Tiger Woods is one more in a succession of high profile people, whose decisions and actions have gotten them into trouble. They have shaped how others see them and treat them. In Tiger’s case, it will be a long time until people forget—if ever. In many ways Tiger’s past defines his future. I am sure he has big-time regrets and if he has any sense of himself as a moral person—guilt.
Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “Beyond Your Past.” Often our past becomes a weight that holds us back from living with peace in the present, let alone even thinking about the future. The main reason is decisions we have made in the past, wrong decisions about which we feel guilt. Guilt defeats us because unless it is released or overcome it shapes how we see ourselves including who we can become. In one sense, guilt is necessary in order to break old destructive patterns. But guilt also keeps us stuck in our past, so that we cannot claim God’s transforming power and change.
Forgiveness is the remedy for guilt. That’s why it is important for us to accept God’s forgiveness and then use it as a foundation to forgive ourselves. (I am deeply indebted to Doug Hall in his excellent book Fresh Start for this observation.)
As God often sets it up, I had one man present in that worship gathering whose life has been mired in the muck of several years of bad decisions compounding themselves. (I am sure there were others present of which this was true.) But that morning he heard a word of hope rooted and grounded in God’s message of grace and forgiveness. “That was a wonderful message!” he announced, grabbing me by the arm at the door. He wasn’t talking about the sermon and its delivery, he was talking about its truth. I sincerely hope he follows the message’s application to its fullness.
The apostle Paul describes this reality in these words found in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” And to the Romans he wrote, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (3:23-24)
God loves us so much he wants us to move beyond our past into the new, fresh life he offers. It is indeed a wonder to people who are burdened by their guilt. But it is also a great promise. John Ortberg sums it up very well:
“By grace we have been made alive. Now you are alive to God. You have strength to endure, power to serve, a reason to hope. Death itself has no holdover you. This is the wonder of grace.” Living the God Life, p. 27
To Tiger, to others with less high profile sins, and as I have learned myself—God can move us beyond our past when we accept His forgiveness and let it change us.