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Is Your Past Important?

Some people question whether the past is important. Some Christians think that it isn’t that all we need is biblical advice to solve our every problem. But is that really biblical? Does the Bible ever indicate that the past is important? Is even the best advice sufficient to enable us to live as best we can? 

I would suggest that at least four different kinds of problems indicate that the past is extremely important. This doesn’t mean that counseling needs to become one big, endless emotional archaeological dig. It does, however, offer us hope for real transformation that isn’t possible unless we acknowledge the role of the past and unpack the buried treasure that’s hidden there; spiritual treasure that can advance our growth, sanctification and wholeness. Here’s what I mean. 

The God of the Bible reminds us that our first father (Adam) sinned (Isaiah 43:25-27), and this is a big part of our problem. We are all born with the congenital disease of sin. This means we all have a moral predisposition to do what is not in our own best interests. Sin is a promising paymaster but a lousy employer. The wages of sin are frankly just not enough; not enough to justify the pain it causes, the destruction it creates or the havoc it wreaks in our lives. God hates sin because He loves us sinners. Yet, we are still inexorably drawn to sin. We were born with a propensity for sin instead of saintliness.  

So, the first place God invites us to consider our past is to remind us that we were born with a sin nature. Theologians call this the doctrine of original sin. Like a crack cocaine baby who never took a drug, we are born with this craving for what will ultimately destroy us. But just hating ourselves because we sin only makes us want to sin more. So, God graciously reminds us to look back beyond our birth to the very first man. “In Adam’s fall we sinned all,” the ancient catechism taught. It’s a relief to know we aren’t alone in our sin. We share the struggle with all humanity. It’s an even greater relief to know that God understands.  

The Ten Commandments reveal another major area where our past is important. Nestled in the middle of these moral mandates is the concept of generational sin. We are told that the sins of the father are visited unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate God (Exodus 20:5-6). Unless we deal with it, we can be doomed to repeat the sins of our ancestors as far back as our great, great great grandfathers! I call this relational genetics. If we love God, we might well think that this doesn’t apply to us, but think about it. It is possible to love and hate the same person. In fact, love can turn to hatred in less than 24 hours, sometimes in less than an hour.  

When I first started helping people heal their emotional pain I was shocked to see how may people who loved God also hated Him but didn’t realize it. It shouldn’t have surprised me. Satan, the slanderer, always misrepresents God to us. “Hath God said?” he asked Eve in the Garden. He asks the same of us. Have you ever thought, “If God loved me, He wouldn’t let this happen?” Have you ever heard these words in your head: “Why is God making you do that?” Satan continuously impugns God’s motives if we listen.  

Love and hate are not opposites they are next-door neighbors. We may love God, but when we get hurt or don’t get our way that love can easily turn to a very subtle form of hidden hatred. Like milk gone sour, our love for God curdles into an insidious form of distrust and anguish. At our healing retreats and in individual therapy I often help people access the buried pain that causes them to hate God even though they love Him. Once the hatred is unearthed, acknowledged, and confessed, God can heal that deep buried pain. And once the chain of sin we inherited from our ancestors is broken, it cannot disrupt our lives any longer.  

But that isn’t the only place where our past is important. Once a year, during a feast, the Jews offered sacrifices for their unintentional sins. Since Jesus came as our sacrifice for all time, we no longer offer such sacrifices but we still commit unintentional sins. The Bible gives us clear guidelines on how to handle problems when we feel someone has sinned against us (Matthew 18:15-18). It involves discussing past affronts and resolving them. This is best done “before the sun goes down on our wrath” (Ephesians 4:26), but many times that hasn’t happened. These old offenses need to be resolved at some point in time. That can’t happen unless we search our hearts for anything that still festers within. 

Finally, we all commit intentional sins. In a way, we’re all hypocrites. We all fail to do all that we know we should and we all still do things we know to be wrong. The only way to handle these things is through confession and repentance. Communion affords us a wonderful opportunity to do just that. I call it God’s oil change for the soul. We can flush our system of the dirty grime of our past and begin anew simply by acknowledging the ways in which we fall short. Again, this involves looking backward into our past. And it’s a wonderfully healthy thing to do if we accept God’s grace as freely as it’s given. I’m convinced that if they were offered simple communion with confession many people could get out of mental hospitals. I know a little about that. I was in one and worked in two of them. In fact, I got fired from one for praying with a kid who got so well he was discharged from the hospital after being a patient for seven years! I simply taught him to confess and receive God’s forgiveness. 

I used to feel I had to lie to God when I confessed. I used to promise to never do it again, whatever ‘it’ was. I know myself too well to do that any more. I also know God well enough. He says we don’t need to make vain promises of repentance that we may not be able to keep. All we must do is confess, and He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). 

 Repentance is actually something we can’t conjure up by virtue of sheer will power. It is something God must grant us (II Timothy 2:24-26). But once we receive His mercy as freely as He gives it to us, not because we are capable of doing better but simply because Jesus already paid the price for our sins, we suddenly begin to do better. That’s what grace is all about. But that is a whole new topic.  

I do need to mention why some Christians think the past doesn’t matter. Paul taught us that any true Christian is a new creature, old things have passed away, all things have become new (II Corinthians 5:17). This is totally true, but it doesn’t negate our need to resolve issues that plague us from our past. When I studied abortion, I was surprised to learn that at the moment egg and sperm unite, the individual has everything necessary to become an adult except nutrition, growth and maturation. My size 12-shoe size was in my embryo, as was my predisposition to baldness unfortunately. The same is true when a person is reborn. When Christ is invited in to take over a life, a person becomes a totally new creature. However, that doesn’t negate the fact of original sin, or the impact of sins that will be committed against that child or sins that the person will commit. It doesn’t heal all the pain of the heartbreaks a person receives before he became a Christian or afterwards. Healing is often necessary to undo the works of Satan to harm an individual and pull him away from God. If it weren’t necessary Jesus would not have been anointed to heal the broken hearted (Luke 4:18-20) and God wouldn’t have given healing gifts to His Church (I Corinthians 12:9). 

I remember a man at a retreat years ago that was writhing on the floor in agony during one of our exercises. When we were done, he told us a remarkable story. The Spirit enabled him to see himself in the womb with a scalpel coming after him. He realized his mother attempted to abort him but it had failed. He still carried the pain and horror of that moment deep within his unconscious. The Lord used that exercise to help him heal that pain and forgive his mother. Many things that he had tried in vain to change about his life were easily resolved after that healing.  

A true healing journey does not absolve us of responsibility for our lives. It isn’t about playing the blame game or refusing to acknowledge our own role in changing our lives. It doesn’t diminish the finished work of Christ on the cross, not one bit. The healing journey is truly a heroic one, and it takes our entire lifetime. It’s a key component of the Spirit’s work to sanctify us wholly, body, soul and spirit (I Thessalonians 5:23). Our past is not just important - it is essential - if we are to become whole. We ignore it at our own peril. 


Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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