Philippians 3:13- “Brother, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
How Paul writes this is rather abrupt. He’s writing and thinking about chasing after maturity, and even though he’s not perfectly mature yet at all—he hasn’t yet made that his own—there is one thing he has made his own. There is one thing that he absolutely has captured, and grabbed ahold of, and this is it: his past does not define him. His past will not hold him back. He’s straining forward, not letting his past hinder him.
For Paul, “what lies behind” is a few things. First, back in verses 5 and 6, he gives all his Pharisaical accomplishments and privilege. He uses all that to make a point with the Jews who are in Philippi trying to add requirements from the law for Christians. So he lists all these advantages he had. How easy it could be for Paul to let those past descriptors be one of two things.
First, he could so easily let that be a source of shame. How so? He was a persecutor of the church, a murderer by our estimation. He hated God’s church, he hated Christ and everything he and his disciples stood for. He sought out Christians to persecute and thought he was so holy by his own standard. He even says that in verse 6: “as to the law, blameless.”
How easy it would be for Paul to be held back from moving forward by questioning whether or not he, of all people, could really be a child of God.
On the other side of this, how easy it would be for Paul to let his past become a source of pride. And I’m talking about, especially, since he became a Christian. Not before becoming a Christian, but what he’s done since he became a Christian. Think about what Paul has accomplished by the time he’s writing this letter to the church at Philippi. He’s started churches. He’s been imprisoned. He’s preached the gospel everywhere and seen thousands upon thousands of people saved! How easy it could be for his past, as in his accomplishments even as a Christian, to hinder him in moving forward. To think, “I’ve already done enough,” or “God’s probably pretty impressed with me.” But Paul doesn’t think like this. Paul strives to forget his past. Not forget as in literally erase the past from his mind, but forget, as in, not dwell on his past. Instead, he’s moving forward.
I don’t know all of your pasts. Maybe you’ve been divorced, or maybe divorced a few times. Maybe you have a long track record of complacency as a Christian. And maybe some of your biggest mistakes in life you can’t blame on not knowing Jesus. Maybe some of your biggest mistakes were made since you’ve known Christ. Listen: God did not forgive only the sins you committed before you became a Christian, and after that, you’re somehow on our own. No! Past, present, and future sins, PAID FOR. And when we truly understand that truth, it compels us toward holiness!
On the other side of it, before or after you become a Christian, maybe you’ve done some great things. Maybe you are an impressive individual. Don’t let that area of your past hinder you by thinking that God saved you because he was impressed.
Do not let your past hinder you from growing in Christ.
Your shame is gone. It’s been nailed to the cross. Your pride is gone; it’s been nailed to the Cross.
Your shame is gone! Your pride is gone! What could possibly be left?! The love of a Father. That’s it.
God won’t ever reject you because you have too much shame. And God certainly didn’t accept you because he was impressed. Instead, you and I are children of God simply because God wanted us as his children. He adopted us. He chose us. He made us his own.
God can be displeased with our disobedience in the same way that I can be displeased with my son’s disobedience. God can be pleased with my obedience in the same way that I can be pleased with my son’s obedience.
But my identity as a child of God does not change according to my wavering obedience.
My identity as a child of God is as sure as Christ’s identity as a sufficient sacrifice for my sin. And guess what? That’s a pretty sure identity! He’s trustworthy.
Relish in that this morning. Savor it, and don’t let the past define you or hinder you from pursuing holiness and moving forward.