Learning from the Past

They were condemned to repeat the same sins as all of their ancestors, not having faith in the Lord.

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

This seems like a common-sense statement. If I can remember the past, I can avoid making the same mistakes (sins) as I have before and therefore avoided the same consequences of those sins.

As a father I can definitely relate to this as I have raised my children, reminding them, again and again, to clean up after they are done playing or telling them to do their homework right the first time, so they don’t have to do it again. It seems that half of my parenting is reminding them of their past so that they do not repeat it in the future.

But who am I kidding, this is not just a problem of youth. I myself have been caught in this same cycle over and over again in my adult life. Not keeping up on the maintenance of my car, only to have to pay more to repair an issue that I have caused or waiting too long to trim the trees only to have to spend the entire weekend trimming and cleaning or not spending the appropriate time with the Lord, only to find myself engulfed in stress and anxiety trying to do everything through my own ability (or inability). It seems as though we are programmed to ignore the wisdom of learning from our past and condemned to keep returning to the behaviors that we know will not lead us to success (peace).

This is in part because of the curse of our fallen nature. When Adam and Eve took that first bite of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they forever broke faith with the Lord and were condemned to a life of fighting between faithfulness and unfaithfulness (Genesis 3:7). They would have to learn this lesson in a very harsh reality in a broken world that their sin created. Unfortunately for them, they did not have a past to reflect on to avoid this mistake.

Since the original sin of Adam and Eve, we can read about numerous examples of not learning from the past all throughout the Old and New Testament. The pattern of mankind first revering the Lord and then over time slipping further and further away until the Lord needs to give a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder to get back on track. From the Lord having to correct the sins of Noah’s time, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or even the Israelites and their rebellion in the desert after all that the Lord did for them in Egypt.

We see that mankind is predisposed to return to the sins of the past. It must have seemed unfathomable for prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah, the number of times that they needed to remind the Israelites to return to the Lord and look away from their idols, and yet the Israelites continued to turn back to the ways of their past, repeating the same sins over and over from generation to generation.

When Jesus first began his ministry, He had to remind a whole new generation of Israelites of their past and what they should have learned from it.

Even the disciples were not immune to this. Jesus’ disciples, after witnessing Jesus’ miracles, tried to cast out a demon from a man’s son and could not. The man came to Jesus and His reply to the disciples was “Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” (Matthew 17:17). His own disciples had not learned the lessons that Jesus had been teaching them during the time they were together. Later, they asked, “Why could not we cast him out?” Jesus replied to them; “Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, “Remove hence to a yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:19).

I’m sure their ears must have been ringing from all the stories of their upbringing learning about Abraham and his faith, David and his how he overcame so much to become the man after God’s own heart through his faith and countless other examples of the Lord’s faithfulness.

How could they have not seen and believed in Jesus and His divine power after seeing Him perform all of these miracles. They were condemned to repeat the same sins as all of their ancestors, not having faith in the Lord.

So, are we also condemned to continually repeat the same sins that we made in our past?

I know that I do not want to. I want to learn from them and be better. How, then, can I remember all the things that the Lord Jesus has done in my life and trust Him so that I can truly live in peace?

The answer is right there in Matthew 17:19; “If ye have faith . . .” The Lord Jesus lets us know the secret to overcome our fallen human nature, it is to have faith in the one who has died on the cross for not only our past sins but also our future sins as well. We can have confidence that if we rely completely on the Lord and have faith the size of a seed, that nothing, including not repeating our past, is impossible. Praise Jesus!

Discerning Reflection: How can I look back and remember the past examples in the Bible and in my own life of how the Lord has been faithful so that I am not condemned to a cycle of repeating my sins? What steps can I take today to make sure that my faith in Jesus grows? What is one thing that I can be faithful in, to change this pattern?

Prayer: Lord, I pray today that you give me the faith of a mustard seed so that I can move the mountains in my life and not be condemned to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Help me to trust in you so that I can make each day a better day than the past and not just the same day over and over. Allow me to move forward into maturity with you, so that I can look back and say that, through you and your example of faithfulness, I was able to overcome the curse of repeating my unfaithfulness. I pray that when you return, I am found is a position to escape because of my faithfulness to you.


Written by Craig Pearson


This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Discerning Dad

Featured Image by Daniel Watson on Unsplash



The views and opinions expressed by Kingdom Winds Collective Members, authors, and contributors are their own and do not represent the views of Kingdom Winds LLC.

About the Author

Tim Ferrara, Founder of Discerning Dad (www.discerning-dad.com). Background in the church all my life. Management experience in the work place. Elder at church and Chairman of the Board of Directors. Husband and father.