“Not that I [the Apostle Paul]…have already been perfected, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” (1 Philippians 3:12-14)
In 1998, I was working on an archaeological dig in Israel as a coursework component of my Masters degree in Ancient History. It is not nearly as romantic as it sounds. In fact, most of the work, with its arduous digging in the desert sun, was equivalent to heavy gardening on a very hot summer’s day. In the course of one such day a twenty-something Israeli girl asked me with some incredulity, “Why have you travelled all the way from Australia to Israel to do this?” I replied simply, “because I love history.” “Ahh history,” She groaned. “This country has too much history.”
“History” can indeed be a burden as many Israelis and Palestinians know only too well. But our personal histories can be similarly burdensome. The longer we live, the more hurts we can accumulate; the more battle-weary we can become with life’s struggles and disappointments; the more conscious we become of our own sin and shortcomings. When a crowd brought a woman accused of adultery and sought to stone her, Jesus challenged them with the demand that the one without sin should cast the first stone. They responded and, “began to go away one at a time, the older ones first” (John 8:9). Age had clearly sharpened the accusers’ sense of their own moral failings.
Often-times, especially if you are a reflective person, it is your own heart that accuses you most harshly about past actions and misdeeds. We can often forgive others more readily than we can forgive ourselves. But the Bible is clear. Our hearts will not deliver the final verdict at the Last Judgement. “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20). God is “greater than our hearts.” Only He will have the last word on forgiveness…and He has already spoken. He sent Jesus to pay the price for all our sins: past, present and future. Not to forgive yourself is to put yourself above God and place your wisdom above His. Ironically, not forgive yourself is itself a sin that requires forgiveness.
The 1st of January is often a time we take stock of our lives. This is not a new custom. In Roman mythology, Janus, after whom ‘January’ is named, was the god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings. He is most often depicted as having two faces, looking in opposite directions – the future and the past. Logically, therefore, the Romans chose to name the first month of their calendar in Janus’ honour, as the turn of a new year marked a time of looking back at the previous year and looking forward to the next.
However, where we have failed in the past year or indeed the past many years, the God of the Bible would have us learn, but would not have us overly dwell. The present and the future should take a much more prominent position in the forefront of our minds than our past.
Our passage above demonstrates that one of the greatest Christians the world has known, the Apostle Paul, was painfully aware that he fell short of the standards God expected of him. He knew he was not yet perfect. He didn’t celebrate the fact, but nor did he allow it to hobble him in his walk with God. He chose to lay aside his past by, “forgetting what is behind,” and instead looked to the future by, “straining toward,” the goal God had set before him. And this is precisely what we all need to do, not just on the 1st of January, but as a habit of our everyday lives.
The new year provides many with a determination to do things better in the future. Many of us will make resolutions to lose weight, stop smoking, spend more time with our children and set many other worthwhile aims. But the most important resolution one can make at any time is to accept the Lordship of God and the forgiveness He offers through Jesus. If you wait to be perfect before you come to Him, you will never arrive. If you (or I) were perfect, we would not have required a Saviour. Jesus would not have needed to die. But, as the Scriptures declare:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-10)
Therefore, in 2018 God would have you come as you are, but with a determination not to stay as you are. Make this your New Year resolution. You won’t regret it.
For Prayer and Reflection: Confess your sins to God. Ask Him to purify your heart and to extend His Lordship over your life. Understand that this is a process and not simply an “event.” Ask Him to lead you through to a better life ahead. Forgive yourself and others of the hurts and misdeeds of the past and ask for God’s help to do better in the future.
For Further Reading: 1 John 1
That was a very interesting read Andrew and a timely reminder of God’s goodness and grace. I very much like the notion of looking forward rather than back. It is sobering to think that whilst we can have a love of history, for some people in certain parts of the world history is associated with personal stories of hurt and suffering. Praise God we don’t have to live in the past.
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Nations can have so much ‘history’ with other nations that where hurt and pain is involved it is impossible (and unfruitful) to try to resolve all the faults: I am thinking of the Balkans and the Middle East, where if you point to a single injustice on one side, you are met with a counter injustice on the other…and it can literally go on forever. Personal relationships can be like this too. We can have so much ‘history’ with some people, that is impossible to resolve each single issue and unhelpful to attempt to do so. To move forward, both parties need to draw a line and put history behind them and decide to move on (or out) of each others lives.
I think the closer we walk with the Lord, the more our hearts condemn us when we live Romans 7:15. What was so helpful about your reflection for me, was to realize there is a boundary – that to dwell on our sin for too long and condemn ourselves unendingly, is to put ourselves above God and place our wisdom above His. I had never really looked at it that way. But how true! This morning I was reading about Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle (Salvation Army). The secret of his spiritual effectiveness was the flow of divine life through him – which flow had been made possible because “the channel had been cleansed and was kept clean”. 1 John 1: 8-10 transformed his life. Oh what a Saviour.
How true Lyndal…and yet easier said than done. It is so easy to allow ourselves to ruminate in an endless cycle upon our own misdeeds…to no beneficial end. And yet we have a God who promises to ‘remember our sins no more.’ Interestingly, in my experience with others, when I keep accounts (of wrongs) short and forgive quickly, in a few years I can actually forget what the upset was all about. I am less successful, however, at forgetting my own failings. I once heard a saying, “To say I can forgive, but not forget, is not to forgive.” There is a certain truth to this.