And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
In general, people do not like to dwell upon their failures, mistakes, and sins. When we look back at our past days, we look back at our accomplishments, successes, and good deeds fondly. If we choose to remember some of the bad things we’ve done, or some of the failures we’ve experienced, we have those feelings of despondency and unhappiness return.
Thankfully, in Christ, we can be forgiven of those past sins, and have them stand against us no more (Romans 4:6-9, 5:1-8). We can get a fresh start of sorts. We can become a “new creature,” walking according to Christ and not the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).
But, if this is the case, why does Paul dredge up our old lives of sin? We were supposed to put that behind us. We’re certainly not supposed to “resurrect” that man of sin (Romans 6:3-7)!
Neither are we to glory in our sinful past. Some people seem to get a little too excited when they talk about their sinful past, as if somehow they are gaining some pleasure in recounting those deeds. Such is itself part of the worldliness under condemnation in 1 Corinthians 2-3, 1 John 2:15-17. It should never give us joy or excitement to talk about our lives of sin; instead, it is something regarding which we should be ashamed.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons for being reminded of our past. Humans have a tendency to “re-imagine” the past to suit their own liking– we like to think of ourselves as a little less sinful, a little better of a person than we really were. While this may be natural, it can become quite dangerous, because it really minimizes the redemption we have gained through Christ Jesus. We more easily forget the value of our salvation when we forget what we were and how badly it was (and still is) needed. Yet, when we keep in mind that we were quite sinful and without hope in the world, and then we learned of the message of salvation in Christ, it will be easier to constantly value the salvation God has wrought on our behalf.
Furthermore, it keeps us humble. The pursuit of holiness is a path constantly fraught with the dangers of sanctimony and Phariseeism. When we keep in mind how sinful we once were, it allows us to sympathize with our fellow man still in his sin. When we remember how sinful we were, we recognize that we have no right to get on any judgment-seat against our fellow man (cf. James 4:12, Matthew 7:1-5). After all, it is only by God’s grace that we are what we are, and that grace can reach our fellow man, also (1 Timothy 2:4). Remembering that we were sinful ought to keep us from being too “righteously indignant” against all of those “sinners,” since we fell under the same condemnation!
Finally, it is to goad us to good works (Titus 3:8, Ephesians 2:10). Why should we serve God, promote the Gospel, show love, mercy, and compassion, abhor sin, and cling to the good? Because we were all once without Christ, without a covenant, without a state, without hope, and without God, but have now gained all these things through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-18).
If we are still in our sins, let us come out from them and be reconciled to God through Christ, lest we suffer the eternal consequences of our rebellion. If we have been redeemed from our sinful ways, and yet our zeal for the Lord and His Kingdom wanes, let us return in our thoughts to the days of our sin, and consider our ultimate outcome had we never learned of salvation in Jesus Christ. Then let us be thankful for what God has done for us through Jesus, and seek His will.
But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Ethan R. Longhenry