Do you ever rehearse some past sin in your life, replaying in your mind what you said or did, wishing you could go back and make a better decision than the one that led you into sin? I have. My goodness, I have blown it so many times. But did you know that God can use even your past failures for good? It’s true. A few days ago I was reading one of Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and a statement he made in this regard really stood out to me.
The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite biblical characters. I appreciate the way he acknowledges his past while focusing on his future. Again and again he writes about the wonder of understanding the grace he has been given for his past sin. Remember, he was the one who had persecuted the early believers. He was responsible for imprisoning many followers of Christ. Many died as a result of his actions. To carry the thought of that sin surely must have been a heavy burden to him. Yet he had been forgiven and set apart by God to carry the message of forgiveness to others who also needed forgiveness for sin.
This is the beauty of the gospel. God’s grace gives us forgiveness for our sin. Then, when we are aware of the forgiveness that we have received, we want others to know that they can be forgiven as well. Those who have been set free from the bondage of sin want others to be free as well.
One of the ways our enemy tries to silence us is by reminding us of sin we have committed in the past. Our focus is on the shame we feel from the sin we have committed. But when our focus shifts to the wonder of God’s grace and mercy, then we view our sin in a whole new light. The focus shifts from what I have done to what God has done. It is God’s grace and kindness to me that overwhelms me. His faithfulness humbles me when I consider my unfaithfulness to him. Always I am in the debtor’s corner.
But here is the amazing part. God redeems our sin and uses it for good. How can this be? How can God take the sin I have chosen in my past and use it for good? He does this in a couple of ways.
First, he uses my sin to help conform me into the image of Jesus Christ.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV). God’s idea of all things working for good is not for my comfort, but for my conformity. When I am in a relationship with him, learning to love him more and more, he will use everything in my life to help conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. That means even the sin I have done in my past can be used to help me look a little more like the person of Jesus Christ.
For me, it is the awareness of the sin I have done that keeps me humble before God. God has given me great grace in forgiving me of my sin. God gives me this grace, not because I deserve it, but because it is his character to do so. It is part of who he is. Therefore, when I am aware of the grace I have been given, even though I do not deserve it, then I can give grace to others who also don’t deserve it. When I do that, I become a little more like Christ. I am being conformed to his image. In this way, God uses my past sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. What a powerful thought.
But not only does God use my sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ, he also uses my past to encourage others in the body that may be caught in sin today. Through my example and the evidence of God’s grace in my life, others will come to understand that they can be forgiven as well.
Paul wrote about this idea in his letter to his dear friend and fellow servant, Timothy. This is the phrase that really stood out to me as I was reading the other day. “The saying is trustworthy,” he wrote, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).
Please don’t gloss over those words! This is important stuff! Paul says that even though he was the worst of sinners, he received mercy so that his life could be an example of the patience of God in drawing all men unto himself for salvation. What hope! What encouragement for those of us who have also blown it, who know the grace of God and forgiveness for sin. Your past failure does not have to be for naught. God wants you to know that your life is a testimony of the grace of God. Again, the enemy wants you to focus on your shame; God wants the focus to be on himself and his grace. The focus is on God’s ability to forgive, not my ability to sin. When we understand this, then even our past failures can be used for good. Imagine that!
Friend, perhaps today the enemy is haunting you with some sin that you committed in the past. You know you have been forgiven, but the reminder of that sin has kept you in the bondage of shame. Today, God is speaking to you. He wants you to know that he can even use your past sin for his glory. You are a testimony of the grace of God! How wonderful to know that God can use my failures to show how great he is.
Paul wrote, “for those who love God, all things work together for good.” Yes, my friend, God can even use your past sin to work together for good. God can use it to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, and he can use it to encourage others who have sinned as well. Today, keep your focus on the one who forgives, not on your past. Like Paul, you also have been forgiven and set apart by God to be an example of God’s grace and to carry that message of forgiveness to others who also need forgiveness for sin.
This article was originally published in the November 2014 Newsletter.