The other day, I read a familiar passage in Philippians 3:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This verse was originally shared with me in the context of forgetting my past sin, embracing Christ’s forgiveness, and “pressing on.” I think those ideas are totally good and Biblical, but the commentary I read suggested that it was not actually what Paul meant here. The introduction to Philippians in my ESV Study Bible says this:
“While there were no doubt conflicts within the congregation…the Philippians appear to be a healthy congregation, in contrast to the troubled groups in Corinth and Galatia. Can they then relax and rest? Paul’s answer is an emphatic no. The world is too perilous, and the gospel too glorious, for them to be content with past achievements.“
A few days later, (thanks to this Bible Reading Plan I’m still doing as often as I can and still recommend!) I read in Deuteronomy where Moses was giving God’s commands to the Israelites. He gives so many warnings and reminders throughout chapter 4: “listen to the statues and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them” (1), “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently” (9), “Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully” (15), “Take care, lest you forget” (23).
So Paul says forget what’s behind; Moses says “take care, lest you forget.” And as I reflected on both ideas, I found that they beautifully coincide. Paul tells us to “put no confidence in the flesh (3:3),” despite the long list of accomplishments in which he could boast. That’s what we are to forget – we forget what we think we’ve done – how great we think we are – even how far we’ve come in battling and overcoming sin that for so long took claim on our hearts. We forget because the reality is, we can claim no victory except that which comes in Christ. It’s like in Hebrews where it says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…(12:1-2)” We don’t bank on our past triumphs. We take our eyes off of ourselves and forget everything behind us and look to Jesus who already won the race. And we keep running. Because despite how far we’ve come, we won’t “arrive” while we’re still here.
While Paul was telling us to forget the past, Moses was telling the Israelites to remember it. But not what they had done, rather he called them to remember the covenant God made with them. Remember how he freed them from Pharaoh. Remember all the ways He’s already proven Himself faithful. Remember who God is. Remember what He says. Bank on that.
Hadley and I were talking about the words of “‘Tis So Sweet” and I got all weepy as I explained the meaning of the chorus. We choose to trust in Jesus, even though we may not want to – even though we may not feel His presence or believe He’s good and we can’t see what He’s doing. We can choose to trust because we’ve “proved Him o’er and o’er.” We have felt His presence and we’ve seen His goodness and we know that He says everything He does is for His glory and our good and we know we can believe Him. So we trust Him as best we can, and we beg for the grace to trust Him even more.
Maybe all of this doesn’t make any sense. But it’s been sweet for my heart. Just when I think I’m doing pretty well, I am faced with my lack of patience and joy, how easily I am angered, how poorly I control my tongue…what a monster still rages in the depths of my heart. I am tempted to throw my hands in the air and give up. Or look back and say, “See! God has brought me so far! Look at how great I’m doing! This is just little stuff.” But God calls me to look back and see Him – to see what Christ has done – celebrate the ways He has proven Himself faithful to save someone like me – and press on. Run hard. Beg for grace and keep moving. Not because I have something to earn or something to prove, but because I’m so grateful for what has already been done.
It seemed fitting to share this Good Friday. May we forget what is behind and press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The world is too perilous and the gospel too glorious to be content with our past achievements. But let us remember what Christ achieved and run only with that reality in our sites.