Let’s take our Bibles and turn back to Philippians chapter 3 and this morning we’re interested in verses 12 through 16. But we need to read all the way down from verse one to set the context for those. At midnight tonight, a new year will begin, as you’re well aware, and just like every time that happens, it’s always hard for me to believe how fast the prior year came and went. It seems like it was just January already and the new year can bring a sense of excitement as we look forward to a fresh start and new goals and I don’t know about you, but that excitement can sometimes begin to feel overwhelming because for most of us, there are so many things that we know we need to improve upon. I googled the top 10 New Year’s resolutions and I’ll just give you the top five and they won’t surprise you because they’re among the typical. Number one is save more money; number two is exercise more; three is eat healthier; four is spend more time with friends and family; and five is lose weight.
I think those are influenced by the fact that we all just got done spending a lot of time with family eating a bunch of fattening food. Right? That’s on our minds and you know each of us could add to that list a dozen or more goals that are personal to us, and especially as Christians we have very unique desires because the spirit of God lives within us.
I mentioned last week the goal of reading through the Bible in the new year, and I would encourage you to endeavor to do that. We may also have the goal of reading more Christian books, or praying more, or making it a point to develop a discipling relationship with someone. Or maybe to evangelize more, and so forth. We could just keep going, and all of these goals are worthy, not just the uniquely Christian goals, but the others are worthy goals as well…like saving money and eating better. Those are good things; but even as I’ve listed those off, you probably felt the weight of them kind of descending upon you and your motivation beginning to short circuit because we’re all busy and we all have only so much time in a day and a week, and we all only have so much mental emotional bandwidth. And so when we look at our goals in these terms, and they just keep piling on one another, and we see all the things that we need to improve upon, we start to feel overwhelmed and ready to quit before we even get started. I remember when I was in junior college. I was just a dumb kid and I kept signing up for class after class, and I didn’t have a good advisor. Whoever told me I needed to fulfill certain requirements, so I just kept signing up for classes; and after a couple of years I realized, you know, my friends are beginning to move on from here, and I looked at how many credits I racked up and it was somewhere in the neighborhood of like 70 credits; and I only need 60 to graduate, so I went to the advisor. I said “Hey, what’s up with this? What do I need to do to get out of here?” And he said, “Well, you gotta take these classes,” and one of them was called ‘Becoming a Master Student.’ I thought that might’ve been helpful a long time ago. I’m supposed to do that, but I remember taking that class and learning things, you know, ‘how to get organized,’ ‘How to prioritize,’ ‘How to manage time.’ It was kind of like the seven habits of highly successful people for college students kind of course, and then throughout college I I took leadership courses; and I learned from the gurus how to prioritize decisions and manage time in order to become more efficient and more effective and all of those things. And according to the conventional wisdom of the leadership experts, when you’re faced with a plethora of decisions that are all worthy, you have to figure out what your main objective is, and then prioritize those decisions accordingly. And as you do, the main thing becomes crystallized in your mind, and the way you use your time and energy begins to fall under that primary goal. That’s conventional wisdom, and for most of you you’re thinking that’s kind of common sense, right?
But we’re here to examine the scriptures, so what does all that have to do with anything? But I would warn you that we must not make such a dichotomy between the secular and the sacred that we dismiss common sense. One of my spiritual heroes, Martin Lloyd Jones, was very matter-of-fact about this point. He said this: there are some people who seem to think that it is wrong for a Christian ever to use common sense; they seem to think that they must always do everything in an exclusively spiritual manner. Now that seems to me to be very unscriptural. The Christian is in no respect inferior to the unbeliever; he is always superior. The Christian cannot only do everything the unbeliever does, he can do even more so. The fact is that what the world calls conventional wisdom, or common sense, is often times merely principles drawn from the Christian worldview that is ultimately, whether they know it or not, drawn from the word of God.
Which brings me to the passage at hand, and what it teaches us about these very things…like priorities and decisions, and time management. Philippians three is a very personal portion of scripture. It’s the apostle Paul giving us a peek into his very heart. It’s like he’s drawing back the curtains, so that we can see what’s inside and what motivated him, and what his priorities were. And this is very fascinating because in all of church history, I think we would all say that we’re hard pressed to find an example of a Christian, who is more driven, and who accomplished more for the advance of the kingdom of God than the apostle Paul. We all think we’re busy, but if you examine the record of Acts and the insights that we find from the letters of Paul, he puts most of us to shame in what we would refer to as busy.
So the question is, how did he do it? What was the key to all of this? And the answer to that is that Paul understood the primary objective of the Christian life; and he prioritized everything under that heading, so that with all the mini decisions and people and places and problems that he was in his personal life or in his ministry, he boiled it all down to one thing. Isn’t that what he says there? “One thing I do.” Matthew Harmon says in contrast to 12 steps or seven laws or five principles or 40 days, Paul says, ‘One thing I do.” Paul understood that as Romans 8:29 says, the goal of the Christian life is that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and therefore Paul devoted his attention to this one thing, which was, as he says here, ‘to press on toward that goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ That is to say, that he concentrated with laser focus on knowing more of Christ, and pursuing the practical outworking of that knowledge in his life, and that mindset framed everything he did, so that every decision he made, and every conversation he had, and every problem he approached, was under this over-arching priority. And the reason why we have this in our Bible is to teach us to do the same.
Look at verse 17; he says, “Join in imitating me.” That’s what Paul said. “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And if you and I will grab a hold of what the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, set forth for us in these few short verses, all of our good desires will fall into place under that one, all-consuming thing, which is, as we’ve noted, “To press on to the goal of Christ likeness.” Paul uses that term twice in this passage; “Press on.” And it’s a word that means to move rapidly towards something decisively toward an objective. And in a negative sense, he actually uses this word in verse six to speak of how he persecuted the church; so in a negative context, this word can mean persecution. It’s pursuing something vigorously almost violently. It’s an action word that brings to mind the idea of being in hot pursuit of a goal and this is something that right at the outset here teaches us a fundamental fact about the Christian life: the Christian life is active. It’s always moving toward Christ lightness to one degree or another.
You know, if something is not moving, it’s likely dead; and perhaps the reason why you stayed so stagnant in your Christian life, despite the fact that you professed Christ for years and even decades perhaps…perhaps it’s because you’re still dead in your trespasses and sins; you’ve never truly been born again. Or perhaps it’s because you’ve been told that spiritual growth is a passive endeavor; that you’re just to ‘let go and let God;’ just pray and God will change you. Here we find that those who are alive in Christ are active; and that action is something that is induced by the spirit of God, who not only made us alive, but who lives within us. And Paul said as much in chapter 2; look at chapter 2 versus 12 and 13. He says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed so now not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Not work for your salvation, but work it out! It’s active. Why? Because God is working those desires within you, and you’re to live that out for His glory. And there’s a tension here. In the New Testament, we are saved by grace through faith alone. That is a monistic action. It’s one action; God’s action. But sanctification is a synergistic work. God is working in us and He calls us to work that out, and we see the tension of this work of God in us, and working it out spelled out beautifully in Paul’s own testimony in verse 12 of chapter 3, where he says, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
What does he mean by that? Well, he means that there was a time when he was on the road to Damascus to round up Christians and to imprison them and beat them and compel them to blaspheme; and perhaps even kill them! And Christ appeared to him and changed the entire course of his life. We know that well if we’ve been Christians for any amount of time. If you don’t, you can read it for yourself in Acts chapter 9. We may not have had a vision of the risen Christ ourselves, but if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, you know there was a decisive time in your life, you may not be able to put the time and date on it. You may; most Christians don’t; I can’t. But there was a season in your life where God grabbed a hold of you, and He did something to you; and He drew you to himself, and in an unexplainable way, and he made you alive and your life was set on a totally different trajectory. So that as you look back now you would have never thought this would have been you. And this is the sovereign work of God. We are saved by grace; it’s a gift of God. And when God saves us, he seals us for the day of redemption with the Spirit of God.
W’ere told in Ephesians chapter 1 verse 14, Paul says in chapter 1 of this letter—turn back there—look at verse six… one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. He says, “I am sure of this: I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He began it, and he will bring it to completion. This is what we call the doctrine of perseverance; this balancing act of the fact that God has made us alive, but if we are alive, we will keep pressing on. And it’s interesting here the word Paul uses in verse 12 of chapter 3 to describe both Christ, making him his own, and his pursuit of making Christ his own, is an intensive form of a word that means to lay hold of. And just press on is almost violently active as we said, so this word could be translated seize; it’s that the idea that Christ seized Paul on that Damascus Road and changed everything. And now Paul is grasping with everything he has to seize Christ.
We learn another fundamental fact about the Christian life here at the outset as well; and it’s the fact that not only is the Christian life active but it’s ever ongoing in this life. Notice the disclaimer Paul makes in both verse 12 and then again for emphasis in verse 13… that he has not yet made the goal he is pursuing his own. Notice that. He says “not that I have already obtained this or I’m already perfect.” Verse 13, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own,” and that goal he describes here again. A different word in verse 12 is being already perfect, and that’s the interesting word telios, which can mean ‘complete’ or ‘mature’ or ‘perfect’. It’s the same word that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13 that we looked at a number of weeks ago… to speak of that state of perfect maturity that the church will reach one day as a whole. And here he is speaking on an individual basis, and the state of perfection that he’s referring to is that final consummation of his sanctification— or what we call glorification. It’s the point at which he’ll realize the fullness of his transformation into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, when he’ll actually experience that. And he’s making sure that his readers understand that he’s by no means claiming that he has reached the state of perfection.
You cannot be perfect in this life, despite what some teach… not until the day you see the Lord Jesus, face-to-face. And even then, you will wait the resurrection of the body, which Paul is speaking of here, because Paul is saying no matter how much closer he may come to that goal in this life, he’s never going to reach it. It won’t be realized until, note, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” in verse 14. When that day comes, that will be the day that he sees Christ, and not just through death, but I believe that what Paul is talking about here is the rapture of the church. Because look at verses 20 and 21. In the same context, he says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” He’s talking about the bodily resurrection of the believer, and it seems like that’s exactly what he was talking about in verse 11, which is right before he says that he has not yet obtained this. He says that, “by any means possible, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” In nother words, he’s talking about that great day where Christ is coming back for his church and this tells us that Paul viewed the rapture as something that was imminent; he said in chapter 1 that, of course if he’s killed, because he was imprisoned at this time, and if he were to be killed, “to live is Christ; to die is gain.”
And there was a sense in which Paul said, you know, ‘it’s far better to go on and be with Christ, so go ahead and kill me. So we know that when a believer dies, he is going to see Christ and be with him, but we call that the intermediate state, but that is not the fullness of our glorification. That day awaits the day of the Lord Jesus’, return and what we know is that Paul knew that that was something that was imminent. And so he is saying here that we won’t be perfected in this life, but since Christ could return at any time, as long as Paul’s alive, he’s going to keep pressing on toward that goal. Press on! Press on! So our goal should be the same; and our ultimate goal, what he is speaking of here, is to be as conformed to the image of Christ as possible in this life. And if we are truly born again, brothers and sisters, then we will be doing that to one degree or another.
God calls us to action, and Paul says, “Follow me as I press on toward the goal of being like Jesus Christ. And then in order to drill down on this, though, and to flesh it out, you know, to show us what he means by pressing on—he’s using these terms that are like, ‘OK, Paul, what are you really getting at here? He begins to liken the Christian life to a foot race; he uses that familiar illustration, and to show us the single-minded determination like a runner. He says, “One thing I do.” But this one thing has a couple of different aspects: the act of pressing on in the Christian life is only possible, he says, as (1) “I forget what lies behind, and (2) I strain forward to what lies ahead.” Those are two aspects of pressing on. You can’t press on if you don’t do those two things. It’s one action, but it’s predicated on those; when you’re moving there’s only what lies behind and what lies before you, and just like the forward motion of a runner so the Christian life is always a forward motion, and just as the focus of the runner is the key to his victory, the focus of the Christian is vital to reaching his goal. So how he views both his past, and his future will ultimately affect what he does in the present moment. Because this is the only moment we really have, and ultimately what Paul is teaching us here, as we see, is whether or not we choose to focus on ourselves or on Christ; this will determine our spiritual progress. And this morning we’re going to begin to look at these two essential aspects of pressing on in the Christian life. And we only have time to look at the first one; and this morning, I want you to know that if you’re going to press on to Christ likeness, if you’re going to live your life all out for the glory of God, to the fullness of what he’s called you to be, to do and have the fullness of joy in your life, then you must forget the past! You must forget the past! You know every runner, even amateur runners, know that you have to keep your eye straightforward in your mind, focused on the finish line, if you’re going to succeed. To ever look back spells disaster if you’re in a race.
One of the most famous races ever run was a mile long race in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth games between John Landry and Roger Bannister. They were two of the fastest men alive and it was called the miracle mile, or the race of the century at the time. It was watched on TV, and remember this in the 50s, so it’s watched on TV and listened to on the radio by millions of people, because these were such fast runners and they were matching up. John Landy and Roger Bannister and the race was close all the way through and Landy was in the lead up to the final turn of the last lap, when he turned his head to look back at Roger Bannister, and in that moment that slight turn of his head slowed him down just the millisecond needed for Bannister to speed past him and take the win. For taking his eyes off the finish line, cost Landry the prize, because he would’ve won handily by anyone’s estimation. And the same way for a Christian; looking back can have a disastrous effect. Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind, I press on.”
Now in the context, I believe Paul is primarily referring to the idea of looking back to past spiritual victories, because that’s what he’s been talking about here… mainly in the section about how he used to be all of these things until Christ took a hold of him, and yet he is talking about the present. But I think the primary issue is spiritual victory, and what he means by this is that it’s easy for us to think back on benchmarks of our Christian life, and begin to think that we’ve arrived at some place, where we can just sort of begin to coast. Some ‘higher spiritual plane,’ and this was certainly the issue with John Wesley, who wrote a small booklet, entitled A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in which he endeavored to defend his view that a Christian can reach a point at which he no longer willfully sins; he only makes mistakes. I had a professor in college once who told us that he believes that he could go hours and even days without sinning. And I thought, Wow!” And I still think, “Wow!” He must be something! Just ask my wife. I think you know that there might be a question mark about that.
You may not have worked out a theological treatise to make our case, but we nevertheless have a tendency to somehow view ourselves as coming to a superior knowledge or experience. Perhaps you’ve come to feel like you don’t learn anything new from reading your Bible; I’ve been there before. I felt like I just kinda know that. So where am I gonna start reading? Yes, I know that, and where am I? You know, and in that moment, I realize something is very wrong right now. That is a red flag; the moment you think something like that is the moment you’re in grave danger! You may get bored when you’re listening to a sermon; you may be bored right now! You’re in danger! I’m warning you, and I’m not joking, that’s dangerous, because you know what that is. That’s self righteousness! That spiritual smugness! And it means that, at best, you’re not growing and you’re a step away from spiritual disaster; and, at worst, it means that you’re unregenerate and you need to take that to heart, because if you go for long periods feeling like you never get anything out of the Bible and it’s not really worth reading, or you come to church and you’re bored, and you just can’t wait till the pastor’s done…You have a problem! Because even the most boring pastor, if he’s a faithful man, preaching the word of God, is like a fountain dripping with grace for you, if you’re a believer. Paul says that we must be very, very careful. Don’t ever think you’ve reached someplace where you can just begin to stagnate or coast, because danger awaits.
As I said, Paul leaves the phrase ‘what lies behind’ rather vague; and he is talking in his present life. He doesn’t really seem to be talking about his past life so much, and it’s likely because Paul is well aware, under the inspiration of the spirit of God, that there are many things in our past that can hold us back. For many it’s not past spiritual victories that are the focus; for many they would say, “I don’t even think about that! But it’s past sins. You know, some of you are here this morning, and you can never seem to move forward because you’re morbidly fixated on some sin…or maybe, a period of sinning in your past. Perhaps they were sins you committed before you came to faith in Christ, or maybe they were committed after; or maybe, you’re not sure whether they were before or after. But whatever the case, they are all you can think about much of the time, and you’re racked with lingering guilt and sorrow and regret. You go about your day trying to keep up appearances, but inside you’re constantly re-living that scene or scenes of that season of your life. And you roam about like Lady Macbeth, and no matter how much you try to wash the stain of blood off your hands, it just won’t come off. And you’ve prayed about it 1000 times and asked the Lord to forgive you. You know, this will leave you absolutely paralyzed in the Christian life. It’ll leave you staring at the wall, as it were, like a hamster in a wheel, just going round and round, and using all your energy to get nowhere. And you know, perhaps your problem is that you’ve never truly come to understand what it means to be forgiven. Or you’r stubbornly hanging onto a belief that you must atone for your sin in someway; and so you just have to keep beating yourself up over this because you need to do something about it, you know.
Let me just interject a little common sense from my dear doctor, Lloyd-Jones. He says, “Common sense tells us that we can’t do anything about the past; the past is the past. And so it’s a waste of time, number one, to think about it at all. You can’t change it. The only thing you can do now is to do something in the present.” But that aside, you know that you can’t do that and so you just continue to spin the wheel, and maybe it’s because you really are not born again, because you really have never bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ. Because that propensity within you to keep beating yourself up is your pride and self focused that says, “I must do something to help Jesus atone for my sin.” And God says, “No. Jesus pays it all! Bow the knee to him and trust him.
But you know, you may be a genuine Christian, who believes in your heart of hearts that salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But in practice, you just can’t seem to lay hold of that, and embrace it as true for you. And you embrace it for a moment and then it’s gone. It’s like something you’re grasping at in the wind. Lloyd-Jones, in his chapter entitled That One Sin, in his famous sermon series book called Spiritual Depression, that I highly recommend to you if you struggle with these things. He says what this person must do is ‘stop praying!’ He’s to stop praying. Stop praying, and think, and work out your doctrine. He said you prayed 1000 times. RC Sproul recently talking about how he counseled a lady once, and she came to him and said that she was guilty of something and that she asked the Lord to forgive her for it so many times over and over and over and she still wasn’t forgiven. And RC said I want you to go home and pray. And she said well I prayed 1000 times; I need something else. And RC said, “No. I want to go home and pray and ask God to forgive you for not believing that you’re forgiven.” Sometimes we pray, pray, pray. But all we’re doing is reminding ourselves of what we already know, and we’re not working out what we need to know.
Lloyd-Jones says praying about that condition over and over is only reminding you of it. And you need to work on renewing your mind with the truth of God‘s word. And then Lloyd-Jones does something: he points to another personal passage of the apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1. Turn there with me for a moment; 1 Timothy chapter 1. Paul says here in verse 12, he says, “I thank him who is giving me strength, Christ Jesus, our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formally, I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” And then this wonderful doxology: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
It just spews out of Paul’s heart because of what God had done. Do you realize in this passage Paul is saying, ‘I’m the worst sinner whoever lived. What else can he mean? He says I’m the foremost of sinners. He is the one who did exactly what he said; he blasphemed the Lord. He rounded up Christians. He imprisoned them, abused them, he was responsible for at least the death of Stephen, perhaps more. Paul was all of those things and he says that God save me, and he saved me, when he saved me, and allowed me to do all of those things, because he could have saved me before I did all of that. But he saved me when he saved me after allowing me to do all of those things. Why? Because he wanted me to be an example to others, of how far down the grace of God reaches. So you say to me, “But pastor, if you only knew what I’ve done!” To which I would reply “Well, that’s nothing compared to what Paul did. And God saved him, and God used him more than any other Christian that’s ever lived. So what’s your problem?”
The problem is the only difference is that Paul embraced the grace of God; and he renewed his mind with it, and he lived in, and he pressed on with it; and he forgot what was behind, and the only time he thought about it was to remind himself about how gracious God had been. And he broke out in a doxology, and he continued on. And that’s what you need to do, my friend: leave it behind. Don’t think about it again, unless it’s to remind yourself about how good God has been to you.
There’s others of you here this morning that aren’t focused on your past sins, but you’re focused on the past sins of others against you. And that’s your problem; your problem is not a failure to receive forgiveness, but your problem is a failure to grant it; and you spend much of your time stewing over what others have done to you, and it just frames your life, and you live your life in shame and bitterness. And you know this will leave you utterly miserable and useless for the kingdom of God. Someone has said that bitterness is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die. The gospel has little effect on your thinking, because while you profess it to be powerful enough to save you from your sin, you don’t believe it’s powerful enough to free you from that bitterness. Again, could it be possible, according to the words of Jesus, that the reason you can’t forgive is because you’re not really forgiven yourself? Jesus said if you fail to forgive, then you’re not forgiven. And could it be that you don’t understand your own need for forgiveness? Because as bad as you may be, that person is definitely worse, and they deserve to pay. Certainly something to ponder.
But you know, it’s also possible that you are indeed a genuine Christian, and yet just like the one who fails to understand their need for forgiveness and what Christ has really done, and how big the gospel really is, and how sovereign God really is over your whole life and everybody else’s life, and every molecule in this universe. You just can’t lay hold of it; it’s like grasping wind. What God says to you is, you need to forget it; leave it behind. Forgive that person in your heart.
Go to Matthew 18 with me for a moment. We did this recently, so I don’t want to linger here, but I just want to remind us of how powerful this parable of our Lord is in the context of speaking of forgiveness. And the Lord tells this parable in verse 23: Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. And when he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents. And that word that is used there means like a bazillion dollars. It’s like it’s the biggest word that could be used in the Greek language; so it’s like you owed more money than the United States owes. OK? So like you’ll never pay it off in 10,000 lifetimes. And since he thought he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees and imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. He showed mercy on him. He forgave him that infinite debt. He says it’s all taken care of. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, “Pay what you owe.” So his fellow servant, fell down, and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” And he refused; and he went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.
That’s a picture of someone who fails to see his own need for forgiveness. That’s a picture of someone who doesn’t get the gospel. That’s a person who tramples all over the grace of God, because no matter what someone has done to you—and perhaps someone has hurt you grievously—and, you know, with all compassion, I say this: “That that pales in comparison to what you, as a sinner, have done to offend, the perfect, holy, eternal, righteous God. Which is why hell awaits an eternity of suffering for those who do not repent and receive the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s the same for every sinner. So what we see here is a picture of that kind of heart. And if that’s you, then you are in the danger zone. You need to recognize your need for grace, and, once you do, the Lord will begin to work in your heart, and help you to see that other person in light of that grace. And you will begin to pray for that enemy, in love, not in hatred.
Jesus goes on to say in this parable: When the master found out about all of this, he called that wicked servant to himself, and he said, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also, my heavenly father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. What does he mean by that? He means that this is a heart issue that you’ve got to work through.
But again, perhaps you’re a genuine Christian and you’re struggling with this and God says the remedy for that is to remember God‘s grace in your life. We could go on at the ways that we look at the past, and things that we need to forget. Paul says the first aspect of pressing on, the first thing you have to do if you’re going to grow in the Lord and have fullness of joy in him, and be useful in his hands, is to forget about it. Stop looking back. All it’s doing is slowing you down, possibly crippling you. Whether it’s looking back on your spiritual achievements with that smug self-righteousness, as if you’ve arrived; or if it’s fixating on some sin of the past, and replaying it in your mind over and over, seeking to somehow atone for it, and saying, “what if?” and “why?” and “if only;” or relieving yourself by wallowing in self pity over sins that someone has committed against you. Whatever it is from the past that’s holding you back right now, here’s what I want you to understand: the bottom line problem is that it’s really a focus on yourself. And again I say that with all compassion. Think about it. If you’re focusing on your achievement, it’s your achievement. If you’re focusing on your past, it’s your past. If you’re focusing on your hurt that someone caused you, it’s your hurt. And Paul is very succinct and direct about how the Christian is to view all of that, and everything else that you could put under that rubric—it is to forget about it.
How do you do that? Well, it’s not as though we can wipe out our memories…especially these kind of memories, because those memories that touch us emotionally like that are the ones that just burn into our consciousness. Whether it was a sin against you, or your sin against someone else, or a spiritual high that you had at some point, some great thing that happened in your life; whatever it is, those things are burned into us at a deep level. But what Paul means by this is that we are to intentionally choose not to think about those things anymore. And this is where it comes down, as we said, to renewing our minds. We are to deal with them, according to the truth of the gospel, and give them away to the Lord, and don’t give them another thought. And when they rear their ugly heads, I like to have this mental picture of just slamming the door. It’s like when you know you open the door and it’s the Jehovah’s Witness, and you slam the door. Be a little more gracious than that, but not much. If you do have that intrusive thought in your mind, you just slam the door on that. And then you renew your mind, right? You don’t just stop thinking about that, but you begin to do as Paul says in chapter 4 verse eight. And you begin to think on the things that are true and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely and commendable, and excellent, and worthy of praise.
Robert Murray McShane said once in a letter to a friend, for every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ. That’s what we should do. The only time we should ever entertain a thought from the past is to, like Paul, remember the grace of God. Whether it was the grace of God that worked through you to accomplish something wonderful, whether it was the grace of God that forgave you that sinful deed from the past, whether it was the grace of God that will set you free from the bitterness that you’re carrying…whatever it is…only entertain that thought enough to lavish it with the grace of God. So what’s holding you back today? We’re on the cusp of a new year. What’s it gonna be? Are you gonna continue to spin your wheels? Are you gonna spend all your energy, like that hamster, going nowhere? Or are you going to embrace the fullness of the abundance of life that is yours in Christ Jesus? It’s yours for the taking. If you’re a new creation in Christ, then old things have passed away. Behold all things are new! And they’ve been new since you came to know him. You just haven’t embraced that yet.
So could I implore you to do that this morning? To forget what lies behind? There’s more to it… you’ve got to strain forward. You can’t just be done with the past, and now coast on. God says get to work and we’re gonna talk about that next time. But for right now, would you deal with whatever it is in your past and, like I said, it’s very possible that you’re here this morning and you’ve been here week after week, and you’ve been in other churches for years and decades, and you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s very, very possible. You must be born again! And what does God call you to do? He calls you to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And he gives you the promise that, if you do, if that is genuine from your heart, if you’re willing to turn from your own way—which maybe your own way is that one that beats themself up for their sin over and over and over, because they think they have to help Jesus out to atone for something—maybe that’s your own way. The Lord says, “Repent!” And fall on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and trust him fully. And you have the promise on his word that he will save you, like that! You’ll have eternal life. You’ll be a new creature. And maybe, you already do know him. Maybe you know the Lord Jesus, and so this morning you need to just embrace that. And as I’ve said many times before, if you’d like to talk about those things… because I know it’s not that easy. Like, oh yeah, just do that, right? Maybe you need to talk about those things; maybe you need to sit down with someone; maybe you need to work through that; and I’m here for you. I would love to do that. I’d love to do it today. I’ve got all day long. We can do it past midnight, if you want; I don’t care. If not, I’m going to bed at nine. But I’m here. Keith is here, and Roger is here. Jeff is here, and there’s people all over this room that I could say, ‘they’re here.’ I just don’t wanna embarrass them right now. But talk to someone; deal with it; and let’s move on together. And I hope you’ll be back next week as we look at that second aspect of what it means to press on. Let’s bow together.
Father, this morning has been heavy in one sense, and yet it’s been such a relief and a release in others I pray. Lord, I pray this morning that we would hear your word. We would focus on this one thing, of being more like Jesus, and that as we do all other things would fall into place, and that begins with forgetting with lies behind. So whatever it may be in each heart this morning, that you do that work; bring them to life, or help them to see the life that they have. Do the work that only you can do in each heart. I pray in Jesus name. Amen.