Baggage or Biography?

“Yeah, He’s Got Baggage.”

Recently I was talking to a friend about some of the ongoing difficulties my past sins have caused, and how I see myself. He used an interesting term to frame what I was doing: holding on to emotional and spiritual baggage. And baggage is an interesting description. It’s something you drag along behind you, and if you have very much of it, it gets expensive, fast. You constantly have to make accommodations for it, and it’s a huge hassle. But why go through all that hassle? Well, because you personally own that baggage, and it’s your responsibility. You have to keep track of it and protect it, and you can bet if you ask anyone else to do that for you, they’ll charge you through the nose – because it’s a hassle for them, too. The problem is that you can’t really travel without baggage; from money, to clothes, to the junk you paid way too much for at the souvenir shop.

It’s so easy to view my life through that lens. These temptations I experience, the things I’ve done and seen, spending five years on court-ordered probation, and being on the U.S. sex offender registry – just to name a few things. These can all feel like baggage in my life. It’s tempting to see my circumstances as limited by an ever-growing list of the consequences of my sins. To say to myself, “I shouldn’t expect God to bless me or use me in his kingdom, because I’ve committed X sin. Yeah, I guess I’m forgiven, but I’m benched, and I’ll probably never flourish in life.” It’s tempting to resign myself to low and solitary expectations. 

I also grapple with uneasy questions: Can I ever marry? Who would even want to marry me? How do I build deep friendships without bringing up my baggage? What if the laws change, and I’m forced to move? What if I can’t find anywhere to live, and end up on the street? What if I’m doxxed? What if people reject me in disgust, or fear of association? This song sums up my fears succinctly:

"Will my weakness for an hour make me suffer for a lifetime?
Is there any way to be made whole again?
If I'm healed, renewed, and find forgiveness;
Find the strength I've never had-
Will my scars forever ruin all God's plan?"
-Stacie Orrico, Strong Enough

Sometimes I’ve avoided or pulled away from what would otherwise be good friendships with other people because I didn’t want to have to deal with my baggage. I mean, these things can feel like an exhausting burden to me, so of course they would be an annoying burden to other people too, right? And perhaps most of all in this, I fear that if I do try, things still won’t work out, and failure and disappointment will crush me. Sometimes, I’m barely hanging on as it is.

“I’ll Take That For You.”

Friends, this is a trap Satan wants to get all of us in! Yes, the earthly consequences of past sins are real. And to some extent, they do limit what I can do and the freedom I have. This blog is by no means some prosperity gospel nonsense. But even so, none of these things limit God’s promise to make me a new and holy creation! When I close my eyes to the ways God is working in me and through me, I am really choosing the sin of disbelief, cloaked in self-pity. Instead, I need to hold firmly to what God has said in Scripture.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

-Colossians 2:13‭-‬15

Deeply understanding the meaning of forgiveness is imperative to having a relationship with God. He – not ourselves – holds the highest authority over us and our place in the world. We don’t tend to think about it often or deeply, but that includes our history, and the things we consider baggage. This is one of the core triumphal themes Paul wrote about in his letter to the church in Rome:

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

-Romans 8:28-30

Did you catch that? “Conformed to the image of his Son… glorified.” All throughout Scripture, we can find this pattern of God taking painful and unworthy situations from the past and weaving them together to make something beautiful in the lives of those who listened to and followed him. When Jesus asked Simon Peter “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19) he was addressing some very recent baggage in Peter’s life; when just a few days earlier, Simon had denied that he even knew Jesus! Talk about a pathetic and unreliable love! And yet, Jesus took the time to reaffirm his life-mission for Peter, and Peter’s true love for Jesus that was at the heart of this mission.

“Let’s Walk Together, You And Me.”

This all culminates in how I can give Jesus’ love to others, and receive it as well. Because the truth is, Jesus carries the baggage of all who are saved! All of the shame, regret, fear, and pain. We do feel these things, but we are free from the burden that would otherwise crush us, for “he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). I don’t need to avoid other peoples’ baggage, and if they are in Christ, they don’t need to avoid mine. Because the truth is, we have all traded our baggage for Christ’s grace.

Pedophilic temptations and previous acts of sexual abuse are part of my biography, but they’re not the main plot-line. The most important part of my story is that I love and follow Jesus. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from Matthew West- History.

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