"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” (Phil. 3:13, 14, RSV).*
ruth be told, Paul’s line about “forgetting what lies behind” seems like so much cheery talk to many believers in January. The pain and stress of the past 12 months tempt us to rationalize that we should be exempted from the Christian task of “forgetting what lies behind.”
In our clearer moments, however, each of us can see the wisdom of doing our best to forget much of what occurred in 2007. We recognize the destructive force that the past—even the recent past—can have upon our lives. Left to ourselves, we reopen the old wounds one more time. We replay the old arguments again, searching for the perfect put-down to use if ever the occasion should arise. With the pundit we bitterly cry, “Backward, backward, O time in thy flight; I thought of a comeback I needed last night.”
Left to ourselves, we camp among the broken pieces of a relationship ended by death or misunderstanding. We fall back into that diseased state of mind that looks upon the future with suspicion and fear, greeting the new day or the new year by drawing the covers even more firmly over the head.
A great newspaper editor once wrote: “The true secret of editing is to know what to place in the wastebasket.” That’s not bad counsel for those attempting to live the Christian life, either. The secret of successful Christian living is knowing what to throw away, what to forget, what to discard.
In the desk of life from 2007 there are many things that you and I would do better to be without:
1. Throw away the slights and insults you received
in 2007. Holding on to them this long has already caused
you to be something less than the mature Christian you’ve wanted to be. Throw away the grudges that you’ve nourished during the past 12 months. Though they may have offered you many moments of bitter satisfaction as you told and retold the story of your injury, they haven’t deepened your discipleship even a bit. In 2008 collect coins if you wish, collect stamps, collect postcards, collect tropical fish—but don’t collect grudges. They’re part of what lies behind that ought to be forgotten.
2. Throw away your sins from 2007 when you have repented of them. This is, as the old adage has it, so much easier said than done. For all who have ever found themselves living in the litter of their sins from the past year—living with the broken relationships they created, with the mental and physical scars of a life that wasn’t happy or healthy or holy—it can seem nearly impossible to move past the memory of even confessed and forgiven sins. “J’accuse!” your memory shouts, then whispers: “How can I forget the cutting words I said, the hateful things I did, the foolish things I lusted after? Some things are past forgetting.”
And you’d be right—if only God, against whom you did all these wicked and rebellious things, hadn’t already in His great mercy made provision to both forgive and forget all your sins. Here’s one of the most radiant promises God ever made: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). Do you believe that God has because of Jesus Christ both forgiven and forgotten all your sins when you repented of them? If so, you can safely forget your sins from 2007. What God forgets, you have a right to forget.
3. Throw away all your righteousness from 2007, too. The good things you accomplished last year are also part of the past you ought to leave behind. Nothing will be more fatal to your spiritual growth in 2008 than the secretly comforting record of your righteousness from last year. If your gaze is fixed upon the past and the good things God did through you, you’ll never find the faith or strength to do the brave and difficult things God will surely call you to do in the new year.
Leave your spiritual attainments from 2007 behind. Leave the handsome sum you gave the church behind. Leave the record of how well you served behind. Count them all as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.
As there was for Jesus, there is also a “joy that is set before us.” Keep only from the old year that which points you to the Lord, who beckons you to walk confidently and boldly across the threshold of 2008 to His throne of grace.
*Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.