We live by catchphrases such as , the past is the past; it happened so long ago; forget and move on. They are go-to sayings intended to shift us from a state of wallowing, ruminating, and circling the same mental track. We favor and praise them because they aid us in leaving behind regrettable, undesired experiences. So when I read the Apostle Paul’s prescription to remember in Ephesians 2:11-12 as I participated in the Hinged Bible Study on the book of Ephesians, I found myself struggling to register its importance.
Why are we to remember the former life when later, Paul instructs us to put off the old self? Furthermore, is remembering up to the individual or is remembering to be done in the context of community?
Let us first consider the why.
Why We Remember
Chapter 2 begins by reviewing our history— you were, you once walked, we all once lived— before pivoting in verse 4 with an emphatic, “But God” statement and pointing our attention to the source, reason, and purpose of our redemption. The walk down memory lane is not to elicit guilt or shame but to glory in the difference the gospel makes. God’s “rich mercy” and “great love” “made us alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
The purpose for remembering is also so that we would stand firm in the finished work of the blood of Christ; his blood brought us who were once far off near (verse 13) and inducted us from strangers and aliens to citizens (verse 19). Furthermore, our stories of how we came to be are to be remembered— and remembered viscerally.
In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, seizes an opportune moment to capture the imagination and conscious of elite Londoners. They are gathered aboard a cruise ship and pass Madagascar, a slave ship. As they near it, they are repulsed by a putrid foul smell that Wilberforce names as “the smell of death.” When they try to filter the stench with their handkerchief and hands, Wilberforce confronts them. He says, “Breath in it. Breath it deeply. … Remember that smell. Remember the Madagascar. Remember that God made men equal.”
Remembering is not limited to fond, feel good, celebratory moments but also to those that cause disbelief, grief, and even horror so that we have no appetite for the desires that lead us astray from God and to death.
Second, is remembering a solo venture or is it to be done in community?
Remembering in Community
As Paul’s letter is read aloud, a congregation is gathered together to hear the preached Word of God—much like we did in our own churches pre Covid-19. As they listened, I wonder, did they hear Paul’s teachings and exhortations as a private, individual message that applies to them personally, or did they think and assume corporate responsibility?
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the role of community:
“But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. … God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”
We are designed to be interdependent and connected to others for more reasons than one. In Genesis 2:18 God declared, “It is not good….” There was a moment when creation was incomplete and wanting; Adam was alone, without a co-heir and co-laborer. We inherently know that life’s pleasures, such as a meal is more savory and scrumptious and laughter is more joyful and bountiful when shared with others. And heartaches and tears are more bearable when born together. Moreover, stories are fuller and richer when remembered together.
Remembering in community means that we get to witness the before and after transformations of others and the already and not yet journeys we all go through in life. We remember these stories with and for one another. This is necessary because we are prone to remembering selectively, with biases and distortions. We are also prone to forgetfulness.
The hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing captures this so clearly:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.
Like the indispensable role of the cheering crowd along the trail of a long distance race or a pacemaker who circles back for straggling runners, we need others to remind us of the whole story of how we were once “separated from Christ,” “alienated,” “strangers,” “having no hope and without God in the world.” Because we are so forgetful, we need reminders that we are now in Christ and as a result, have belonging, identity, purpose, and life and life abundantly. May we as a church remember these truths together.
 Ephesians 4:22
 Ephesians 2:4,5,6
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community, p. 22-23.
 Ephesians 2:12
 John 10:10
About the Author:
Alice is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Emmaus Counseling and Consulting Services (emmausccs.com) where she offers gospel-centered therapy to the DC Metro area. She finds deep fulfillment in engaging people’s stories and bearing witness to the good work of God to redeem and restore. She is married to her husband, a pastor at Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Centreville, VA and they raise their two high-school-age daughters. Her past times include treasure hunting at thrift stores and catching up with friends over a cup of coffee.