The Holy Spirit in our hearts is our spiritual birth certificate. This inward spiritual experience identifies us as a child of God. Paul wrote, The Holy Spirit speaks to our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). Although we know that we have this parent child relationship with God, hurtful experiences in the past can erode our confidence; in who we really are and what we are really about today.
There is a tendency to link our identity to our past failures; something we may have said or done that was out of character because of immaturity or we were simply misguided at the time. We cannot let our past mistakes and missteps identify who we are today. We must ask God for forgiveness, then reach out if possible to whomever we have hurt and ask for their forgiveness, then let it go! At the same time we look to God with assurance that we are a child of God, identified by our experiences with Him and not hurtful failures and mistakes in our past.
I know this perspective might be controversial: yet those who have amended their behavior and have grown in their Christian faith, who have stolen in the past should not be labeled as thieves or should they identify themselves in this way. Nor should the angry who have displayed their anger in the past, who have truly changed be labeled as an angry or an emotionally abusive person. Nor should serious Christians who have committed sexual sins in the past identify themselves as promiscuous or worse.
Regardless of our failures, many or few, big or small, we must not identify ourselves by the sins in our past that we have been forgiven for and have truly amended. David committed adultery but was not labeled an adulterer all his life, but a man after God’s own heart. Abraham lied on two recorded occasions, but amended his behavior on a third similar circumstance; of course he was not labeled a liar but the Father of the Faithful. Paul was responsible for the imprisonment of many Christians in the name of the Roman State, but was not identified as a persecutor but an Apostle, writing much of the New Testament, once he committed himself to Christ.
It doesn’t help that not infrequently so many of those in our orbit are so willing to keep us in the past: the same judgmental folks that have little knowledge of the circumstances and the influences that prevailed when bad decisions were made. Often these finger pointers have their own sins to deal with; the greater part, the same sins they are condemning in others; and worse forgetting who they used to be. Paul wrote about this tendency; those that are either excusing or accusing one another and never facing up to their own sinful realities. Whatever others think of us or how they define us, we can’t cave in by looking in the rear view mirror; defining ourselves by looking backward at who we used to be.
It’s unfortunate yet not uncommon to hear Christians talk about a divorce they painfully endured in the past, sometimes many years in the past; referring to and owning this unpleasant experience, speaking of it as my divorce. Some have dropped out of college or even high school, so they say I’m a dropout. There are many other examples of language like this that fast forward our past mistakes and failures into the present. We cannot own our failures forever. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Christian essayist once wrote, that we have no obligation to explain ourselves, who we used to be, but to exhibit who we have become. We are better off if we stop explaining our past failures to others, and stop speaking of them as if we will own them forever. We are who we have become.
In closing, I would like to briefly mention that maybe we have allowed some negative childhood experiences to shape our self-image. I am not minimizing the scars and wounds we receive because of an unpleasant or traumatic set of experiences in childhood. I personally understand the lasting impact; my brother died when I was a child, my mother left our family a few months later without a trace; even to this day I have never laid eyes on her. And on top of that my father was in disconnect because he was ill for the balance of his life.
Call me a naive if you must, but I have found great comfort and strength in knowing that I am a child of God; unconditionally, without question and forever in my Heavenly Father’s family. We do not have to feel beaten down, always thinking we are disadvantaged and less than others because of our childhood experiences. We have a spiritual birth certificate in hand; the Holy Spirit in our hearts confirming and assuring us of who we are and what we are about; that’s right no identity crises here.