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Leave the Past Behind Teaching in Churches: Is it Effective in Helping Those With a Traumatic Past or Not?

Updated on March 6, 2017

I am believer in Jesus Christ and also a counselor and I often pay special attention to some of the things taught in churches and how many lives are impacted by this. One of the things is the leave the past behind teaching. Here is a passage of scripture where this is taken.

Philippians 3:13-14

13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

We have heard the teaching or concept from pastors and church leaders that the old things are passed away and all things are new. I am a new creation. You have to forget what lies behind and press on.

The statement is absolutely true because:

1. Our past should not define us and imprison us to believe that we will always be rejected, poor, abused, an addict, have bad relationships, that no will love us, and to expect bad things, or that we will be exactly like my parents.

2. We should not have a negative concept our lives and remember all the bad things that happened to you and live in self-pity.

3. We should believe that God has more to offer us than our past experiences, that there are great things ahead for us and God is a God of restoration and we need to live life with faith and hope in Him and take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

But although we adopt this attitude and should, there are things that hinder us from reaching that goal.

One of the disadvantages of the ‘leave the past behind teaching’ is that many believers have covered up things in their lives, their hurts, feelings, thought patterns that are still affecting them today and not even unaware that they are doing this or believe that they are following what Philippians 3:13-14.

There are many people in the church who are affected by things that happened in their past, whether it is abuse, divorce, abandonment, lack of love or whatever it may be. Although they had tried to leave the past behind as taught in churches,those past events kept disrupting their functioning in the present.

Some Examples of this are,

  • A married woman cannot have sexual intercourse with her husband because of memories of being sexual abused as a child.
  • A father suffered from discouragement/depression every time he looks at how his own parents interact his children, because he remembered the high expectations they placed on him and how they raised him to be perfect.
  • A mother losing control, exploding and verbally attacking her four year old daughter, calling her names when she makes a mess.
  • A man came into therapy because his wife was frustrated by his emotional distance with his children

These are four real examples of four actual people who were told by pastors that they need to forget what lies behind and move forward, you are a new creation in Christ, but they were still stuck with the same issues. Because of this 'leave the past teaching', that is not used in a way to bring freedom in many believers, they then go to Christian counseling for some understanding of where certain behaviors are coming from in their present life and were able to get a breakthrough in those areas that kept them bound.

Going back to Philippians 3:13-14

According to Dr. Henry Cloud, In verse 13 ‘those things which are behind’, Paul was not referring to his hurts and situations that require him to forgive someone or even his old sins.

The Past that Paul is referring to,

1. is forgetting his old way of trying to earn righteousness. Paul spent the entire first part of this chapter (3) listing his accomplishments to show to the Philippians how he vainly tried to please God. But it did not work, he says and left this old system behind. He’s found a new faith. In fact, by mentioning his accomplishments earlier in the chapter, he was bringing them to the light, confessing them and grieving them. He never denied what he had done. To the contrary, the apostle models for us the act of bringing one’s past to the light and confessing it.

By Paul's example in Philippians 3, here are some reasons for Exploring the Past

1. Bringing things out of darkness- The past is important because until we deal with it, it is part of what the Bible calls the darkness of our soul. Confessing and bringing things to the light opens up an area of healing, deliverance and transformation to take place.

2. Understanding whom we need to forgive

This can relate to forgiving ourselves, forgiving others or forgiving God. Forgiveness is God’s way of making right those things right that brought pain to ourselves. If we are not sure whom to forgive, we must know what happened to us, name the sin and realize who is guilty. If we have not forgiven those who sinned against us, these sins can rule our soul and become a stronghold in our lives.

Research has shown us that the hurt and abuse people faced as children show themselves in behavioral and relational patterns - patterns that often result from unforgiveness in their hearts. Because they have never forgiven those who hurt them, or believed they have, they may still be unconsciously angry at them.

3. For Healing- God states in Psalm 34:18, that God is close to the brokenhearted and save such as be of a contrite spirit. Psalm 147:3 says God heals the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds. God heals the broken hearted through many ways, but He heals them through His love, His Spirit, His people and the church.

3. Grieving

This is a process of realizing what we have lost, releasing our attachment to a person, goals, dreams, wishes that we can no longer have, feeling the sadness or anger and then letting go. If you do not grieve, you will hold onto things. Past events can really affect us, but our present feelings about the past can.

Matthew 5:4 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Many individuals experience a loss in life, but never grieve. When we lose something important and do not grieve, our heart holds onto the old attachment and get stuck and can’t move forward. You might still carry that grief in your soul today.

4. Turn away from patterns, ways of living, thinking and believing we learned in our families of origin.

We must bring to light patterns we have learned from our parents and other adults if they are against scripture, confess those destructive patterns, disagree with them, and repent from them.


The Old testament listed example after example of God confronting people when they walked in the wicked ways of their fathers (II Chronicles 30:7,8). God indicated that they are repeating generational sin and called them to repentance. He gave them understanding into their behavior.


A Parent divorce more than once

You watched your mom lived with various men, now you continued in the same way and think it is normal.

Your mother's house was a cluttered mess, now yours is the same way

You manipulated and controlled people because that is how people treated you.

You blame, judge, complain because that was what your dad also did

When people deny the sins of their families, they are destined to repeat them. If they never acknowledge habits, even evil patterns of relating they blindly go on repeating them. We must come to recognize that the way our families/parents lived, were not pleasing to God, bring these patterns to light, confess them, disagree with them, repent and turn from them and turn to God's way of living.

The main core of repentance is looking at the past to see what you have learned, from whom you learned it, and how you are repeating that pattern today.

The disadvantage of exploring the past is that a person can be analyzing everything in their past to get healed and whole, that it consumes his/her whole day and time and they are not living for today or for God's purpose. I have met people who are nursing the wounds of the past and believing that they will always be rejected.

When the Israelites complained to Moses that they wanted to revert to Egypt and go back to a life of slavery because that’s what they knew, God wanted them to have a new set of eyes (vision) and a new direction new, a land flowing with milk and honey. God does not want us to relive the past or remain believing our past will dictate our present and future.

The Leave the Past Behind teaching is good if it relates to the past in this way, but if certain behaviors begin to surface and you believe that it is from a past relationship, childhood, or not sure what's going on, you may have applied scripture verses if it is anger problem for example, but still no breakthrough. Things like this should be not covered up, but brought to light, through prayer and asking God where is this behavior of mine is coming from,so you can be free to forget the former things and embrace the new things through God’s promises.


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