In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he encourages his readers to press on in this Christian life using himself as a personal example. This idea of progress or growth in the Christian life can seem a bit overbearing. For some, it brings conviction as to our lack of growth. We've been stuck in the same spot now for some time. For others, it may make us cringe at the idea of having to 'do' something. It may create a legalistic burden. Isn't salvation by grace alone? Either way, the Apostle exhorts us to press on in this Christian life in the same manner he has (vs. 15). But how has Paul pressed on? Specifically, Paul says he presses on by forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead, and by holding true to what he has attained. But why does Paul press on? And, how are we to press on?
In verse 12, Paul spells out the two very connected reasons why he presses on. First, Paul knows he has not yet arrived. He has not obtained his inheritance. He is not perfect. Therefore, he must continue towards the end goal. Moreover, Paul's foundation for pressing on, for growing in this Christian life is the indicative truth that he has been made God's own. The only reason Paul is able to go forth, fervently pressing on, is because he has been gripped by God. He is in the hands of His redeemer. He can run the course because he has been set on the course by God himself.
Continuing, the first way the Apostle says that he presses on is by forgetting what lies behind. In verses 4-9, we see Paul give a testimonial account of what it means to forget what lies behind. In this account, Paul considers his past life of righteousness, cataloguing his past successes and obedience. He then compares this to the righteousness he's received from Christ himself. His conclusion.....
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing
worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered
the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order
that I may gain Christ and be found in him" (vs. 8-9)
To forget what lies behind is to repent of all but Christ. It is to count ALL your past as loss compared to being found in Christ. It means forsaking both our past acts of righteousness and our sin stained past. Paul described himself as blameless according to the law. He followed all the rules. If we compared our lives compared to Paul's, they don't even come close. Our obedience is pathetic compared to his. Yet, he willingly forgets what lies behind. Our past obedience and personal righteousness does not serve us going forward. Our self-righteousness does not lead to knowing Christ. A runner who is constantly looking behind him to see how great he's doing is quickly passed up. When thinking of forgetting our past, our instinct is forget our past failures that weigh us down. This is true. But we also must realize that our past acts of righteousness can prevent us from pressing on from knowing Christ just as much. We must take Paul's example. In this Christian life, to press on, to grow, to know Christ, is to forsake our past righteousness and to cling to Christ, whose worth surpasses everything.
The more obvious application of forgetting what lies behind, is to forget our sin-stained past that weighs us down in this life. While Paul was mainly listing his past acts of righteousness in verses 4-9, he mentions that he was a persecutor of the church. Think about it. Here is Paul, a leader in the church. Wrote 13 letters in the New Testament. Planted churches throughout Asia and Europe. Yet, it wasn't too long ago that Paul murdered Christians for a living. People he know calls brothers and sisters, he once murdered their friends. He had an atrocious past. Imagine the shame of such crimes. Yet, Paul did not let this hinder him from the life God had called him to. He was resolved to forget his past righteousness, but also his past life of shame. I imagine it was hard for Paul to forget this shame. I imagine there were times where he thought that there was NO WAY he could be a minister of the Gospel to the gentiles after the horrible things he had done. But this is a prime example of how, if we are to press on, we must forget what lies in our past. This raises the question, how and why are we able to forget what lies in our past?
As Christians, we forget what lies behind because Jesus died for our past, both our past sin and past righteousness. Jesus lived the perfect life we should have lived. He was perfectly obedient. So we no longer have to hold on to our past obedience, as if it might earn us something. Rather, belonging to God, we possess his perfect righteousness. And, this perfect righteousness makes everything else look like rubbish. More so, Christ died for our sin stained past. Most of us, to some degree, live with the burden of past failures. In the deepest, darkest parts of our souls, we hold on the to shame. And this is the exact thing that weighs us down on this journey. This is what prevents us from pressing on. Past failures leave us paralyzed in fear, unable to get up and move. However, most of us go through our days with the appearance of progress. We put on a facade of 'doing well'. We wear a mask. But, we know the truth. We are sinking. We aren't pressing on. We are just getting by. We're dying inside. It could be the shame of failure in relationships. Failure in being a good husband, wife, son, daughter, friend. It could be the deep-seeded pain of addiction. Or the condemnation from sexual sin or sexual abuse, leaving us feeling perpetually dirty. Whatever it is, every person on this earth has a messy past and deep down is broken in sin....regardless of external appearance.
But, this is not living in light of the Gospel. This is failing to trust in what Jesus accomplished. The Gospel tells us that there is NO MORE SHAME. Christ has taken our guilt. He has taken our condemnation. He died for the secret, hidden shame that no one knows about. At the cross, Jesus carried our sin and shame. He took the curse upon himself so that our brokenness can be restored. This allows us to take off our masks, to shine radiantly as God's beloved children, forgetting our past failures and successes and to press on.
So, Paul's first lesson in pressing on is forgetting what lies behind. This means to repent of all but Christ. And, we are able to do this only because we belong to God. Because of what Jesus did, we can forget what lies behind.