Today we come to the end of our current sermon series on Courage. The first week we looked at having courage to stand for truth, especially when that truth is not popular. The second week we talked about how to have courage to keep on going even when you feel like giving up. The third week looked at the life of Caleb and then Timothy, and how they teach us to follow our calling to serve God no matter what age we are. Last week we looked at the importance of having the courage to face our faults and work on getting rid of them. We all have faults and we all need others to help us recognize those faults and work on them. We all need a Titus in our lives, someone who can speak the truth to us about our faults.
Today we’re going to talk about having the courage to let go of our past. I know how hard this is to do because I spent decades of my life bound by my past and limited by my past. It took me a very long time to realize the power in letting go of your past in order to step up into the future that Jesus wants for each one of us. Jesus said, “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy; but I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) To get to that abundant life we all have to let go of the past, the good, the bad and the ugly.
In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul writes, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write these same things to you again, and it is a safeguard to you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 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—though I myself have reason for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 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; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as to legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my won that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it [completely]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:1-14)
I love this passage, especially the line, “…I take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” It was that verse, along with John 10:10, that began me on my quest for the abundant life. Paul is giving us the key to the abundant life in this passage. But he’s also warning that there will be people who will try to steal that life from you. They will try to bring you under bondage, under legalism. They will try to keep you thinking that you can somehow be made righteous through your own works. Then he says a lot of horrible things about these people. They are dogs, doers of evil, mutilators of the flesh. Don’t trust them. Because there is nothing you can do to make yourself righteous. Our righteousness comes from Christ alone.
Paul lists all his accomplishments, all his righteous works and he concludes that they are all garbage when compared to the righteousness of Christ which is ours through faith. None of that old life matters anymore. What matters now is that I let go of the past so that I can take hold of the life Jesus has made possible for me.
Paul had done a lot of good things, but he had done a lot of bad things, too. He could have stayed stuck in that old life. He could have been so ashamed of cheering on the killing of Christians, like Stephen, that he stayed stuck in his past. He could have allowed the enemy to steal his future by keeping him stuck in the past, but he didn’t. He had the courage to let go. Think of a trapeze artist as he swings toward the next trapeze, he has to let go of the one he is gripping and turn around before he can take hold of the next.
PAUL TEACHES US TO FORGET THE PAST, TURN AWAY FROM IT AND REACH FOR THE FUTURE. Forgetting is not denying your past. Forgetting is letting go of it to lay hold of the abundant life Jesus offers you. You have to let go of the hurt, the pain, the shame, the guilt, the bitterness, and the anger caused by the abuse, the betrayal, the failures and the mistakes of your past in order to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of you. Until you do, you may be sitting here in your body, but everything about you is still stuck in the past. You can’t move forward. If you’re living this present moment filled with your past, then you will be unable to receive the live Christ wants you to live.
Christine Caryofyllis Caine grew up in a very poor neighborhood in Lalor Park, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She writes in her book titled Unashamed, about growing up in a very conservative Greek Orthodox culture. Very Greek. Her parents were first generation Greek migrants and she didn’t speak English until she went to school at age 5 because her parents didn’t speak English. At school the other children wouldn’t speak to her and refused to work or play with her. They would cuss at her, spit on her, hit her, and even pull her hair on a daily basis simply because she was Greek. Her family had to put bars on the windows of their home. People would write hateful graffiti on their house.
Because Christina was a girl, she wasn’t expected to do much with her life other than marry a Greek man, have lots of children and make sure her daughters married a Greek man and had lots of children. Starting at the age of three, Christina was abused sexually by four men on a weekly basis if not more. This lasted for twelve years. To experience sexual abuse really messes a person up. When it starts so young and lasts so long, it really damages a person. The Oxford Dictionary defines abuse as “using an object for a purpose for which it was never designed.” Christina was never designed for such misuse. It left her filled with anger and resentment. She couldn’t forgive those who had abused her or those who had allowed it to happen to her. She was filled with shame and guilt.
Then at the age of 33 she got a call from her brother who told her he got a letter from the Department of Community Services saying he was adopted. Turns out she was adopted too! Her whole life was a lie. She didn’t even know if she was still Greek. As her mother confessed to her that she was adopted as well, the words that came out of Christina’s mouth were, “Before I was formed in my mother’s womb, whoever’s womb that was, he knew me. He knit together my innermost parts. He fashioned all my days before ever there was yet one of them. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (From Psalm 139) The Word of God that she had read earlier in her life and had hidden away in her heart sprang up within her at just the right time. The enemy was trying to steal, kill and destroy the life Jesus wanted her to have, by telling her she was unworthy of a better life, she was unwanted from the beginning and lied to and abused over and over because she deserved nothing better. But God had a different message for her; he had a different life for her to claim. She recalled the words of Jesus that she had hidden in her heart: “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Christina could have allowed the enemy to use her ethnicity, her gender, her socioeconomic background, her horrible life of rejection and abuse, to steal, kill and destroy the life Jesus came for her to have, but she chose to believe God’s Word instead and hide it away in her heart. She could have allowed the gang violence, the substance abuse, the high dropout rate from school, the high rate of teen pregnancy, the fact that she was unwanted by her birth mother, all those things she could have used as excuses for not stepping up into the life Jesus prepared for her to live. The Bible says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) To fulfill her destiny, Christina had to believe God’s Word over and above the accusations of the enemy that she was unworthy and unwanted.
When you have rejection and abuse in your life, the devil wants you to think that you don’t deserve a better life. He wants to play that message over and over in your mind so you can’t hear what God says about you. But you have the power to press the off button and stop that recorded message from playing over and over. You have the power to make it stop, to silence the lies of the enemy. God says, “You are precious to me. You are worthy of the sacrifice of my one and only Son. I have a purpose for your life and things I want you to do in the world.”
Christina chose to believe the promises of God rather than the lies of the enemy. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THE PROMISES OF GOD RATHER THAN THE LIES OF THE EMENY. That’s what you have to do if you’re going to let go of the past and step up into the life Jesus calls us to live. You have to stop listening to the voices of your past, the ones that said you’re not smart enough to do anything significant in life. You’re not talented enough. You won’t amount to anything. Someone along the line has said things to you, done things to you, betrayed you, rejected you, abused you and left you feeling unwanted and unworthy. You cannot allow your past hurts to define you, no matter how painful they were. Unfortunately, the more painful they were the more difficult it is to let them go. You have to listen to the voice of God who says you are fearfully and wonderfully made; I have a purpose for your life. I have good works for you to do in the world. You are worthy because I have made you worthy in Christ.
The truth is: we’ve all had things happen to us in the past, things said to us in the past, that has left us feeling wounded and unworthy. We have to work through that stuff in order to let it go or we will never realize the life Jesus came to make possible. Working through the pain of your past is never easy. Most of us define our future by what was said about us in the past or what was don’t to us. Most of us limit our future potential based on the stuff that was said about us in the past. If we build our life on the truth of God’s Word, we will lay hold of the future Jesus has for every single one of us. The apostle Paul says, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things that lie behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal …for which God had called me….” (Philippians 3:14)
We limit our future by what has happened to us in the past. We carry it with us and it determines our future because we don’t let it go. We limit the work of God in our lives because we believe the enemy’s lies more than God’s truths. We limit the power of God in our lives by staying stuck in the past. We limit the supernatural power of God to make things happen in us and around us, to his glory. The Bible says, “What is impossible with man, is possible with God. With God nothing is impossible. All things are possible with God.” (Matthew 19:26)
WE LIMIT GOD BY REFUSING TO BELIEVE WHAT HE HAS SAID. We limit our own healing by refusing to listen to the voice of God over and above the voice of the enemy. The enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy us. He steals our identity. He kills our dreams. He destroys our potential, but only if we let him, only if we listen to his voice over and above the voice of God. You’ve got to have the courage to let go, to lay hold of and to walk in the freedom for which Christ has set us free. The problem is: most of us are too afraid to do what we need to do to work through the damage that has been done to us. I wish I could tell you that it’s easy to let go of your past in order to step into the future God has for you, but it isn’t. It’s a process of having the courage, day by day, to let go and press forward, to let go and press forward, to let go and press forward.
Christina tells of a time when she was snow skiing with her husband and she caught an edge and went tumbling out of control. She snapped her ACL, tore her meniscus, and fractured her knee. She ended up having a hamstring graft. Afterwards, the surgeon came in and said, “I want you to understand that the rate of your recovery depends on you and the extent of your recover depends on you. The degree to which you are willing to embrace the pain is the degree to which you will recover.” Then he said, “And the pain of recovery is going to be far greater than the pain of the injury. But if you embrace that pain, you will come out stronger on the other side.”
Most of us do everything we can to avoid pain, minimize pain, anesthetize pain. We do anything but embrace the pain, and as a result we never experience the full healing that makes us stronger for having gone through it. We settle for being victims, crippled by the damage that was done to us in the past. Thank God, Christine Caine didn’t settle for being a victim. Thank God she did the painful work of recovery. Thank God she came to the realization that she had lived too many years in fear and doubt and negativity and shame and guilt and pain. Thank God she came to realize that that she had lived too many years allowing her past to totally dictate her present and prevent her from stepping into the future that Jesus had for her.
Christina embraced her pain and emerged stronger on the other side. She now uses her life and has dedicate her future to being an activist, evangelist, author, and international speaker. Christine and her husband, Nick, are best known for founding The A21 Campaign in 2008, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization that combats human trafficking. They founded Equip & Empower Ministries, which seeks to aid the development and growth of Christian churches and church leaders. In 2015, Caine founded Propel Women, an organization designed to honor the calling of every woman, empower her to lead, equip her for success, and develop a sense of God-given purpose.
You cannot change the past. You cannot change what happened to you. You cannot change the mistakes you’ve made or the sins you’ve committed. But you can make decisions today that will give you the strength to step into a future not limited by your past. YOU CAN HAVE A FUTURE BEYOND YOUR PAST.
Take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of you!