Overcoming a Shameful Past
Sin is something we all should be ashamed of (Romans 6:21). It is the mark of a hardened heart to be able to sin and not be ashamed like those in Jeremiah’s day (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12). Since we all have committed sin at some point in our lives (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10), we all have things in our past of which we are ashamed. How can we prevent shameful things in our past from having a negative impact upon our lives today?
First, if our sins have not been forgiven, the first step to overcoming a shameful past is to have those sins forgiven. Romans 6:16-18 tells us we can be set free from being a slave of sin and become a slave of righteousness by obeying God’s commandments from the heart. The non-Christian must hear the gospel (James 1:21), believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Acts 17:30), confess their faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized in order to have their sinful, shameful past forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4). The Christian who sins after becoming a Christian needs to repent, confess, and pray in order to find forgiveness of sin (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
There are times when a person has been forgiven of their past sins by the blood of Christ and yet they still struggle with not allowing their shameful past stand in their way of serving God in the present. How can we approach our sinful past so it does not hinder our service to God in the present? Let’s look at three individuals who had a shameful past and see what we can learn from how they handled things in their past which would have been shameful.
Jesus encounters a man possessed by demons in the country of the Gadarenes (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Think about how this man has been behaving. He lived among the tombs (Mark 5:3; Luke 8:27), could not be bound with shackles and chains (Mark 5:3-4), could not be tamed (Mark 5:4), cried out (Mark 5:5), cut himself with stones (Mark 5:5), and wore no clothes (Luke 8:27). The people in the area were aware of the behaviors this man had participated in. He was essentially living like a wild man. Jesus will cast the demons out of this man. Throughout the account Jesus will grant several requests. The demons will request to be thrown into a herd of swine instead of being cast into the abyss and Jesus grants their request (Mark 5:10-13; Luke 8:31-32; Matthew 8:31-32). When the people in the area learn what Jesus did, they plead with Him to leave their region and He does (Mark 5:17-20; Luke 8:37). The man who had previously been possessed by demons begged to go with Jesus but was not granted His request (Mark 5:18-19; Luke 8:38). If we have lived in an area where people know things in our past we are ashamed of, we might can understand why the man might have wanted to leave the area and go on with Jesus. We may think the only way or the best way to deal with our shameful past is to go away from the place where we engaged in those things. While there may be times such is a wise decision such is not always the best decision. Jesus gave this man, who formerly was possessed by demons, an important task to perform. He tells him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19, NKJV). When people observe the change wrought in our lives, like they would have observed in this man, we have the opportunity to tell them why we no longer are the way we once were. We can use our shameful past as an opportunity to share with others the gospel which had the power to save and change us (Romans 1:16).
Paul had done some horribly shameful and sinful things prior to becoming a Christian (Acts 7:58-8:3; 9:1-2; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). He was a man who persecuted Christians, both men and women, to the point of putting them to death. Paul could have allowed the memories of these past horribly sinful actions to hinder him serving God. Paul does not make it his chief aim to avoid those who were familiar with his past sinful behavior (Acts 9:26; 22:17-20). Paul did not think he could never accomplish much because of his past failures. Rather, Paul allowed the remembrance of his past actions and the grace of God shown to him to motivate him to be more zealous in his service to God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
John Mark went with Paul and Barnabas on their journey recorded in Acts 13-14 but does not finish the journey and instead returns back to Jerusalem in the midst of the journey (Acts 13:13). Mark’s action causes Paul to be unwilling to take him on the next journey he takes (Acts 15:37-40). Later Paul will speak of Mark as a fellow worker and someone useful (Colossians 4:10-11; Philemon 23-24; 2 Timothy 4:11). John Mark did not remain someone who people could not depend upon. He changed! If we have shameful things in our past, remember we don’t have to let our future be determined by those past actions. We can change, we can grow, and we can develop the sort of character which enables us to become profitable servants of God!
If we know about someone’s shameful past, we need to be careful not to constantly bring it up lest we discourage them as they are trying to change (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).