Have you ever walked out of your house without your keys, wallet, or phone? How many times? I’ve lost county how often I’ve done that. Have you ever forgotten someone’s name? An appointment? A promise?

Memory is something precious and vital. Today, memory clinics assist in the diagnosis and response to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Centuries ago, teachers and communicators would memorize significant portions of classical writings and wow their students with impeccable memories.

For most of us today, we remember what we value (a person’s name, sports statistic, or even subject in school). We have many memory aids today. Our smart phones store names, numbers, and calendars. Our laptops and tablets keep our notes and documents. These advances are helpful tools. But even so, we have trouble with our memory.

The things we want to remember, we forget, but the things we want to forget, we always remember.

While we forget some things (appointments and names), we find it very difficult to forget other things. Do we forget the grudge we are holding against that other person? Do we forget the angry word or response to a spouse or child? Do we forget the images of the forbidden pictures we’ve looked at? And these are just a sample of the sinful things we find it hard to forget.

We find it very difficult to forget the pains and wrongs done to us. Do we forget the slight of someone who is supposed to care about us? Do we forget the misdeed or mistreatment from a loved one? Do we forget the pain caused by mean or abusive behavior? Some things done to us we find it hard to forget.

The things we remember whether what we’ve done or what others have done to us too often shape our self-perception and identity. Often, these identity related self-perceptions are lies. Here are some lies we are tempted to believe: We are not worthy of love because of the way we were treated. We must deserve the anger, hate, and vitriol spewed by the person who is supposed to love us. We can’t forgive ourselves of our misdeeds, so we must be unforgivable.

But these are lies. We must learn to believe what God says to us and about us.

In the New Covenant quoted by the writer of Hebrews from Jeremiah 31, God says the following about us:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:8-12

God says that he will make a new covenant with his people. God says that he will make his people new, putting his law in our hearts and minds. God has that his people will know him “from the least to the greatest.” God says that he will show mercy and “remember their sins no more.”

We are recipients of the New Covenant and these promises if we have trusted in Christ alone to be our Savior. And if we have become a part of his people, his family, then God has chosen to “remember our sins no more.”

The truths of this passage encourage us in some very important ways.

  • If God remembers our sins no more, then our identity must not be found in our sins. Too many of us are holding too tightly to the sins of our past. We either do this because we don’t think we deserve anything better (a form of self-punishment) or because we don’t really want to put our sins in the past (a form of self-temptation). Yes, we are sinners (see Romans 3:23), but we are also saints (1 Corinthians 6:11) who have been sanctified and set apart for God as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Stop beating yourself up because of your past and start believing what God says about you.
  • If God remembers our sins no more, then our identity will one day go far beyond the pains and sins done to us. Too many of us are bound and enslaved by the abusive and sinful behaviors that we’ve experienced. Please read carefully. I do not suppose that this post is a simple answer to your emotional and psychological sufferings. But do read this. You are not defined by how others have treated you. If God can choose to forget our sins, then there is coming a day and time in eternity when our sufferings, pains, and abuse experiences will no longer enslave us. Heaven is our future, God is enthroned in heaven, and your suffering will have no sway over there. To those who have experienced abuse and suffering at the hands of others, let me encourage you to talk to someone. Confide in someone you can trust. Maybe see a counselor. You don’t have to navigate your sufferings and experiences alone.
  • If God remembers our sins no more, then we need to forgive others and ourselves. God is the only truly, legitimately, holy being in all the universe. Every sin ever committed is an affront to his holiness. And the glory of our God and his gospel is that he sent his Son Jesus to pay for our sins, to cleanse us, and to offer us redemption. If God, through Christ can and does forgive our sins, then we must not withhold forgiveness from someone else (Matthew 6:12-15). If God through Christ can and does forgive our sins, then we must forgive ourselves. We only harm ourselves when we fail to forgive–ourselves or others.

So remember this:

God will never forget his promises, but he chooses to forget the sins he has covered through Christ.

That is our God. And that is who we are through Christ.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

Let me make a confession to you. Nearly everyday as a pastor, I face a consistent temptation. The temptation is to build my name and my reputation.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended our SBC annual meeting, followed numerous social media conversations, and interacted with church members on a regular basis. We’ve discussed what’s going on in the convention. We’ve discussed the inordinate amount of time some pastors and denominational leaders spend on social media serving as critics of others. In many of these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to think I have the answers. In evaluating these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to seek more influence. In thinking about ministry in general, I’m tempted to perceive ministry responsibilities and opportunities as a means to build my own name and reputation.

In short, I’m tempted way too often to promote myself.

In light of these temptations, God reminded me what is primary. He reminded me that I serve his kingdom, not my own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

My life is not about me. Ministry opportunities, influence, responsibilities, blessings, and privileges are not for me.

According to Jesus, I must remember that I am poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt, offering nothing to the Lord that he needs.

According to Jesus, I must remember that the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will is what matters, not my own.

According to Jesus, I must remember to seek the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness in my own life, not the glory of my own name.

In thinking on my temptations and reflecting on these truths, here are a few reminders I’m trying to practice in order to focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

  1. Remind myself everyday that I am spiritually impoverished on my own. I am not doing God a favor by serving him in ministry. He doesn’t need me. If I get to experience the kingdom of heaven and serve him, it is all by grace.
  2. Acknowledge the greatness and grace of the Lord in all my ways. Our Father is holy and great, merciful and majestic, full of glory and full of grace. Beginning our prayers and daily activities with the greatness, glory, and grace of God properly resets my perspective on whose kingdom matters.
  3. Seek the kingdom of God by evaluating actions and activities in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world. One way we are tempted to emphasize our own kingdoms over God’s kingdom is simply by determining our moments by what best suits us. As I think, pray, and discern over God’s mission, it is far easier for me to properly submit my plans to God’s plans.
  4. Confess regularly my self-absorption. Our age of social media influencers, followers, friends, likes, hearts, and connections tempts us to consider our interactions in light of ourselves. Instead of checking on my feeds, God is teaching me to confess and repent of my obsession with myself.
  5. Return praise and thanks to God for what he’s doing. When God uses you or me through our gifts, talents, abilities, and availability, we must remember that he is the One who is indispensable. He’s used fish, a plant and a worm (Jonah), donkeys (Balaam’s donkey), ants (Proverbs 6), birds (feeding Elijah), and nature (storms on the Sea of Galilee) to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t need you or me. So, let’s thank God when he uses us and return the praise to him that he is due.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? For me too often, I’m focused on my own. But my own kingdom is built on sand with straw. It is sure to fold and not last.

But the kingdom of Jesus? Well, that kingdom will last. Have a read in Daniel 2 and the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. That’s the kingdom, the story, the mission, that will truly last. And in abundant grace, God invites us to participate in the building of his kingdom.