Remembering who God is and who we are is the antidote to grumbling. If we see our world, our lives, and our circumstances through the lens of Jesus’s cross, everything will come into focus. And that clarity of sight will awaken joy in us. It is looking through this lens that we find a deep sense of what it means to be loved by a good and kind heavenly Father.
Here are three examples of how God calls the people of Israel to remember. Rather than just gloss over the past, we are called to recall it, letting the testimony of God’s faithfulness spur us on in love and worship.
1. Remember God’s redemption in order to obey his words.
In Deuteronomy 5:15 God says “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
What does the Sabbath have to do with slavery? Why should Israel remember their former enslavement in Egypt and what does that have to do with keeping the Sabbath? The logic works like this: Only slaves work seven days a week with no breaks, but now God has graciously freed you to rest one day out of seven. You are redeemed and freed people, so live like it. Remember God’s gracious redemption and let it remind you that you’re free to follow God’s ways. You are no longer a slave to an evil taskmaster.
In the same way, we should remember our former enslavement to sin and wickedness. We were slaves to our debased cravings. But now God has rescued us out of darkness into his light so that we might delight ourselves in him. If we are rightly remembering our former condition, we’ll see the joy and beauty of Christ’s commands. Holiness is not a burden — it’s liberation. Remembering what God has done helps us gladly obey his commands. He knows what’s best for us.
2. Remember your former condition in order to be compassionate to others.
God again reminds Israel that they were slaves in Egypt so that they will not pervert justice for the sojourner or fatherless (Deuteronomy 24:17–18). Instead, God commands them to harvest their fields inefficiently for the sake of compassion. Don’t gather everything. Don’t harvest all the way to the edges of your field. Leave some for the sojourner, fatherless, and widow so that “the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 24:19). The logic goes like this: Don’t oppress the weak because you were once weak and oppressed. Remember how you were once in their same shoes and how God watched over you.
Similarly, we should remember how gracious others were when we were spiritually ignorant, close-minded, or much too opinionated for how little we knew. Remember how we were once poor and desperate. Now we should go and do likewise to the oppressed, neglected, and overlooked in our community.
3. Remember your sin in order to delight in God’s forgiveness.
Stunningly God says to Israel that he is giving them the land to possess in spite of their stubbornness. God tells Israel to “remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 9:7).
This is baffling. Doesn’t God forget our sins, and shouldn’t we? Instead we’re instructed to remember how sinful we were. God declares, “Don’t forget how wicked and evil you’ve been. Don’t forget your sin and rebellion against me.” Why? Because your current experience of the grace and kindness of God is wholly unmerited. It’s all grace. Sin reminds us of how lavish — how amazing — God’s forgiveness is. If in the new creation we have memories of our sinful past, it will only awaken in us a greater amazement and wonder that we have been forgiven and reconciled by the blood of the Lamb.
God has redeemed us, in spite of who we are, and we rest in his mercy forever. May the beauty and majesty of the gospel cascade over the shambles of our broken past, and may Jesus be magnified all the more.