Certainly you have heard the criticism. Maybe you have even used it. The accusation of people living in the past. It is meant to be a negative assessment against individuals or whole cultures for emphasizing past events without looking forward. However, ‘living’ in the past is not always negative, and sometimes it’s necessary.
Knowing and understanding the past is important. The past fills us with memories of our loved ones who have since passed away or who have simply moved away. Other times, knowing historical events can be a springboard for moving forward. For Christians, history is important because it brings forth an appreciation of the church and an understanding of the development of theology.
Therefore, it is important to not negate the benefits of a historical mindset. Yet, at the same time neither should it be our only way of life. We must consider the past while living in the present and looking forward to the future.
For the Christian, I confess my own concern about how often the past is overemphasized in the area of grace. It was not my own doing, but rather the prompting of a friend that has caused me to consider this more. When we think of God’s grace, it is immediately applied to God’s covering of all the sin that we have ever had. The application of God’s grace in such a way is not wrong. In fact it is necessary. However, it is also inadequate because it fails to capture the completeness of God’s grace. The grace of God not only affects our past, but also our present and future.
First, let’s think about the effects of only looking at God’s grace in light of the past. I would suggest two mindsets occur:
1) Atonement for Sin: When we see God’s grace only covering our past, we forget its application to the present sinful state. As such, our quick response is to attempt to atone for our own sin. We begin to engage in a works-based salvation hoping to make up what was lacking in Christ.
2) Antinomianism: Second is it leads to antinomianism. Understanding that God has extended grace, one begins to lead a life of sin with the mindset that God’s grace will abound (as Paul writes about in Romans 6:1).
Both are wrong mindsets that have a low view of God and his judgment and mercy.
Instead we must fill our minds with the recognition that God’s grace has effects that continue from the past through the present and into the future. Recognizing this will have three effects on who we are:
1) Past: Seeing God’s grace worked in the past makes us thankful (for the work he has done in light of who we once were).
2) Present: Seeing God’s grace worked in the present makes us humble (for the work he is doing in light of who we are).
3) Future: Seeing God’s grace worked in the future makes us hopeful (for the work that God will do in light of who we will be).
I would take it further to say that the characteristics of thankfulness, humility, and hope come together for a greater impact into the joy that we have as Christians.
Let us consider together then, the impact God’s grace has on our lives for the past, for the present, and the future. May our lives reflect such a grace for the glory of God.