Yesterday’s are sinister. They’re filled with unfinished projects, incomplete assignments, unkind words, and unsaid feelings, among many other fragments of life that threaten today. Yesterday is a haunting memory for most of us. Speaking from experience, I don’t like to think about yesterday, about the past, knowing all the instances in which I’ve failed or fallen — flat on my face most of the time.
I can remember all the thoughts that weren’t supposed to come out, piercing the souls of others, disarming them. I can remember all the thoughts I kept inside which could’ve been words that invigorated them or propelled them forward. Oftentimes, my past is like a grade-school bully, intimidating and menacing me, reminding me of all the ways and times I’ve flunked at life. It’s always there, telling me that I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not popular enough — which naturally leads to a reality of unsuccess and unmet expectations. Instead of a yesterday where all our troubles seem far away, often they’re more real than ever. Yesterday’s garbage threatens today’s beauty.
The Law does that to us. The Law functions as an incipient reminder of all the manners and methods we’ve flunked and fallen short. It shines a bright, beaming light on all our shortcomings. And instead of a bully that takes away our lunch-money, this tyrannical entity takes away our life. In lieu of pocket-change, this bully deals in condemnation. This constant disapproval works to not only short-change our enjoyment of the present but rob our hope of the future. A past that’s completely botched and absolutely screwed up prompts thoughts and fears that because of our unlovely history we can never be loved.
But the glory of God’s gospel is that it reveals those barbs to be absolutely impotent — the threats of yesterday are emptied by the cross. The regret of yesterday gets its comeuppance in the present power of God’s victorious grace. Jesus’s cross expunges yesterday’s garbage by redeeming you from it, rescuing you out of it, and removing it forever from your record. (Col 2:14–15) I like how Brandon Hanson puts it when he writes:
Instead of giving us yesterday to just screw it up all over again, God gives us a yesterday unstained by yesterday’s sins . . . God’s love and forgiveness are not partial, nor based on conditions. There are no strings attached. He doesn’t forgive us based on our merit, or some foreknowledge that we will prove ourselves worthy of his forgiveness and make it up to him someday. He just forgives . . . This is far better than a mulligan, second chance, or do-over. In the meantime while we’re wringing our hands and worrying about yesterday, God in Christ has stepped into all our yesterdays (and today, and tomorrow) and expunged all transgressions from them. He has mopped the filthy room of yesterday with the body of his only begotten Son, and his blood has cleansed us from all unrighteousness.
This reality is really hard to believe. Actually, I’d say it’s impossible to fully come to grips with our right standing before the Father by the grace of his Son without the Spirit’s continual stoking of remembrance of the cross.
The regrets of yesterday will eat you alive and bury you in their wake if not for a steadied and stayed mind resting on Jesus’s gospel. The lie of the world says that to defeat regret, “just forgive yourself” — but the hope of the cross and the glory of the gospel is that you’re already forgiven, you stand redeemed! The promise of the gospel is not only for a better tomorrow in the presence of Christ but for a new past in the sin-erasing death of the Savior, which ensures a hopeful, joyful present life in the company of God’s children.