Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 3:13–14 (NKJV)
If we’re constantly thinking of the past and all of our mistakes, we’re not going to go on to the future and the work that the Lord wants us to do.
After we’ve thought about our mistakes a little bit, often the best thing we can do is to forget the past. When the Lord says, “Forget the past,” obviously we must have had to think about it some; otherwise, how could we forget it? So we think about it and we do whatever it takes to change things for the future. That’s why we have lessons from the past, so that the Lord can change our hearts and make us better vessels, more loving and compassionate. That’s one of the reasons the Lord allows us to make some mistakes, so we’ll cry out to Him desperately for more love and compassion and understanding, and let Him change us so that we can be more useful to Him.
So we do need to reflect on our past sometimes. It’s not like we can just say, “Oh, I made that mistake; gee, I’m sorry,” and go on. To a certain extent we need to analyze our mistakes or failures so that we don’t make them again, but often it’s not helpful to keep doing that for very long. We need to know that we’re forgiven and there is no place in our lives for condemnation. God’s Word says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) We can let go of the past! The Lord blots out our transgressions and He doesn’t remember them against us anymore! (Psalm 103:10–14)
I think about all the promises of God that we can lay hold of, and how bright the picture can be! What wonderful things can happen, even miracles, because His Word is unchanging. God’s Word is still there for us to grasp. And with all of those promises there, how can we want to go back into the past, retrace the past?
The cross of Christ with outstretched arms stands blocking the way to the past. Because of the penalty paid for your sins, the Bible says, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14)
Forget those things which are behind. Forget them! Press on toward the mark for the prize. You can’t make the sand in the hourglass run backwards, and if you have the wealth of the whole world, you can’t retrace the path to yesterday; you can’t go back.
There is redemption for you. He’s redeemed you and you’re clean from all the past. Oh, what a pity if we carry the burden of the past when the Lord paid such a price to lift that burden and set us free. I think there are no more beautiful words than the words of the song “For All My Sin.” With one stroke of His nail-pierced hands, He wipes out all that awful guilt by the cross of Calvary:
It was His love for me
That nailed Him to the tree
To die in agony for all my sin.
For my own guilt and blame
The Great Redeemer came,
Willing to bear my shame
Of all my sin.
Oh, what a Savior is mine
In Him God’s mercies combine
His love can never decline
And He loves me.
To Calvary’s hill one day
The Lord was led away
None else the price could pay
For all my sin.
He on the cross was slain,
Yielding His life in pain
And He felt the bitter stain
Of all my sin.
Was ever love so strong?
Was ever crime so wrong
When Jesus suffered long
For all my sin?
He saw my greatest need,
Became my Friend indeed,
Through Him I have been freed
Of all my sin.
—Norman J. Clayton
I’ve seen folks that came to the cross of Calvary and left their sins there. Just one little drop of that blood can cleanse the blackest past.
I remember when we were holding a meeting in California a young man came into the service. He was just out of Folsom Penitentiary. He just couldn’t believe it was as easy as that, that God would forgive him just on his confession of sin and his asking the Lord to come into his heart, and taking Jesus as Savior. It was so hard for him to believe that his past would be cleansed.
He kept talking about all his sin, all his sinning! It was just too great a thing to believe that God could cleanse that awful past. That night he wept openly when he gave his heart to God and confessed Jesus Christ as his Savior. Christ lifted that load and forgave that man who had been a criminal: cleansed his heart and gave him a freedom he’d never known. I saw him often after that when he came to visit.
He would be talking about the mercy of God and how God had rid him of the torment of the past, and he would repeat some of the words [of the hymn]: “My yesterdays so filled with guilt and shame, my yesterdays are gone, oh praise His name!”
“He is faithful and just to forgive you your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) All unrighteousness! He cannot fail His Word, and He has promised this. “Hath he not said it and will he not also do it?” (Numbers 23:19)
—Virginia Brandt Berg
Our future isn’t limited by our past. No matter what decisions we have made and no matter what point we are at now, the future is still as bright as God’s promises—ones like these: “If you have faith … nothing will be impossible for you,” (Matthew 17:20) and “all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) If you’re not where you want to be, there is time to change that. Where there is life, there is hope.
Film director and producer Orson Welles once said, “A happy ending depends on where you stop your story.” Or as someone else put it, “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end yet.” That principle is certainly true for those who love the Lord and look to Him for guidance, because He has promised to always work things out for our good in the end.
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