Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 KJV)
I'm often haunted by my past blunders, the times my feet slipped, and the times I missed the mark. As I talk to other Christians, I find that some of them share the same grief. The apostle Paul encourages us to leave the past behind and look forward to what lies ahead.
Prior to Paul’s conversion, he was known as Saul of Tarsus, an overzealous Pharisee who persecuted the Christian church. Saul behaved like a wild man, breathing out murderous threats against believers, going into their homes and dragging them off to prison. Eager to stamp out the Christian faith, he went to the High Priest in Jerusalem and requested authority to arrest Christians in Damascus. As he was nearing the city, a bright light from Heaven shined around him. Saul was struck blind, and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul replied, “Who is speaking?” The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Arise and go into the city and wait for further instructions.” (Acts 9:5-6). The men traveling with Saul stood speechless, for they heard a voice but saw no one. They led Paul by the hand into Damascus, and he was there three days, blind, and without food and drink. Ananias, a devout follower of Christ, was sent to restore Saul’s sight and to baptize him. Saul wasted no time and began preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. The people who heard him were afraid, for they knew he had persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. The former persecutor of Christ took the message of salvation to the Gentiles, authored 13 Epistles in the New Testament, and was a preacher, teacher, church founder, and missionary who helped shape the history of Christianity.
Paul spoke from experience when he said to leave the past behind, for he had to bear the memory of persecuting innocent Christians. Rather than be a prisoner of his past, he embraced God’s forgiveness and went on to do great things for Christ.
Some ask, “How is it possible to forget the past when I’m reaping the consequences of past sins?” Paul’s exhortation to forget the past does not mean all memory of the past is erased. Paul never forgot his former life and called himself the chief of sinners. He encourages Christians to press on in their faith and be all they can be for Jesus. Through God's grace and forgiveness, Christians can move ahead without being held captive by wrong choices, sins, and failures. Faith moves forward and paves the way to blessings and new beginnings. The mistakes and blunders of the past do not have the final word – grace and forgiveness do.
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