Overcoming Your Past
Let me start with a question. How much do you think your parents have influenced the way you think and the way you act? With just a little bit of thought, I’m sure you’ll say, “They’ve influenced me a lot.” Much of how you act, much of how you feel about yourself and the world, even God, is in large part the result of how your parents raised you.
Now, if you’re a Christian, some time in your life you invited Jesus Christ into your life to forgive you of your sins. Even so, I wonder if as a Christian, you have ever thought about and attributed part of your struggle in living the Christian life to some of the wrong ideas, wrong habits, wrong patterns of living that you learned while growing up? Now, don’t get me wrong. You may have grown up in a great family and learned a lot about God and godly principles of living. On the other hand, maybe even if you did grow up in a great family, along the way you’ve also learned some ungodly principles of living. Sadly, some of you may have learned a lot of ungodly principles.
Whatever kind of family you grew up in, you did learn ways of how to satisfy your needs for being loved and loving others, two of the greatest needs in life. How do I know that? Because the Bible says so. The Bible says God is love in 1 John 4:8, and, second, Jesus said in Matthew, the greatest commandment of them all is that we are to love God with all of our heart, mind and soul, and then our neighbor as ourselves.
So God is love and has created us with a desire to love and be loved by Him. But when we were born into the world, we were separated from God’s love.
We inherited the spiritual nature from Adam that was empty and closed to God. So we had the problem that we were created to be loved by God and to love Him in return, but we were missing out on that love. Our parents sometimes filled part of that need for being loved; others of us missed out on receiving that love in a big way. As a result, we searched for other ways to get our needs met. Our parents, brothers and sisters were all that we had, all that we knew. We absorbed, from them and that context, information about ourselves. We learned from them about how valuable we are, about how talented we are, how good looking we are and our potential for the future.
What we were told by our families was not necessarily the truth. But being children, we were conditioned by that information. Some of us are still learning that our families weren’t right, but we absorbed both their ideas about us and the feelings that accompanied those ideas.
It’s interesting that the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1-2 says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy,…do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
In other words, Paul is saying some of the patterns that you learned from the world, from your friends, even from your parents are wrong and harmful. You are to learn and take to heart that God is the One who loves you. He wants to be the ultimate source for your getting all of your needs met. But the only way we can do this is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. What does that mean?
To renew our mind means we are to learn God’s promises to us. We are to learn how God says He will live His life through us and put the pieces of our life back together. He not only promises to correct our thinking, but to straighten out our emotions. Many of us haven’t experienced that yet. We are still trying to meet our own needs through our own methods and ways that we learned while growing up. The problem is, sooner or later, God’s Word tells us that the old ways—what the Bible calls our “fleshly ways”—will never satisfy us and they will let us down.
Let me see if I can give you an example. The term “flesh” has many meanings in the Bible. In some places it refers to our human body but in Romans 7 and Philippians 3 the primary definition the Bible gives for our flesh is that it is the ungodly ways or ungodly methods we use to try and satisfy our needs, rather than our going to Christ and looking to Him to meet our needs. You say, “I don’t understand all of that.”
Okay, if you’ll let me generalize for a moment. I’d like to lump all Christians into three broad categories of flesh. I’d like to use Bill Gillham’s illustration in his book, “Lifetime Guarantee.” He says the three broad categories of flesh are: yucky flesh, plain vanilla flesh, and U.S.D.A. Choice flesh.
The person with the yucky flesh has been reared in a home environment where no matter how hard he tries, his parents don’t love him or care for him. Why? As you’ll see, he hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s his parents who cause him to think that way. For example, think about two young teenagers who have premarital sex on a date one night. The girl gets pregnant and they decide to get married. They both drop out of school. The guy had dreams of going into business, the girl of going to college and marrying and having a big home. But now their dreams are shattered. He works at McDonald’s; she works part-time at Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have a little trailer. And they wrongly come to view their baby boy as the reason why they are in these circumstances. Their resentment affects how they treat him.
Imagine this scenario for a moment. The little baby boy begins to cry because he’s hungry and the father, who is depressed, frustrated and angry, looks at him and says, “You know, it’s all your fault. If you hadn’t come along, I wouldn’t be married to this old hag! I wish you’d never been born!” He then storms out of the house in a rage, accompanied by his wife’s screaming that she hopes he’ll get lost and never be found.
The baby boy that grows up in that kind of a home environment can’t think abstractly. He can’t say, “Now, wait a minute, Dad. I didn’t ask to be born into this family. It’s not my fault.” No, children don’t think that way. They absorb and process all of this information and conclude, “Somehow it’s all my fault that mom and dad are so miserable and unhappy. If I were gone, it really would be a better place for everybody. I must be the problem. I don’t blame mom and dad for not loving me. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t love me either. In fact, I hate myself!”
And because this child’s family environment represents the whole world to him, the attitude that he develops about himself as he grows up is, “I’m not loveable. There’s something wrong with me. The whole world would be better off if I’d never been born.” Can you see how that could happen? This person develops yucky flesh and ways to cope with it.
Let’s talk now about the second kind of flesh. What is plain vanilla flesh? This is the person who has grown up in a home that has given him a pretty fair share of love as a child. He or she may have been rejected off and on by certain people during the course of life, but overall, he or she has experienced a pretty good measure of acceptance. But what this person might not realize is that he or she hasn’t received love without paying for it.
This person has grown up learning he or she must earn love; love has not been given with no strings attached. This person has been programmed by his parents to understand that he must perform in order to be loved. He must attain certain standards. Because all of us desperately need love on a moment by moment basis, many of us have been willing to pay whatever performance price was demanded by our parents in order to receive their love.
So the techniques this child has learned growing up are very precious to him or her and are relied on heavily to generate and maintain love from others and for himself in adulthood. When this person becomes a Christian, he or she can have a real problem when they realize they have failed to keep God’s law. They may try super hard to live in their own self-effort to attain to God’s standards. They transfer what they have learned growing up over to their relationship with God. They think God won’t approve of them, won’t accept them because they aren’t performing right as Christians. So they think, “I’ve got to perform harder,” and they struggle and struggle and finally are exhausted and give up and feel completely defeated.
Satan comes along and offers them sinful temptations and they give in and feel even worse. God has a wonderful answer for these folks as well.
Let’s look at the third kind of flesh that many of us have learned as children growing up in our families. This third kind of flesh is what Bill Gillham calls U.S.D.A. Choice flesh. These are the ungodly ways and techniques that a person has learned who grows up in a home where mom and dad are very successful in life. The parents have worked hard. Dad has built a big, successful business. Mother is popular and well-liked in the community. Both parents have worked hard. But what they pass on to their son or daughter is that life rewards people who work hard. And that philosophy is not totally bad.
But the child begins to take for granted that love is not just freely given but it comes with a price tag. And that price tag is performance. Yet, because this child has talent, intelligence and looks, he or she is able to perform and be successful. He or she is a winner. This person plays the game of life very well. Oh yeah, there are a few setbacks, but ultimately there is nothing that this child can’t cope with and conquer through performance. This child learns to love himself because he’s successful in what he accomplishes. He takes it for granted that he can beat the person with the plain vanilla flesh and can’t identify at all with the person who has the yucky flesh. He or she may feel some compassion for these others, but he or she wonders why those people can’t get their act together.
Now, keep in mind that all three groups of people that we have discussed are getting their needs met by the techniques they learned in part from their moms and dads growing up. The problem is, all three groups of people are getting their needs met in ungodly ways. This is true even of U.S.D.A. Choice flesh’s techniques, which are working and successful. The problem is, these people are living lives flying high on the flesh power of performance, of being accepted on what they do and feeling good about themselves. But they’re headed for a flame-out. Ultimately, life will bring situations and circumstances to them that they cannot cope with in their own strength and power. Romans 7 says that even though we have invited Christ into our life, there are sinful impulses and desires that in our own strength we cannot conquer.
In 1 Peter 5:8 the Bible warns us that our adversary the devil “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The Bible calls him the tempter, the seducer, the accuser. And this evil one will try to control each one of us by working through our old patterns that we’ve learned while growing up. The devil will try to make the first person, the person with yucky flesh, not believe in the love and self-esteem that comes through Christ’s finished work for him. The devil will try to deceive both the plain vanilla flesh person and Mr. Wonderful U.S.D.A. Choice flesh into settling for a cheap imitation of God’s plan for their lives. And the devil will constantly put forward to them the idea of using their old fleshly techniques to gain self-acceptance and love from others.
Now let me stop and ask you, “Can you identify with any of these types of flesh?” Remember that all three of these positions are sin positions which fail to trust God to supply all of our needs in Christ Jesus. Each of us has our own unique version of the flesh. If you can see that, my question is, would you like to switch? Are you tired of depending on your own methods to get your needs met? Have your ways and methods let you down, gotten you into trouble, pushed God away from you? Would you like to start depending on the precious Holy Spirit to lead and empower you? Would you like to start depending on what Christ has made available to you to liberate you from walking after the flesh?
Remember, the Bible says we’re to get our acceptance and needs met in Christ alone. How can we start? First, God wants you to know that if you’re a Christian and you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are totally accepted by God right now. Maybe you don’t feel it, but it’s a fact. God wants you to believe it. Once your mind accepts this fact, your feelings will get into line.
Now, immediately you might be saying, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but you don’t know all the sins of my life.”
Second, let’s get some biblical definitions down that I think will help you. The Bible says God wants you to be righteous; God wants you to be holy. Are you? You say, “No. You don’t know my track record. I haven’t performed.”
Being holy and righteous can be considered from two viewpoints. One is holy behavior, what you do, how you behave. But the second is a righteousness, a holiness that is absolutely unrelated to performance. This is a declaration by God of a person’s identity. God says He declares a person righteous under one condition only: that is, if a person puts his or her faith in Christ. Have you placed your faith in Christ? Then, at that moment God, the eternal Judge of the universe, made a declaration about you that will last forever. He declared that from that moment on, your identity is that you are justified. You stand before God free of the past, without sin, without the threat of ever being penalized for your sin.
In addition, He credited the righteous behavior of Jesus Christ to you. You know Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. Well, that righteous life which Christ lived and earned was credited by God to your account, the moment you believed. In other words, you stand before God in Christ’s righteousness and God chooses to treat you as if you had behaved just like Jesus Christ all of your life. That’s your standing, your position, your identity that God has given to you as a free gift.
Now, the tragedy is that many Christians who have been declared righteous by God still continue to strive to generate their own track record of performance to attain God’s approval. They don’t need to. The Bible refers to such actions as dead works. Christ did all the work possible and just gives it to you.
But then, let’s talk about the sins you have committed and the way you are trying to live for God. God has given you your identity and now wants to help you live successfully with His power, to bring your behavior closer to your status and identity He has given you.
In order for you to experience God’s power and ways, what do you need to know? What do you need to do? The Bible instructs us to take every thought captive to Christ. That is, we are to learn to think the way Christ wants us to think about every area and situation of our life. If we will do so, He promises that He will live through us and give us victory over every situation. If you are guilty as a Christian of committing sins and doing things your way, relying on your own techniques and methods of gaining approval, love and esteem from your family and friends, then confess this to the Lord. Ask Him to forgive you.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Actually, when Jesus died on the cross, He paid for all of your sins, past, present and future. The sins of your life have already been forgiven. Why, then, do we need to confess our sins to Him? To regain our intimate fellowship with God. God wants us to acknowledge our sins, confess that we’ve disobeyed Him, and once again ask Him to put us back on the right track.
Then, Romans 12:2 instructs us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” How can we reprogram ourselves to stop using the old methods and techniques to get our needs met? The Bible says we can do this by renewing our mind. With our minds we are to learn and believe what God says about us and act accordingly. We are to stop relying on our old methods and ways of gaining love and acceptance from family and friends.
As Paul says in Romans 6:4, as Christians, we are to “walk in newness of life.” In other words, if God says this is the way things are, then we must believe what He says is true and attainable. It must be the way we must live our lives.
Galatians 5 says you are to “walk by the Spirit of God.” He promises He will hold you up. Your new nature that God has given you desires to serve the Lord. When you are tempted by old thoughts, old patterns, old sinful desires that still exist, you are not to try and conquer them in your own strength. You are to ask the Holy Spirit who lives within you to immediately help you and give you victory. You are not to believe the devil’s lies, the lies of the world or the lies that your parents said about you. That includes what they said about your worth, your talent, or your potential. You are to believe what God says about you, how He looks at you, how valuable He thinks you are.
You’re to consider yourself alive unto God, His new creation. You are to present the members of your body to the Lord for Him to use. Presenting our members means I’m to present my mind to the Lord, the way I think, my emotions, my imagination, what my hands do, what my eyes see, what my mouth speaks, what my ears hear, the sexual parts of my body—all of these I am to present to the Lord and say, “I will only use these as you see fit. Give me the strength to do so.”
Then you are to think on the things that God has said about you in Scripture. Your sins are fully forgiven. You are a child of the King. You have the Holy Spirit in your life to help you. You are on your way to Heaven. As you do this, God will work with you bit by bit in putting the pieces of your life together. He won’t come down on you, or yell at you when you try to live for Him and fail. You’re already accepted by God, not because of your performance but because of what Christ has done for you. He will simply pick you up, comfort you and say keep going. When you believe this, your emotions and feelings will start to be reprogrammed by the Holy Spirit and start to return to some normal level of operation. You’ll be able to tolerate situations that formerly would have led to certain spiritual defeat. You’ll be more patient; more understanding of others. You won’t be perfect, but more and more, day by day, God will work in your life.