Too many of us are handcuffed by our past. God has called us, equipped us and put us in place but we fail to rise up to our calling because we continue to limit ourselves according to what we were or what we have done. We are afraid. I am not sure that we are afraid of failing or if we are afraid of being called impostors. We know that people know our past so who are we to try to be anything different, especially so radically different? We can say with David:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:3)
Now imagine if your past was known throughout the world. Imagine if people in the Body of Christ had suffered at your hands. Imagine if thousands of people blamed you for the lose of their home, for being forced to move away from family, for having to learn new languages, new customs in a new country. Now imagine you were told by God to go to these same people to encourage them with the gospel. Would you do it, or would your past handcuff you?
Perhaps we can begin to understand the faith and obedience apostle Paul had to show by doing this. It is different then going to those who harmed you. Giving forgiveness is one thing, seeking it is another. It takes a lot of confidence in God to face those you have harmed and be God's representative to them. The world and even some in the Church would say you are disqualified, but not God:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
There was always this sense in Paul that his sin was always before him. It is not that he did not accept God's forgiveness nor that he did not forgive himself, he just always remembered what he was saved from. It kept him humble and appreciative of God's grace. However, he also knew the value of that grace and would not allow his past to prevent his present:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
It was by that grace that Paul was able to stand before those people he had sent to flight during his persecution of the Church and to minister to them by the Spirit. We hope it was also by that same grace that they forgave and accepted Paul and the message he bore.
It is this grace that allowed Paul to say "I am what I am". There is the key to those handcuffs. By the grace of God I am what I am. Paul said that he did not deserve this but he found himself in this position because of God's grace. We deserve death not life but by God's grace we have life in abundance. We deserve to be kicked to the curb because of our past but by God's grace we are more than forgiven, we are also called to serve. We can't do anything about the perceptions of others who know our past but we can know who we are in Jesus today. We are who we are because of what Jesus has done, not that we deserved it but we have received it by his grace.
You are real, you are authentic, you have been called by God, you have received his grace. Your past is real but it is now forgiven so allow it to remind you of God's grace but today live in his love, forgiveness and power to do what he has called you to do. No excuses are accepted. You are what you are by the grace of Jesus Christ.