Tim Challies
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May 1, 2024

We are never far from reminding God of our credentials, of providing him with a curriculum vitae that lays out all we are, all we have been through, and all we have accomplished for his sake. We are never far from making the subtle turn from grace to merit, from what is freely given to what has been hard-earned.
The Apostle Paul knew this temptation. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he goes to some trouble to lay out his credentials as the most admirable of all Jewish men—a man who had impeccable ethnic, family, religious, and personal credentials. Yet after he lays them out, he drops a bomb: He says that he counts them all as rubbish. Why?

Because in his former life these credentials had been the ground of his confidence before the Lord. And even now he knew he could once again begin to believe that God loved him because of who he was and that God owed him because of what he had done. And he knew that if this was constantly on his mind, it might entrap or distract him. So he “forgot” it to keep it from negatively impacting his ability to serve the Lord. (See Philippians 3:12-14)

Of course, he didn’t forget it in the sense of purging it from his memory altogether. He forgot it in the sense of no longer allowing it to impact his thinking and no longer ground his confidence. And I think it’s worth taking our cue from Paul to think of a few different things he might tell you to forget.

He would tell you to forget your spiritual heritage if you are tempted to make this the grounds of your confidence before the Lord. If your parents and grandparents were Christians, you ought to praise God for that blessing—and it is a great blessing, indeed. But you ought to forget it if it in any way may cause you to set your hope on your heritage instead of on Christ.

You need to forget your spiritual accomplishments. You might find yourself recounting the good things you once did for the Lord or the great things he once did through you. But you need to forget about those accomplishments if they are making you complacent about obedience today, if they are tempting you to think “I’ve already done enough. I’ve already proven myself.” Obedience yesterday gives you no right to be complacent or disobedient today.

Confess that sin, then forget it. Leave it in the past with the God who has already forgotten it in the same way.

Just as you need to forget about your spiritual accomplishments, you also need to forget about your spiritual failures. You might look back and get all bound up in shame for the evil things you once did or the people you once harmed—and this shame may keep you from pressing on. But you have repented, you have been forgiven by God, you are a new man, a new woman. So confess that sin, then forget it. Leave it in the past with the God who has already forgotten it in the same way.

And then, you need to forget even your sorrow, even your suffering, even your grief, even your pain. You need to forget even these deep trials in any way that they may hinder you as you press on toward the goal.

Of course, it’s important to be nuanced with such deep and difficult trials. We might think about griefs—all the people you have loved who have died. Would Paul tell you to forget those people and leave them in the past? No, God doesn’t demand you live as if they never existed, as if you never loved them, as if you don’t love them still. But he does mean for you to understand that these losses did not happen apart from his providence, that somehow they are part of his faultless plan for this world, and that somehow he will receive glory from it all. This is not easy. You need help to accept this and faith to believe it. But God is pleased to give the help and to grant the faith so you can accept and believe it.

This puts the responsibility on you to forget whatever it is in your sorrows or trials that might cause you to become trapped in the past instead of pressing on in the present. It calls you to forget whatever would cause you to look to God with reproach instead of submission and to forget whatever would cause you to live in a state of never-ending sorrow instead of enjoying God’s many blessings. It puts the responsibility on you to forget anything that might impede your full-out pressing on toward the Lord.

God’s call to each of us is plain: We must always press on—press on toward the goal and press on to receive the prize. To run this race well, we must run unhindered—unhindered by sin, of course, but also by whatever lies in the past that may threaten to slow us, to weigh us down, or to keep us from reaching the finish line. Forgetting what lies behind, we must discipline ourselves to press on—to always and ever press on toward the end of our race and to our Savior’s open arms.

Tim Challies is a pastor, author and book reviewer living in Canada.

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Tim Challies

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