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Putting Your Past Behind You

The Willingness To Change

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 22, 1989

Selected highlights from this sermon

Do you wish you could start over again? Whether you’re a believer in Christ who has done something wrong and are too ashamed to return to Him, or an unbeliever seeking healing from your past, you can have a new beginning.

Pastor Lutzer shows us three links that chain us, bind us, and hold us captive—secrecy, hostility toward God, and dishonesty—but he shows us how to break each link. We can escape from our personal prisons.

The escape will involve honestly looking at yourself, allowing God to show you who you really are; it will involve humility; and there will be some pain. God will need to do a bit of surgery, creating a clean wound that will heal properly. But He is able to set you free.

It has been said that “The saddest words of tongue or pen are simply these, ‘It might have been.’” And I suppose that all of us have had those “might have beens,” and those “might have beens” have a way of catching up to us, don’t they? And sometimes because of some decisions and activities in the past, we find that our lives are poisoned in the future.

Don’t you wish that you could start over again? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there would be a place that would enable you to get a brand new start?

Louisa Tarkington wrote these words:

I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called The Land of Beginning Again
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat by the door
And never be put on again.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Do you believe that there is a place of beginning again? I do. It’s not that we can go back in time, because it’s clear that hours become days, and days become weeks, and weeks become years, and you can’t turn the clock back. There’s no use praying like the teenager did: “Oh Lord, I pray that this accident might not have happened.” It’s too late.

And when we talk about a new beginning we don’t mean that all of the scars of the past are taken away. But what we do mean is that those open wounds are healed so that you do have scars, because scars are a sign that healing has taken place emotionally and spiritually. God wants us to have a brand new beginning, but in order for us to have that, what I’d like to suggest today is that we need some assurance (Don’t we?), because there may be those of you who are here who say, “Yes, but you do not know my background. You don’t understand what I’ve been through. You don’t know what my parents have done to me.” Yes, that’s true. I don’t know that, and that’s why I want to take you today by the hand and give you some assurance of hope.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to 1 Corinthians 10:13 where the Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement about our ability to endure trials. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a passage that he addresses to the people at Corinth, encouraging them to stand firm. It says in verse 12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And then he says: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, why are you using this passage of Scripture?” It was written by the Apostle Paul to encourage people to stand against trials and temptations, but you may be here as someone who has fallen down. But I want you to know that the same admonitions that people need to stand are the very same ones that people need to stand up. And here are the assurances I would like to give you.

First of all, you are not alone. There is no trial, there is no test that has overtaken you except such a one as is common to the human race. Oh, I know, nobody has had the identical experience that you have. And it may well be that many people in the world haven’t had your background and your experience, but someone somewhere has. And not only is it true that someone somewhere has had your experience, but they have faced their past successfully. They have begun again. Your experience is common to fallen mankind.

As I’ve been thinking about this it dawned on me that there are three different kinds of pasts that people have to put behind them. One is the past that has to do with addictions. I read two books recently, one just this last week, on sexual addiction. People who are involved in sexual addictions such as pornography or adultery or other kinds of sexuality oftentimes find that they are driven by their sexual drive to do things that they really don’t want to do, but they do them anyway. Alcoholism, drugs, overeating! You can name the addiction.

Now, I want you to know today that no experience of addiction that you may be involved in is one that is unique to you. The book on sexual addiction that I read said that many people who read it who have sexual addictions say, “I didn’t know that there was anybody who was experiencing what I’m experiencing. I thought that I was alone.” Friend, today nobody is alone. So there are addictions.

You say, “Well, that isn’t my past. I have been abused by my parents.” One-third of all the baby girls born this year, if the present statistics continue and they probably will, will be sexually abused by some member of their family or some relative, or some neighbor that people trust. Can you imagine the shame and the hurt and the problems that those young women are going to face? And then we have all of the abuse also among boys.

And you are here today and you’ve had an experience like that in your past—physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse—and if I could listen to your story you would tell me awful things, hurtful things. And yet I could look at you with absolute assurance and say to you, “You are not alone. Your experience is common to mankind.” The pagans experienced child abuse as well way back in biblical times. There is nothing that has happened to you but that someone else has had the same experience, and some among that number have faced that experience successfully and they’ve overcome it, and they’ve had a new beginning. That’s the good news.

And then there are those who need to have a different kind of a past put behind them. Those are the ones who are enslaved to another person. I remember counseling a young woman who is not here at The Moody Church. At the age of 16 she was sexually seduced by an older married man. When it was all over, and eventually word leaked out of this experience, he blamed the whole thing on her. Here is this young woman who scarcely knew what she was doing, being blamed for a relationship that had been promoted and had been set up by the older man. Can you imagine the hurt and the revulsion that was in her soul? And yet she made this amazing statement. She said, “But if he were to meet me today and ask me to marry him, I’d do it.” What an amazing statement!

Do you know that it is possible for girls to be abused by boyfriends and to end up marrying those guys? Now, there’s a reason for that that we will discuss when we talk about abuse in a subsequent message, but there’s another reason for it too. And that is that there are some people in this world who take absolute total control over other people’s lives, and they dominate those people, and the victims find it hard to be free.

Some of you are slaves to your parents—overbearing parents, overprotective domineering parents, and you may be 40 years old. You may be 50 years old, you may be 60 years old and your parents may even be dead, but they rule you from their grave. To this day, you are who you are with your insecurities and your inabilities because of parents who may be even dead. What a past that needs to be put behind you!

But I want to tell you something today. You can tell me your story, and I’ve heard a number of them in my lifetime, and undoubtedly if I live I’m going to hear a whole lot more, but I can say to you today with assurance, you are not alone. There is no trial that you are experiencing except that it is one that is common to fallen humanity. That doesn’t mean it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. Others have experienced it.

Why do I want to begin this series of messages stressing that? It’s because there is one link in a chain that Satan wants to lay around your neck, and that is secrecy. Secrecy!

You see, there are many people who think, “I’m enduring this alone. I’m a slave to—name it—pornography or whatever,” and they think that they are enduring this all alone. “Nobody has ever experienced what I have experienced.” And the secrecy becomes a chain that binds them as they learn to tell lies to cover their sins and go from one thing to another so that they are not detected, always living with the fear that someone somewhere will see them do something. Oh, what a hell they live in. And I say to you today that what you are experiencing is common to man.

Secondly, there’s another assurance from this verse. God is faithful. “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able.” God is faithful! You say, “Wait a minute now. That can’t be.”

I have never yet met someone who was addicted to anything but that he does not have in his heart hostility toward God. In fact, I don’t know of anybody whose past still controls them who does not have in their hearts hostility toward God. The alcoholic says, “Of course, I have this alcoholism in my past, but look at what God has done to me. If only I had more money! If only I had a better job! If only I had a better family! If only whatever…” And he’s angry with God.

You’ve talked to children who have been abused. One of the most difficult things for them to get over is their anger toward God because they say, “Where was God when I was that little girl who was being violated? Where was God when I was that little boy? Where was God when I was hurt?” And they don’t believe that God is faithful. They say, “A faithful God would have never allowed all this to happen.”
And you take the people who are subject to the authority of others who are in emotional and spiritual slavery to some other dominant person, and they say, “Where was God when all this was put together?”

Now I want to speak to you very frankly and say that God is faithful. Roger Montgomery, whose story was recorded (and we sold the tape here at Moody Church, though undoubtedly we have to duplicate some more), had 1,500 homosexual experiences. He was a homosexual prostitute. He said, “In all the relationships I ever had I never met a homosexual who, in his heart, was not angry toward God, angry because,” he said, “that’s the card that he believes he’s been given by the Almighty.” A denial of the faithfulness of God!

Now, I want to say this to you. If the first link of the chain by which Satan keeps people bound to their past is secrecy, the second is hostility toward God—the belief that He is not faithful. What do you do with that hostility toward the Lord? You know, sometimes I meet people who forget that the Bible says that all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Did you know that? There is nothing that is hid from His sight. You are as clear to God in the inside as you could ever be to anyone else on the outside. God sees every motive, every aspiration, every thought, every action, and He sees it with incredible clarity. So I’ll say to someone, “Are you angry with God?” And they say, “Yeah, I’m angry.” I say, “Have you ever told Him?” “Oh no, I’d never tell Him that I was angry.” “Have you ever thought it?” “Yes, I’ve thought it, obviously.”

Don’t you realize that if you’ve thought it He knows about it? Why are you trying to hide from God your hostility and your anger toward Him, not talking to Him as if to say you can keep it from Him as a secret? You can’t.

Do you know what some of you have to do? You have to go into a room. You have to shut the door when you’ve got lots of time (an afternoon or at least a few hours) and you have to just allow all of the hurt and anger that you have towards God to spill out. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I’d never do that. He’d zap me.” No, He won’t zap you. He won’t. Let me tell you that you can do it reverently and with respect. Remember to whom you are speaking. Do not speak disrespectfully, but my dear friend, when you read the Psalms you realize that one of the reasons that David was emotionally whole, with all of his troubles, is that he was so honest in the presence of God. He told God reverently precisely what he thought.

You read Psalm 77. David is saying, “God, how long am I going to live through this with you hiding your face? God, where have you been when I needed you? Lord, why is it that you are not coming to my need? God, how long are you going to put off justice? Lord, how long are you not going to answer my prayers? Lord, where are you when I need you?”

He spilled out his heart to God, and yet you get to the end of the Psalm and you find that God is pouring grace and salve into his wound. There is nothing wrong with you sharing with God the depths of your hurt. In fact, if you want your past to be broken, and its negative influence to be smashed, a good place to begin is to tell God all of your hurts in depth and with intensity. It’s a good place to start. And do you know why it’s a good place to start? It’s because He doesn’t tell anybody. He doesn’t stand up in prayer meeting and say, “You know, I have a prayer request that I’d like to share because somebody shared a need with me that I would like to pass off onto you so that you can pray for it too.” God keeps secrets. The text says that God is faithful.

May I speak to you plainly? If I didn’t believe that God had the ability to put your past behind you and give you a new beginning, I wouldn’t be in the ministry, because I am not interested in proclaiming a God who is able to deliver people from only small sins. Do you really think that to God your past with all of its ugliness, your past with abuse, your past with moral failure is greater than the faithfulness and the ability of God? If you do, that’s part of the reason why you are bound. The first link is secrecy, but I want to remind you that your experience is common to the human race.

The second link is hostility toward God. I want to remind you that God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear, but makes a way of escape. And that’s the third assurance I want to give you today. There is a way out. There is a way of escape.

Before I give you God’s way, let me talk about the ways of the world for just a moment. They have their escapes too, because the hurt is too hard to bear. The raw pain of rejection is too hard. The wound is too deep. The poison is too strong. It’s too filled with acid and hurt, so there are ways that people try to escape. Let me name some. They are all false. The first is denial. I remember talking to a young man whose mother had done everything she possibly could to ruin his life. And you know, mothers can do that, just like fathers can do it. Mothers can do it too. And yet now as an adult when he began to confront his mother with all that she had done, she stood there and she denied the whole thing, though he remembers it with clarity as to what life was really like when they were being brought up in that home. She denied it. Maybe she actually did forget it. The human mind can forget unpleasant things that we have done rather quickly. Denial!

There are some people who, when they are confronted with their past and their faults and their sins, absolutely cannot handle it because to look at themselves for one minute would be too awful, and so they collapse into denial. It’s been estimated that eighty percent of all child abusers who, when confronted with what they have done, deny that they have done it. And only when the evidence becomes overwhelming do they finally say, “Yes, it’s true.” Denial!

Second, substance abuse—alcoholism—is just a way to deaden the pain of a guilty, frustrated, empty life. Compulsive behavior, over-eating, over-spending, running from here to there oftentimes is a sign that there are some people who simply cannot live with themselves, because to see themselves alone for a minute is unbearable, and so their behavior becomes very unpredictable. It’s the way of escape.

Or projecting blame—Everybody else is to blame. You know, you are caught with something red-handed, but you cannot admit that it is you. It is always somebody else, and oh how we as human beings do that with such great ability.

Well, that’s not God’s way of escape. No, that’s the way many people try to cope. They try to escape, but the problem is that that chain just becomes a little tighter because the third link in the chain is dishonesty, an unwillingness to see yourself for what you are in the presence of God and say, “I am at fault. I have a need. Within me there is festering all kinds of emotional and spiritual sores, and I need to be healed.” Oh, it’s hard to say that. It’s always somebody else.

Now what is God’s way of escape? I’ve been thinking about this message for a couple of weeks, and I finally concluded that there is no one answer to God’s way of escape, because I think it’s the brilliance of the Scripture just to say that there is “the” way of escape without defining it. Why? It’s because in every situation the application of that way of escape may be just a little different. That’s why! But let me give you some characteristics of the way of escape.

First of all, we know that God’s way of escape always involves honesty. It is always being willing to be able to say, “God, show me who I am. Show me who I am in your presence. Show me who I am in relationship to other people. I lay myself out before You, oh God. Search me and see if there be any twisted, wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Lord, I open my life to You.” It always involves honesty. It must, for God is a God of truth. It always involves humility. That means that you are willing to consult someone else, somebody that you are willing to go to.

Often as a pastor I have heard people say to me, “Pastor, I’m going to tell you something now that nobody else in the whole wide world knows about me.” And I often think to myself, “Isn’t that tragic to think that here’s a person 30 or 40 or 50 years old who has to tell me something that nobody else in the whole wide world knows?” They have borne that secret all along, they have lived in their own private hell, they have cut themselves off from the possibility of help because God’s remedy is always humility, being able to admit to someone else in candor and honesty the hurt and the aches and the pains and the sores of the soul. God’s way always involves that. That’s what the body of Jesus Christ is all about. It’s one of the reasons why He gave us brothers and sisters. It is that there are people whom you can trust with your past who will still accept and love you and affirm you, despite the hurt.

And then, of course, God’s way always involves some hurt. That was actually my third point—honesty, humility and hurt. Notice it says: “The way of escape is given to us by God that we may be able to endure it,” and there may be pain in the endurance. Let me explain it to you this way. You see, there are some people whose life, if we could see them spiritually and not physically, we would see that their life is full of festering sores because of their past. Bad background, abusive parents, rejection, hurt, bad marriage—you name it! There are all kinds of sores, but the problem is that unless they know how to have those sores healed, and they use the ways of escape that we have mentioned that come to us from the world, those sores always remain open wounds. What God wants to do is to take those open wounds, and turn them into scars, because scars mean that there’s been healing. But in order to do that He has to perform surgery.

And so, what the Lord often does is He reaches down and He takes His knife, and that knife hurts, and He cuts deeply, and He cuts painfully. But He does it that He might heal. He wounds us that He might heal us, so that we have a clean wound that can heal. Now how does God do that? He does it by confronting ourselves with Him and our humble acknowledgement and willingness to see who we are.

You know, there are some people who are involved in addictions. There are some people who are involved in great excruciating painful emotional turbulence, and they will never be free from it because there are things in their lives that they are unwilling to face. They do not want to bear the pain of going back and being able to uncover the hurts that brought them to this point.

You know, in the Old Testament there’s a very beautiful story of a man by the name of Hosea. The Bible tells us that Hosea was asked to marry a prostitute. God said, “I want to use your wife as an illustration for the nation.” Hosea did. He had two children by Gomer, and then when he had a third he recognized something that had been a suspicion, but now it was a painful reality, namely that the third child that she bore was not his at all, but belonged to another lover. And that’s why he called the child, Lo-Ammi, which means no kin of mine. You are not related to me. You belong to somebody else.

One day he returned home, and Gomer had left, and she went from one lover to another. Speak about sexual addiction. One relationship after another! Gomer went from man to man until she fell into the arms of a man who could not take care of her at all. And Hosea sought and actually went to that man and gave him money so that he could do a better job of looking after his girlfriend, Gomer.

And then the text tells us that she eventually fell into the hands of a man who couldn’t take care of her at all, and decided to sell her like a common slave. And Hosea was in the audience. And the auctioneer said, “How much am I bid for this woman?” And somebody said, “Fourteen shekels and a bushel of barley.” And Hosea upped the ante, and the text says, “I bought her back to me for fifteen shekels of silver and a bushel and a half of barley.” And he brings her home.

What a story of love, but do you know what it says in the second chapter? God, using her as an illustration of the nation Israel, says, “I will bring her back to me and I will allure her, and I will speak comfortably, and I will speak lovingly to her.” And then the Lord says, “And I will give to her the Valley of Accor as a door of hope.” The word Accor means trouble. God says, “I will bring her into trouble until that trouble becomes for her a door of hope, and then the Lord says, “I will betroth her to me forever. I will betroth her to me in faithfulness and in righteousness.”

Hebrew scholars tell us that what that means is that when Gomer is brought back home, her husband is going to consider has as a virgin once again. Oh, physically she can never be a virgin again. Spiritually He’s going to give her a brand new beginning. The past is going to be blotted out, and she’s going to be made over. In faithfulness and righteousness, he’s going to remarry her, and she’ll be betrothed to him in loving kindness and know the Lord.

What is the bottom line that I am saying today? My friend, I don’t know your past. I don’t know the secrets that you have brought to this meeting. I don’t know the hurts. I don’t know the pains, but this much I do know. There is no valley that you are in but that it is a valley that has a way leading out. There is no trial that has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tried above that which you are able, but will with the trial make a way of escape so that you can endure it, and endure it successfully. He takes the open wounds and He turns them into scars, heals, and He enables you to begin again.

Do you want a new beginning? Do you want the past to be blotted out? Do you want to be cleansed from the past? Do you want to be delivered from the chains that bind you? Do you want to be set free? Jesus said, “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” That’s what Jesus is all about, to speak you free. Are you willing to humble yourself? Are you willing to be honest? God is here to give you a new beginning.

Let’s pray.

Father, we look upon people in the outward appearance, but You see the heart, and You know right now the pasts that people have brought with them, many of them already cleansed and forgiven. But in many instances still the past lingers on with its awesome power. Oh Lord Jesus, please grant us grace. We pray that every single person here today may experience a sense of deliverance and freedom as they break the chain of secrecy and hostility and dishonesty and choose at any price to come clean that You might be able to set them free. Do something very special among us we pray.

And now why don’t you talk to God? And why don’t you just say this? “Lord, I’m willing to do anything that You ask me to do to be free, any price to be paid, anything in my life that I have to make right, any counsel that I have to seek. I’m tired of the past that throttles and controls me. I want it to be laid to rest, forgiven and free.” Tell the Lord that.

Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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