Dealing with the Past, Pt 4
The more I continue in the Christian life, the more I am convinced of how crucial it is to be balanced. In fact, to be balanced as a Christian we will make you seem at times as though you are contradicting yourself and talking ‘out both sides of your mouth’. This is no less the case when it comes to dealing with your past in a biblical way. In the last post we saw that the scripture does not teach that we should totally forget our past sins once they have been forgiven. However, as contradictory as it may sound, the scripture teaches that we should forget the past. Huh?!?!?? See what I mean? It sounds contradictory. But it is not. It is all about perspective. The scripture teaches that from one perspective we are not to forget. It is a means to keep us humble and praise the glorious Christ who has saved us out of our mess. Yet, the scripture teaches us that from another perspective we are to forget it and leave it behind us.
Forget it and Keep Pressing Forward
It is that time again. The summer Olympics are upon us. Many of us enjoy watching the various events in which people from all over the world compete to win the gold. One of the metaphors scripture uses to describe the Christian life is competing in an athletic event. One of the well-known texts where this metaphor is used is Philippians 3:12-14. The Apostle Paul wrote,
Not that I have already attained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid ahold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (NAS)
In the context Paul was expressing his desire to know Christ in an intensely personal way-in way that we bring him into perfect conformity with Him(V9-10). Yes, that is right. He longed for perfection. Using the imagery of a race, he lets us know that he has not reached the finish line and received the prize. In using this metaphor, Paul articulates a spiritual principle that is essential to dealing with our past. Forget it, and keep reaching and pressing forward. Forget it and keep pursuing greater knowledge of Christ and greater conformity to His likeness.
How does that square up with what we saw last time? How can we not forget it and forget it? Isn’t that as impossible as drawing a squared circle? No, it is not. The key to understanding what Paul means by ‘forgetting what lies behind’ is to remember he is using the metaphor of a race. He does not mean forgetting the past absolutely. That would be a contradiction. What does it mean to forget ‘what lies behind’ in a race? Well, imagine that you are in London representing the USA in the 400 meter race. You start off the block with no problem. Everything is going like you planned and trained for until you reach the first turn. You feel yourself getting too close to the runner beside you and in order to avoid a collision you move back over quickly. As you do, CRASH!! You trip and fall and tumble. What should you do at that moment? Should you sit there regretting the split second decision you made that got you into the mess, replaying it in your mind over and over again? There is no time for that. If you do that, you will most definitely fail to gain the prize. You should forget about it-forget about it in the sense that you should get up, dust yourself off and take off like a blaze of lightning. You should forget about it in that you are to keep your head and eyes forward and don’t look back at the point of your stumble. Every time you look back you are losing focus and falling behind in the race. That is the spiritual principle. Though the scripture never teaches us to forget the past absolutely, it does teach us not to live ‘crying over spilled milk’ . We are not to always be replaying it in slow motion, analyzing it-“if only I had zigged instead of zagged.” How do we know the difference between a healthy memory of the past and one that is detrimental to us spiritually? When it paralyzes us in the present and keeps us from pressing on toward the finish line. The text actually applies to more than just sin in the past. It applies to anything in the past. For example, we can begin to so live in the afterglow of positive advancements in the past that we quit pressing forward. The point is that it is crucial to keep your eyes straight ahead and by His strength and do not let anything in your past keep you from striving for the prize.
In the race with you,