Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, and the arrival of the New Year have all come and gone. It is fun having all of these celebrations close together, but it can also cause them go by in a blur. I hope you and your families were able to slow down and joyously celebrate these holidays according to your faith and preferences.
New Year’s Resolutions. No January article is complete without at least mentioning the dreaded (for some) New Year’s Resolutions. I recently did an internet search using the phrase “new years resolutions 2015” that resulted in 46,800,000 results. The first page of search results shows the usual resolution topics including better eating, getting more exercise, drinking less alcohol, and better management of finances, time, etc.
These are all worthy pursuits that many of us have had to make at some point in our lives. Perhaps some of us need to revisit these topics in 2015. Eating less and getting more exercise is certainly something I need to reintroduce into my life! As important as these most common resolutions can be to our overall well-being, I recently rediscovered something in the Bible that goes beyond the common New Year’s resolutions. Properly understanding and applying this rediscovered principle in our lives will do more than improve our looks; it will truly transform our lives.
In the letter to the Philippian church written by the Apostle Paul we find this:
“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…” (3:13)
Forgetting. Am I the only one who owns a past with things that I wish I could forget? I know I’m not. Even as I write this, certain memories are popping to the surface that I wish I didn’t have. By forgetting Paul isn’t speaking of some kind of mystical memory erasure that eliminates our memories of past bad choices and mistakes. In another letter Paul writes that in his past he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor against the church. Two sentences later he sums it up by describing himself as the foremost of sinners. In another account while on trial, Paul testified of imprisoning many who believed in Jesus, of forcing other believers to reject Jesus, and standing by and condoning the stoning of Stephen (see 1 Timothy 1, Acts 7, and Acts 26 for the full text). Paul obviously had full recollection of his past mistakes, and they were pretty serious.
Reaching. Paul had plenty that was worth forgetting but what did he have that was worth reaching for? Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, in both His death and His resurrection was worth reaching for. Paul knew that one day he would die, and that there was only one way for him to be resurrected, and that way was to know Jesus Christ. And not simply by knowing of the name of Jesus, or knowing some facts about Jesus. Paul had to personally know Jesus so well, that he would be willing to be conformed to His death, meaning that Paul was willing to die to himself and live for Christ, in order to obtain resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the only person in history who has risen from the dead and stayed alive forever. Jesus miraculously raised other people from the grave, but those people eventually returned to the grave. Jesus rose from the grave, made numerous appearances to hundreds of people over a period of about 40 days, and then ascended back into Heaven to sit at God’s right hand. Paul came to understand that this was worth reaching for.
Here is how Paul applied the forgetting and reaching principle in his life:
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)
In between the time that Paul was putting Christians in jail, or worse, and the time that he wrote all of the amazing letters that have been recorded for us in the New Testament, something significant happened that helped him understand how to forget the past and reach forward.
While on the way to Damascus to imprison more Christians Paul had an encounter with Jesus. In this encounter, Paul realized that Jesus was in fact the Lord, whom he had been fighting against. Paul realized that everything he thought he knew about God and religion was wrong. Paul had to admit that he was wrong by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord and Savior. Paul then had to stop doing the things he now knew to be wrong, and start obeying Jesus. And this must take place in order for us to begin to be able to apply the principles of forgetting and reaching in our lives.
As soon as Paul met Jesus, he knew that there was something, or rather someone, worth reaching forward for. Paul learned that in order to reach forward to obtain something better he was going to have to leave the bad choices and mistakes previously made in the past.
This is not easy for anybody to do. There is nothing recorded in the Bible stating that Paul got a “do-over”. There is never any account of believers whom Paul had jailed being released just because Paul later realized he had made a mistake; and from a physical perspective, Stephen stayed dead. Paul lived with these consequences for the rest of his life but he did not stay stuck in his past. He pressed on for the goal of knowing Jesus more and more.
We must do the same. As soon as we accept that Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior, and that it is only by His death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God our sin is forgiven.
“but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 5:7)
This is the good news, that through Jesus our sins are forgiven. The bad news is that nowhere in the Scriptures does it state that the consequences of our sins will be magically removed. Like Paul, there are consequences of the bad choices and mistakes we have made that we can’t undo. We don’t often get a “do-over” either. To borrow a golfing term, mulligans in real life are very few and far between.
So on the one hand, we have Jesus, who wants us to forget about our past and look forward to growing in our relationship with Him. On the other hand, we have a spiritual enemy, who would rather that we wallow around in guilt and self-pity, and spend all of our time remembering and reliving every mistake we ever made.
If we give in and follow the enemy’s path we become paralyzed in the past. If we follow Jesus’ path, we can forget and move forward in our knowledge of and relationship with Him. It sounds like an easy choice, and yet we often struggle to make the easy choice. We sometimes prefer the guilt, self-pity and loathing. And then we wonder why we are just spinning our wheels, kind of muddling our way through life. We wonder why we don’t experience any power or victory in our lives. If you are a true believer in Christ, you have the power to be more than a “muddler”.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also, and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)
“These things (all of chapters 14-16) I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Deep regrets from past mistakes are hard to leave behind; especially if the consequences are very near to you on a regular basis. But Jesus overcame the world. Not the world except for this or that. He overcame everything, and gave you as a believer, the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome your past. One last important thing, you have to give the Holy Spirit permission to unleash this power in your life. God loves you so much that He respects your right to make wrong choices. He loves you so much that He will not force you to do anything, even the right things.
As 2015 begins, rather than making resolutions, I would like to strongly encourage you to spend time alone with God. Ask Him to help you forget your past in the same way that Paul forgot his past, and then ask Him to reveal anew to you just how fantastic and amazing He is. Once you realize this, you won’t want to do anything else but forget and reach and press on, just like Paul.
(article written by Greg Hines, published in The Book Club Magazine, January 2015 issue)