I had a conversation the other day with someone about a guy we both grew up with. This guy was considered a “bad kid”, always getting in trouble, kicked out of school, and proudly wearing the reputation as “no-good.” So when he came up in this conversation, the person I was talking to sort of picked up where he had left off with this bad dude.
But his information on him was dated. I happened to know that God had done a work of grace in this former bad kid’s life, not only helping him overcome a serious addiction, but also moving him into a beautiful marriage and a terrific ministry. But in certain circles, he’s only known as bad news. As much as I tried to convince, this other person couldn’t believe in the new “bad guy.”
Part of me was upset, but then I was reminded by the Lord of my own attitude toward people of my past. We have a habit of remembering the pasts of others, even if God has forgiven them. We like to hold on to the 1996 version of this person instead of the 2011 version, which could be two completely different people.
It’s funny because we don’t want to be remembered by who we were in 1996. I certainly don’t. I’d hope folks would understand that God has really worked in my life. But I don’t have the grace to do that with others.
We hear a lot of preaching in church about forgetting the past–our own pasts. This is vitally important, because the enemy wants us to dredge up our sins as if to make us think Christ’s forgiveness on the cross was incomplete. But perhaps it’s time for us to start talking about forgetting the past of others. It’s time to realize that God just might have done a work in them since the last time you saw them. I imagine how this might restore and renew relationships. The parents who only know their troubled kid as being a troubled kid might actually take a second look and see how God is moving in her heart. The kid who carries wounds from childhood might realize that God has changed the hearts of his parents. The pastor who saw little potential in the scoundrel who messed up Sunday School might be surprised to find that guy graduating from seminary. The teacher who had to repeatedly discipline the unruly 8th grader might be overjoyed to know that her pupil is now the mother of three and leading a family.
Christians ought to lead the way in forgiveness and grace. How do we do this? I’m thinking we go back to where we started in our faith: the radical gospel which liberates us from the power of sin and promises us a new life in Christ. At the cross we were all hopeless and helpless. I was and so was the bad dude from high-school. And just as I like to claim God’s work in the deep and sinful recesses of my own heart, I must be faithful to see that in the hearts of others.