Lessons From Paul's Past
by Curt Klingeman
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1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (KJV). When considering the Apostle Paul’s past, the phrase, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” becomes very meaningful. Grace has such power behind it, and it has to be something we embrace if we are to move forward in our walk with God. Grace eliminates taking pride in our past, whether we consider it “glorious” or “depraved,” as some take pride in either one. Yes, some even gloat in how bad they once were. It is important to understand that it was and ever will be God’s grace that gives us the victory over our past, and that includes our future past moments. One immediate lesson we can learn from Paul in our opening passage of Scripture is that he recognized what he became was by the Grace of God. It was clear to him that he was saved, fashioned, and his labor of love was by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8-10). Remember, grace is favor and ability to do the things of God, that we could never do on our own. The sooner you accept the favor of God, which includes forgiveness, the sooner you will realize the Lord’s victory in your life.
Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (KJV). In order to press toward the mark, we have to leave our past behind. Regardless of our history, we cannot afford to have a living history of our own, as it were. While history does serve a purpose for us, we must strike a balance between having a memorial which helps one stay encouraged, and completely disregarding it as to not live in the past. Secondly, we must never let our past define us as who we are today, negative or positive. Paul had a rich history, which included one he could take pride in, and one he could have let himself suffer intense guilt. Both of which could have held him back from becoming who the Father called him to be. Therefore, lets address both of these.
When dealing with our negative history, we cannot afford to challenge the Word of God with our past failings. If we do, we will dispute the validity of His Word and enter into unbelief. With unbelief, comes bitterness of heart. With that may come a departure from the Faith altogether if it goes on unchecked (see Hebrews 3:1-19). Therefore, it is important to challenge what we believe about our past by the Word of God; and likewise, any present day negative circumstance. The difficulty for many is that they believe what they did in the past defines who they are today. This is especially true of those who grew up in a judgmental environment. Because of growing up in the flesh, it is easy to remain flesh-minded. That means there is a natural propensity to cling on to what we did in the flesh. That is one reason when God says, “You are My child,” part of us says, “Yea, but!” It is particularly difficult to stay out of that mindset when a person receives Jesus, then blows it. In this particular case, here are two verses of Scripture to challenge what we think about it. 2Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (KJV). 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (KJV).
1 Timothy 1:12-16 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (KJV). Paul did not continue to consider himself a blasphemer or a persecutor, even though it was part of his past. Mull over this, he said he was the chief of sinners; nevertheless, God used Paul mightily. For those of who you who struggle with this issue, perhaps it is time to “make up” for your past by accepting what God says about your present. Let your past serve as a powerful testimony of His grace in your life, and press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Start confessing His Truth over your life: “I am no longer that, I am what God said I am.” Paul knew he could never make up for what he did, but he also realized he never earn God’s love either. In fact, because of the Father’s love for Paul, Jesus saved and used him. Paul received that love and it is time you do as well.
Philippians 3:4-9 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (KJV).
Paul stated that he considered those things he considered a loss as dung. That part of his past that many would consider stellar, he considered worthless. He was determined nothing would come between him and his Lord. If he stood on what he did in relation to the law as a Pharisee, he would have been standing on self-righteousness. Paul had some impressive credentials by which it could have been easy for him to count himself “worthy” to stand before the Lord. If you are not familiar with his story, read the book of Acts and study his epistles, and you will have a greater appreciation for the phrase, “count them but dung.” Our “wonderful past” will never make us worthy. Our worthiness will always be based upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord, which we receive through faith.
While it is good to remember the successes we have had in the Lord, we must guard our hearts from those successes taking the place of God, less they become idols. Our testimonies serve as memorials unto God in order to glorify Him. While success helps us to be encouraged in difficult times, we must purpose to encourage ourselves in the Lord. Those victories help us to remember that God is always faithful, and if He did it once, He can do it again. Nonetheless, accomplishments can hinder our present and future. It would be easy to believe that we know just what to do in the future. Ironically, when God came through for us the last time, we did not know what He or we were doing in the first place. If we try to mimic what was done in the past, we can become formulaic in the way we approach circumstances, and miss what God is doing in our present. God has a purpose for every season in our life, which means seasons are not meant to be duplicated. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, KJV). We must cling onto what God is saying now, while remembering what He did in the past. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17); it does not come by adopting traditions of men. It is hard to move forward while trying to recapture the past. Most of us have heard the saying, “That’s not the way we used to do things.” The attitude behind it does not make room for anything new or fresh. It is hard to get fresh air to flow through a house that has its windows and doors closed. Likewise, it is hard to have a fresh move of the Holy Spirit when people are stuck in the past.
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