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About this series
Overcoming the Pain of Your Past
Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us. The Bible, however, offers great hope for pressing on. From the book of Ephesians, learn who you really are and why the pain of your past doesn't have to obscure God's plan for your future.More from this series
Every now and then there is a preposition that is in the Bible that gives me great hope. And in verse 4 it says, “But,” there are different ways that this language can say the word “but” in contrast. This is the strongest way it can say it.
“But because of His great love, God,” and then describing Him in parenthesis, “who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.”
And then Paul, I think he just almost gets overwhelmed and you can put a little bracket around, “It is by grace that you have been saved.” He just keeps coming back to, by the way, don’t get thinking it was something in you. It was by grace that you were saved. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and then for a purpose, “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
Since we’re trying to make a point could I ask you, where it says “in Christ, in Christ, in Him, in Christ Jesus, in Christ,” could you just underline that so that when you look at these notes you’ll realize that everything he’s going to talk about is not about your self-effort, not your self-help program, not you thinking a little bit differently. It’s a fundamental shift. He’s going to say, “But God did an intervention.”
The second person of the Godhead, who was worshipped by myriad and myriad and myriad of angels, stepped out of heaven and was born of a teenage girl in a dirty stall, and was given birth around animals, on the planet that He spoke into existence, and then lived a perfect life to reveal what the Father is like, full of grace and truth, died in our place, and rose from the dead to break the cycle.
And what you’re going to see, I want you to underline three phrases, because we underlined or we circled, “death, disobedience, and objects of wrath,” look what God’s grace does.
Number one, “made us alive,” circle that. Literally it’s one word, it means He quickened us. He intervened! You were dead spiritually! You were separated from God forever and ever and ever and so was I, and all of mankind, and we deserved it.
But He intervened, He did an intervention, and He quickened us. The second thing, notice what He did, He raised us up. Circle that. This is that picture I gave you of… You know, I literally, when I taught this at the church, I took the board out again with a cross on it and the bolt and I said, “You know if I drop the bolt what’s going to happen? It’s going to sink. If I drop the wood it’s going to float.”
And I put the bolt on the cross and held it with the rubber band. That rubber band is how the Spirit of God holds you, when you, by faith, put your trust in Christ. And then I dropped it in the tank and I said, “Everything that is true of Jesus is now true of you.”
It’s Romans 6. You died with Him, you’ve been raised with Him to walk, to live, in newness of life. You were dead; you’ve been quickened. Now, you were disobedient, you’re raised up with Him.
Notice the third thing: “And seated with Him.” Literally the word, you’re enthroned with Him. Instead of an object of wrath, the just wrath of God now this new position in Christ, you are enthroned so that the God who created all that there is, sees you exactly how He sees His Son.
The big word is “justification.” Some people in Sunday school say it’s just as if you didn’t sin. Well, that’s really true. But that’s just half of it. It’s a legal declaration where God takes, if you can imagine a computer screen, this is what helps me. And on a computer screen you have Jesus over here and you have you over here.
And under you we have a list, if, you know, every sin of thought, word, and deed forever and ever and ever, and what you deserve and what I deserve is death. And over here, under Jesus, we have the perfection and the absolute righteousness of God and what God the Father does with the computer screen of your life when you, by faith, trust Him, He pushes “delete” under all your sins and then He drags over the righteousness of Christ, and gives it to your account so that when God sees you, on the computer screen of heaven, He sees the very righteousness of His son and you are enthroned and that’s your position.
And I will tell you what, that’s awesome and if you ever get that truth the eighteen inches from your head to your heart, you’ll be born again, again. Because that’s truth most Christians aren’t living with.
Most Christians have got, “I’m saved, God forgave me, now I’m really trying hard to be a good person, it sure is hard. And I used to be immoral and I’m trying to be moral. And I used to have an addiction, I’m trying to break the addiction. And I know I’m supposed to. I’m supposed to read the Bible, I’m supposed to pray, I’m supposed to go to church, I’m supposed to, supposed to, supposed to.”
And then they just get tired because they don’t understand who they are, understand who they really are. When you understand who you are there is a gratitude.
And then notice there is a power and the power isn’t your own. Mercy is when someone doesn’t give you what you deserve and grace is an abundance of overflowing of just freely, unmerited, unconditional love.
And the reason I like to read Tozer so much is I struggle with the goodness of God. I struggle, to this day with, when I perform well God loves me. When I don’t perform well, He doesn’t love me.
And I have read - in that book by Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, there is a thin chapter on the goodness of God. I’m not exaggerating, I’ve read that chapter hundreds of times - and I’ve read the book I don’t know how many times. But I’ve read that single chapter hundreds of times.
And Tozer says it’s, it captures this and it’s a view of God that changes how you live the Christian life. And Tozer says, “It is the goodness of God that causes Him to be cordial and kind and frank with every human being. It is the goodness of God that He longs and finds happiness and joy in the blessedness of His people.”
He says, “The skies that we live under would be completely different if we could but believe that God, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us.” Have you thought of God like that?
God is good not because you’re good. God is good because there is something inside of Him, are you ready, that wants to bless you, that wants to do well for you. You know, we’re parents, right? I mean haven’t we at least given our kids a nice gift at Christmas and who is the most excited person under, I mean, once you get past six or eight maybe. I mean when you’re six or eight it’s all about, “What present did I get?”
But when you get past that isn’t the greatest joy giving someone something that you know is at the center of the target of what they really long for and watching them open it?
Where do you think you get that? You’re made in the image of your heavenly Father. He wants you to open packages that delight your heart. He wants you to have great relationships. He wants you to be in the right job in the right place.
But often, in a fallen world, the way He gets us where we need to be is by allowing the velvet vice of consequences of some of our own stupidity, and our own mistakes, and the hurts and the pains of life, to get us to that position where He can do an intervention.
With Christ, with Christ, in Christ Jesus, in Christ Jesus. His motive, if you jot this in your notes, in verse 4, is His great love. His action, you could literally just parallel instead of death He made you alive, that’s the past. In the present, instead of disobedience you are raised currently with power. And in the future, instead of destruction you have eternal hope and honor.
And His purpose was to reveal His character. I don’t understand this. God wants angels to know, we’ll learn later, and He wants to us to know, and despite how we want to cover up our dysfunctional past, He wants to take your dysfunctional past, intervene, make you alive, clean you up, begin to transform your life, and then take you and make you a trophy of redemption and put it on His heavenly mantle and say to all the angels, “That’s what it looks like when I love people like this.”
And there will be a season, for some of you, when you can own some of this and accept God’s forgiveness and at just the right times, with just the right people, in a safe environment you’ll start to share some of what God is taking you out of and there will be a healing at the next level that will occur because you do that.
It’s hard because, see, it’s one thing to start to believe it but when you verbalize it to someone else, when you tell them, “This is where I’ve been,” and the hero, by the way, very carefully, the hero isn’t your recovery journey. The hero is not, “This is how terrible it was and I’m getting lots of attention by talking about what it’s like now.”
The hero is Jesus. The hero is the grace of God. The hero is, “Who am I to receive this but this is what God did,” you know what that does for other people? It gives them hope! You know how many guys are hooked on pornography? It’s off the charts and they’re in our churches.
In fact, the last statistic I read, twenty-five percent of them are Evangelical pastors. You know how unsafe it is to share that? You know what it’s like to be stuck in something like that?
You know how many Christians are alcoholics, how many Christians have prescription drug issues, you know how many people are just desperately co-dependent and controlling in ways that…I mean, everything is about what everybody else thinks and making everyone else happy, and working themselves to death, and becoming these self-inflicted martyrs? God wants to break those cycles and He wants to intervene.
But to experience God’s provision here’s the third point: Our restoration can only begin when we recognize the full extent of our need. The recovery people call it, “Hitting bottom.” The full extent of our need.
And notice what he says, the “for,” it’s a reason. He says, “For by grace you have been saved,” now you have a responsibility. There was an agency, there is a means of reception. It’s not meritorious. But, “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” and that’s not of yourselves. “It is the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast.”
This is not the multi-billion dollar, self-help, think and grow rich, think your way into, out of your difficulties. This is a gift from God. It’s grace that delivers. And when you turn from trying to solve the pains and the hurts and the longings with stuff, and people, and success, and fame, and addictions, and repent, change your mind.
And in the empty hands of faith say, “I’ve hit bottom, I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. Will You help me?” God will come.
I was pastoring on the coast of California in a very, very unchurched area. And it was a very, very casual, very New Age, drug infested type place. And when people came to our church, when they trusted Christ, in our new members class we literally said, “There are two real big parts to the Bible. There is the big part and the little part. And one is called the Old Testament and one called the New Testament. And here’s why it’s called a ‘Testament’.
“Now there are really big numbers on the pages and they’re for chapters. And there are little numbers and those are called verses so that when you want to find things…” I’m dead serious. They’d never heard of Noah, Adam, Eve.
See, I remember teaching, literally, I was teaching through the book of Mark and about the third week some guy said, “So when is Mark going to show up? You’ve been talking about him for three weeks.”
And that’s when I thought, “Hmmmm.” But I remember a young man came in and he was flying drugs from Alaska to Mexico, and then he would drop into the central part of California and do sales, and he got in with a very, very bad group and getting out of those groups, apparently, is really, really hard.
And he got out of it, and he kind of went undercover, and he knew that he had a bad habit, he knew he was going to probably get killed, and he knew he had issues, and he got clean, and so he was sort of under-cover, and had a job as a janitor in a school.
Came to our church, had come to Christ, I was in a little makeshift library that my wife was putting together for the people in the church in the early days. And Jim walked in and we talked, we became friends, and as the story goes, it’s a great story, but he opened up and said, “You know, I’d like to help some fellow alcoholics,” and we had a little portable and two or three guys would show up and then the next week two or three guys. It wouldn’t be the same guys and he couldn’t get anybody to stick around.
And he didn’t tell anybody about his cocaine or his drug trafficking or all that. And then he went down south to a church that had a Celebrate Recovery ministry and he asked if he could go and we said, you know, “Dream a dream, form a team, we don’t have any budget for it, we believe God is going to supply,” we wanted people to own the ministry.
And so we paid for the gas for the van, they went down there, they formed a team, dreamed a dream, and about three years later they had the second largest Celebrate Recovery ministry in Northern California. And this janitor kept moving up, and then he went back to school and got a degree in drug counseling, and an amazing, amazing story.
And so now, we’re just helping all these sex addicts and drug addicts and, you know, if you come from a suburban background, you go to seminary, and you end up in a place like this and you teach God’s Word and you end up doing a lot of counseling, but there is stuff that’s really over your head.
I mean, a guy walks up and goes, “Man, oh, I uh, whew, that was a rough night.” To me a rough night is you can’t sleep or maybe you got drunk. He goes, “Yeah, man, I just…” this is Santa Cruz, you gotta know, “like, uhh, I think God told me to come here.”
I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I was tripping last night, I’ve been doing heroin for about eleven years and, man, I just came, oh man, I almost died last night and I looked in the Yellow Pages and yours said, ‘Christ-centered church,’ I thought, ‘Man, that’s what I need.’”
And I’m sitting here thinking, as a pastor, at times, you learn not to act shocked, you know? “Oh.” “Uh, tell me…” I’m totally intimidated, I have no idea what to do, what’s going on here. But you act confident. “Yeah, so, tell me about this. How can I be of some help?”
And I’m thinking, “Where is Jim?” By now he has developed this ministry and this guy is talking and so I said, “Excuse me one second.” I said, “Hey, Jim? Can you come here for a minute?” And Jim comes over and he meets with this guy and, you know, there is a line of people so I’m talking but I can still hear him.
And they get in this conversation and it’s different. See, most of us Christians, we think being nice helps people. We need to be really nice. “Oh, I feel so sorry for you, you’ve been on heroin for all these years and, bet you really had a bad mom and dad and, how can we really help you? And here’s a couple bucks, put you up in a hotel, God bless you,” you know?
And I’m listening to Jim going, “You want to get real or not? Hey, we don’t mess around around here. You haven’t hit bottom. I’ll tell you what, when you want to get real, you want to hit bottom and not con anybody, I’m here. Been there, done that. I’ve shot that, I’ve shot that, I’ve shot that. We got great people, we’re honest here. Okay, now, you gonna let down the con or not?”
And my first, you know, I’m, “Jim! We’re a church!” You know? “Jim, what are you doing?” And he said, “Oh, he’s playing the game. We’ve all been there. I spot them like that.”
He said, “Chip, you don’t get it. Don’t enable, don’t be nice. I checked him out, I asked the questions. He didn’t come here to get help. He came here to get fixed.” He said, “Now, I’m going to be available and I see a dozen guys like that every week. Until you hit bottom, until you hit bottom, until you hit bottom, until you get desperate and recognize you can’t do it and you quit conning people, conning God, and conning you, you never change.”
Until you come to, “I am powerless!” Not, “I need a little help.” Not, “God, fix my life.” Not, “God, I’ll follow you if you make my marriage come back together.” Not, “God, I’ll do this if You do this and that.” There are no bargains with God. You hit bottom and you say, “You deal. I’ll do whatever. I’ve messed up.” And that’s how you come to Christ.
You recognize your need and you come on His terms. And then that’s where grace comes in and it’s not of yourselves.
Finally, you move beyond recovery because it’s not a one step, pray a prayer, “Oh, thank you, God.” It’s a journey and you renew your mind, and you need the community of God’s people.
But to move beyond recovery our restoration is never complete until we impart what we now possess. This is one of my most favorite verses in all the Bible and it’s so often, not misquoted, it’s not quoted! Most of us, we’ve learned Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “Salvation by grace,” it’s on the little card. Right?
Verse 10 starts with, “For this reason, for you are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God…” the idea is foreordained, from the foundations of the earth, has a good work for you to walk in.
Underline the word “workmanship.” We get our word, “poem,” in the ancient world it would be tapestry, it would be a fine work of art. You are a unique piece of art that’s been redeemed. You are His creation, His masterpiece, His workmanship and He saved you, forgave you, quickened you, seated you in the heavenly places, made you rise with Him, given you power to live a new life because He’s got a job for you. He’s got a job for you.
It’s not so you can say, “I used to be this, now I’m that. Hi, my name is Chip. I’m a recovering workaholic.” That’s not the goal.
The goal is: Now, in the sovereignty of God, you grew up in a certain home, God wants to use all things for good to them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose.
His primary agenda is to make you conform to the image of His Son, make you like Jesus, and as He makes you like Jesus the vertical relationship, the horizontal thing, He has a good work for you to walk in.
There is a job for you that only you can do, are you ready for this? That your background prepared you for, your family of origin prepared you for, you understand certain people, you know certain hurts, you have certain gifts, you have a certain personality, and there is a good work to walk in.
And until you start to impart that you never get whole. And God’s kingdom doesn’t grow. Even your salvation, it’s not just about you. You’ve been delivered to walk in a good work.
You know this, janitor-turned-recovery-minister-turned-amazing-guy, friend? He realized that the mistakes of his past, and he had a horrendous… Oh my lands, he had one of the most horrendous childhoods you could imagine. But he understood and could help people because of that.
What’s your good work? Where is your focus? You know, one of the dangers of all this is your focus can be, “How do I get better? How do I get better? Am I getting better? Am I getting more better? Am I falling back behind? What about me? What about…?”
You know this analysis paralysis. You focus a lot on God and who He says you are, you focus on the needs of people, as God shows you, move forward, and you deal with what He shows you, you become a trophy of His grace. You do the good work. You become like my friend Jim.
Or my friend Andy, who after thirty plus years in a pornography addiction and being an elder and a deacon, in two or three different churches, realized he had a problem.
He told his wife he had a weekly business meeting. He would drive out of town because he didn’t want anyone to know, and for an hour and a half every Wednesday night, he got help, got in a recovery group, got with other men who were going through sexual addictions, he was actually leading a ministry.
So one day he came to me and said, “You know, I’d like to talk to you about something. I’ve never shared this with anyone. It started when I was nine years old. It was a Sears catalogue, the lingerie section. And then I found my dad’s Playboys under the bed.” And he said, “I’ve lived a double life and I’ve lived in pain and torment in my soul ever since. And I’ve been free now for about six months. And I told my wife a week ago. And I got an awesome wife and we’re on a journey.”
A year later, he got up in front of our church and shared that story with his wife on the front row, and we launched about fifteen sexual addiction groups out of it. And now, anywhere I am around the country, when they ask me, I say, “You need to talk with Andy. Here’s his name.”
The pain is tough but you know what? There was a good work for Andy. And there is a good work for you.