The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians writes, “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,” Philippians 3:13-14.
Last year is behind us and the new year lies ahead. For some it will be a time of reflection of the past year, and a time to set new goals, or revive old ones. Paul’s words ring with renewed relevance during this time of reflection and resolutions.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul is profoundly practical here.
The past is done; it cannot be changed. No amount of contemplation will change it. So what should be our response to the past and where should we focus our thoughts?
Thoughtful analysis of last year’s mistakes and failures can help us recognize where we went wrong so that we do not repeat them. Once the analysis is done dwelling on the past is not helpful. Morbid musing on our past can paralyze present action, and forestall future progress. Don’t let the past become a prison.
The same can be said of our sins. Some analysis is helpful if we do not want to repeat our folly. But only repentance of our sins and the forgiveness of Christ can clear the record. Guilt can thwart our progress. Genuine repentance, the decision to turn from sin, brings genuine forgiveness. With a clean slate we need to forget, and not allow our conscience to cripple us from taking our place in the cause of Christ.
We also need to forget any accomplishments or successes. I do not mean to forget how we did these things; we need to remember how we achieved success in order to build on these and accomplish more. But in another sense, we need to forget so that we are not lulled into the attitude that we can rest on our laurels.
There is nothing wrong in glorifying God through our successes and accomplishments and celebrating them. We merely need to temper theses things with the knowledge that as long as we have breath, and there are those who do not know Christ, our work is not finished.
By “forgetting what lies behind” we can reach unhindered “forward to what lies ahead.” What lies ahead is God effecting in us our ongoing transformation into the image of His Son Christ Jesus. Our character, the person we are becoming in Christ, is the only thing that will survive this life, and into eternity.
Here is a key point. Paul is talking about himself. As an apostle of Christ he is duty bound to set an example for other believers, but he is primarily responsible for his own walk with God. God has not called me to criticize another; He has called me to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, to follow Him.