Winter solitary fenceline

Dealing With the Painful Memories of Sin


We all have memories of the past; some are good and others are bad. In some cases, the memories of the past are so painful you wish you could erase them from your mind. Because memories are something we cannot escape, we need to understand what God’s Word says about them and how to deal with them.

The Bible considers the past to be important. We know this because the Old Testament was written so Israel would not forget their past and God’s involvement in their history. There is a major key for us right there; God has been involved in our past and He does not want us to forget that.

We all have guilty memories which are comprised of the sinful things we have done, and we have memories that bring us sorrow or pain of which we are innocent of wrongdoing. These are memories of things like childhood abuse, sexual assault, war, being the victim of crime or learning of a spouse’s adultery.

The most important thing we can do with these memories is to learn how the Lord wants us to respond to them. Wallowing in misery, throwing a never-ending pity party, whining and complaining with a bitter heart are not God-honoring responses. It is not proper to go hunting through our unconscious or subconscious for details. Nor is it right to take the route of denial and think we should just get over them. There is a balance in this area like so many other areas of our lives.

When you are reminded of being a victim, forgive the person who hurt you again. This requires some explanation because we are told that once we forgive we are never to bring it up to ourselves, God, or the person ever again. While this is true there are memories of some life altering events that resurface for years after they take place and when they resurrect the pain or despair feels as fresh as the day they happened. Sometimes forgiveness is ongoing, meaning when the memories surface you remind yourself that you have forgiven the person who harmed you. Talk to God about it in the privacy of prayer and know that you are free to confess that the memories have awakened old pain and the emotions that accompany that pain (bitterness, anger, rage, hatred, sorrow, despair etc.) and that you find you have to refresh your forgiveness. It does not mean you speak to the person who hurt you and tell them you forgive them, this is between you and your Lord. Peace should be restored in your heart and you will be able to move forward. Some offences are so grievous that this process is repeated throughout a lifetime.

If your memories are of sin you have committed and the guilt and shame that are associated with that sin resurface, remind yourself that you have confessed your sin, and then rejoice in the forgiveness that is yours! By all means, learn the lessons that you need to learn from the past and then move on. Don’t wallow in your memories; that is not noble, it is self-inflicted slavery.

Remember that, in Christ, God has freed us from both the guilty past and the innocent past.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11) NASB

Regardless of who you once were, you have been changed. The person who was guilty of that lifestyle has been washed and sanctified, you have been made right with God and now live to honor and glorify Him (Romans 6:18). You are no longer in bondage to your former sinful self, regardless of what your memories remind you of. Your guilt has been handled and you are forgiven in Christ Jesus for the glory of God the Father.

Overcoming memories is difficult, but not impossible. It takes persistence and application of biblical principles and truth. You don’t have to be a slave to your memories, remember you have been set free.