"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you (Romans 8:1-9a, Bible in Basic English, emphasis mine)."
Recently, I found myself thinking about the differences between my faith when I was in college, and my faith now. I was reminded of late night prayer sessions with some close friends, where we called on the Lord at the top of our lungs, and for long hours into the early morning. Now, trying to sit and pray for an hour seems next-to-impossible, some days.
Memories like this flooded my mind, and I instantly felt a sense of shame. How could I let myself get so off-track and so distracted? Why would God even want to still use me? I still believe the same things I believed back then, but the fire has not always been burning quite as bright as then. I allowed these thoughts of shame and guilt to pummel me, with no regard to what the memories were meant to accomplish.
People very often respond to these memories in one of two ways: They either write off their youthful zeal as ignorant and naive, or they feel condemned, and beat themselves up for not fanning the flames. Neither of these ways bears any fruit.
Romans 8:1 tells us, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." What God brings up in our minds and hearts, He never brings up to condemn us (I will break here to say that the antonym of "condemn" is not "condone." God does bring up things to challenge us, to keep our hearts broken before Him, and to discipline us -- as well as to encourage and strengthen us --but He does not condemn. There is a big difference between discipline and condemnation). What use are we to God if we deem ourselves useless? God is not trying to beat us over the head with our own humanness. If -- as in my case -- the sin I recognize is inconsistency, complacency, and lack of zeal; then the appropriate response when God brings to mind the passionate faith of my youth is, "God, make me even more hungry for You now than I was then!"
God brings the former days to mind to make us hungry, to give us something to hope for, to aim past. It is not that He is not looking for repentance. Make no mistake about it, He is! But repentance does not sit about it sackloth and ashes saying, "Woe is me! I will never be of any use to the Lord! I used to be on fire for Him, and I will never be zealous like that again!" Repentance does an about face. Repentance says, "Lord, I have been so complacent! Fan those flames into an even greater fire than they were back then."
Isaiah 6 recounts Isaiah meeting God in the temple. When Isaiah sees the Lord "high and exalted, seated on a throne," his first thought is of his own sin. Isaiah cries out, "Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." This is his gut reaction, the recognition of his own sin.
Now, Isaiah could have fled the temple, realizing that his own sin made him kindling wood, in a very real way. Or he could have tried to brush it off (which, in that day, would have led to the kindling wood idea, again). But when God provided a way out, Isaiah repented. An angel pulled a hot coal off the fire and touched it to Isaiah's lips, removing the offense. Then, we hear the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Does Isaiah say, "Well, I am a man of unclean lips, remember? I cannot go." NO!! He says, "Here am I. Send me!"
My memories of my earlier passion for the Lord do not have to evoke a sense of self-loathing or shame. What God intended from those memories is that I be hungry. Hungry to see Him working in my life in the same way now as He did then. Hungry to see even greater things than those. Hungry to walk in the Spirit in such a way that the rest all just falls to the wayside. Not self-condemning, not nonchalant; just hungry to be used by God and to see Him move.
The Enemy of our souls will try to sneak in with shame. He knows that shame renders us useless. When times in your life where you were more or less "holy" than you are now, you need to choose how you will respond. Do you listen to the Enemy, and beat yourself up (even thinking that this self-abasement is holy or humble...gross!); or will you submit your heart to Christ, knowing that you are free from condemnation? Repent and move forward, do not hold yourself back, or put yourself willingly into shackles when Jesus paid everything for your freedom. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!