Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…
2 Corinthians 5: 16-18
When we entered into the heart of Christ, we were born again. That’s the truism that even atheists know, the concept that they see as a cliché. We are born again, and have been forgiven the sins of the past. It’s seen as some kind of almost literal ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card, a loophole: anyone, after all, could therefore become born again and so get out of having to accept the blame for, or the consequences of, a lifetime of regrettable actions.
It’s typical of a culture focused entirely upon guilt, sin, blame and the failures of the old to focus upon that when discussing a phenomenon based entirely upon redemption, peace, rest and the joy of the new. It’s the only life they know, after all… just as people who’ve never left the country of their birth can’t necessarily really imagine life outside of it, so people who find themselves trapped in a joyless simulacrum of how life should be lived see nothing outside of it.
Luckily, we’re not bound by that kind of parochial thinking: we remember our old lives, but we’re not bound to them any longer. The rest of God can be their rest too… but first the newborn self has to find a way to make its peace with bereavement. Peace, with our own lost and dead selves.
In this context, ghosts are very real things; just as anything we can think of that can have a hold upon us can be very real things. The things that we create are often the most real things there are, at least to us. Just as in Romans 6:11, we’re dead to sin, and alive to God… but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t echoes of the past clinging onto us, compelling us to turn around.
William Faulkner wrote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That’s precisely the kind of thinking that typifies the carnal world we’ve left behind, and yet that’s the world we grew up in. The thought processes that are ingrained in us are difficult to leave behind, like muscle memory. We’re trained by life to think that our cause is hopeless, where God wants us moved by death to see hope all around. As newborn creatures, we’re charged to look ahead, always to look ahead: but we have the memory of the dead thing we used to be, the old life we used to live, and memory is a powerful tool. We can find our way back to places we haven’t visited for years from memory. We can visit our old homes, rediscover the places we used to play, and in a corner of that house we can find someone we barely recognize sitting there waiting for us. The past is dead; but the dead are only past if we allow them to rest.
God brings His rest to us in order that His grace can be made manifest in our lives. He has no time for looking back, and neither should we – but that’s easier said than done. When struggling with this, always remember that we struggle with a life and a world that we have put down and turned our backs upon. It’s all very well to turn your back upon something, but you need to leave it behind as well!
Walk on. Say your goodbyes. It’s not a figure of speech or a metaphor, it’s a fact of spiritual life: your old self is dead, and you are a newborn child in Christ, and children shouldn’t play with dead things. The ghost that clings to us is one of our own making, because the dead do not struggle. That’s one of their defining characteristics. We are not dead. We are alive, and more alive and more alive and more alive than we’ve ever been before. Our day should begin with rest, in the majesty and awe-inspiring completeness of God, and in the accomplishments of Christ. Every day should begin in that way. Consider it a spiritual breakfast, the most important meal of the day.
Every day we are born anew. Learn to rejoice in that rebirth, and remember: you are no longer struggling with sin, and sin is most certainly no longer struggling with you. Rather, you are delighting in righteousness, and righteousness is delighting in you.