quest for justice.
On the other hand, the past is also being used as a convenient tool in the hands of those who wish to destroy their enemies or justify their own bad behavior. And even though we know we may not be getting the whole story, we are quick to believe the worst.
In the Bible, God used people with a tainted past to pursue some of His greatest missions. Moses, the man who led Israel out of bondage, was a murderer and a fugitive. Rehab, who was a harlot in Jericho, joined the people of God and can be found in Jesus’ earthly lineage. The Apostle Paul was a Christian killer and Matthew, who wrote the first gospel, was a tax-collector. (f you are not familiar with the role of tax-collectors in Jesus’ day, they were known to overtax people for personal gain. They were also hated by their Jewish brothers for aligning themselves with the pagan Roman Empire).
Paul once called his rag-tag band of redeemed co-laborers “clay pots”. They were broken and chipped by their sinful past, worn down by their present difficulties, but used mightily for the glory of God. Paul noted that God is pleased to work through “clay pots” because the flaws of His servants makes His power more evident (2 Corinthians 4:7).
It is important that we not join our culture in immediately judging others because of their past. This is important from a fundamental perspective, if I understand the gospel correctly. But it is also a practical matter as we can miss a kingdom blessing if we shun others because of the personal baggage they carry.
When I was a young teen, I met a Christian from an eastern country at a convention and formed a friendship. A few months later I overheard a conversation between two church members where one shared he would not allow his child to play with a new neighbor child from the same country as my friend. The parent made demeaning comments, suggesting his new neighbors were probably heathens, and he didn’t want them to influence his child. It never occurred to him that God might have brought the family members into his neighborhood so his family could share the love of Christ with them. I remember seething inside. It was one of those moments as a young person that could have turned me away from Christ.
Fortunately, I had other adults in my life who were energized by opportunities to love those with questionable pasts. In fact, some of the most powerful influences in my life were redeemed sinners who bore the scars of some bad decisions, but carried the grace of Christ in their hearts.
I have had great role models in my life, but the ones that have nurtured my faith the most are the ones who relied most heavily on the cross. The Christians that have disillusioned me most were the ones who justified judgmental behavior by claiming a superior walk with the Lord.
What power is there is self-righteousness? The power of the cross is experienced by walking with those who understand redemption and celebrate the power of the cross.
I guess we will always be attracted to the dirt in peoples’ past. The cracks in other people’s’ pots somehow make us feel “put together”. But don’t be surprised if God chooses to do greater things through those who can’t erase their past than those who pretend they don’t have one.