“Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)
Bravo, Paul! At the time you wrote the words above to the Philippians, you were much farther on your Christian pilgrimage than I am. We could be close to the same age, but I still struggle with “forgetting what lies behind” and that is a serious problem toward making progress in one’s spiritual life. So why is “forgetting what lies behind” so troublesome? For me there are two reasons.
First, “forgetting what lies behind” means that we should be able to forget the sins of the past we have confessed and for which we have received forgiveness. While I do not dwell on these continually, every now and then something will remind me of them. I ponder them wondering why I acted as I did or why I said what I said. And what has God said about our confessed transgressions? In Psalm 103 we read, “So great is [God’s] steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west so far [God] removes our transgressions from us.” (11b-12) Micah the prophet speaks of how God will deal with our sins. In Micah 7:19 we read, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Second, “forgetting what lies behind” means we should not rest on our past laurels. It is wonderful as we look back on our lives and recall good deeds that we have done and what we have accomplished in life. In Revelation 2:2 we are told that God knows our deeds and our toil. With God remembering them then there is no need for us to be fixated on them. Titus 2:1 reminds us “to be ready for every good deed.” Colossians 3:17 states, “And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Both of these texts commend us to continue doing good works. There is no room, nor time to bask in the glory of one’s past accomplishments so that we are focused on what we can do today and tomorrow to make life better for others.
I do strain forward for what lies ahead, but I readily acknowledge that I do find myself focusing at times on what lies behind. I need to be more forgetful of the past, because if I were, then I just might be making more progress on my spiritual journey … I just might see more improvement in my becoming more Christ-like.
O God, help us to forget what lies behind us … the past confessed sins and the good deeds. Help us strain forward to what lies ahead as we continue to bear faithful witness to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and to show His compassion in the good works we do. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.