“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”
Many Christians keep skeletons in their closets. They hide secret sin in their hearts. Every time some reversal comes into their lives, they convince themselves that it is due to sins they committed in the past. Because of this, they carry guilt complexes. Devoid of biblical liberty, they disqualify themselves from serving the Lord (Ga 5:1).
“Forgetting those things which are behind”
Some of us live in past regret. We regularly grieve over past bad choices. We rehearse our failures and sin over and over to ourselves. There seems to be a compulsion to continually punish ourselves for those failures lest we fall again. People who practice this belief system cripple their Christian lives. By doing so, they reject the finished work of Christ on their behalf.
Others nurse injustices that others do to them. They cannot disengage from their hurts. They cannot allow themselves to forgive. The injustice may have transpired 20 years ago, but it is still present in the mind as if it were yesterday: “It galls me every time I think about it. I can’t get over it.” Every time they think about the injury, acid pours into their system.
Some marriages are awash with recriminations, with one spouse never letting the other one forget their failure. It seems almost impossible to cease and desist from hurling barbs. This creates a nearly hopeless domestic relationship. This violates a fundamental value in God’s economy. The point extends beyond forgiveness; the value is to forget. If they do not own this value, then the marriage is doomed to perpetual misery. We might as well lock the couple in a room and let them scream at each other for the rest of their lives.
The word “forget” means literally to forget upon or over; that is, we forget in consequence of something else. We can get over past hurts because of something more substantial. Since forgiveness is ours by Christ, what consequence is there to past hurts? Is it worth stewing over past wrongs in the light of Christ’s forgiveness? Assign to oblivion every pain of the past because of the cross.
We need to forget the wrong and move on. We should forgive and forget. If someone should confront us with the idea that this damages our spiritual life, we say, “Well, I will forgive, but I won’t forget.” Then we will die spiritually before our time. Temporal, spiritual death occurs in the believer because he/she wants to punish the other person for what was done, not wanting to release the anger held against the other person. Growth is impossible with such an attitude.
The Greek indicates that we benefit by forgetting our past failures. We also benefit from forgetting the failures of others. We surmise that there is benefit in rehearsing our failures. We believe there is some worth in the memory of pain: “If I remember what I did, I will never do it again.” We think it gives us security and a sense of control if we keep it active in our minds. However, this is what constitutes an obsession. The need to control uncertainties and unanticipated pain is a losing battle. The desire to control pain by negative thinking will lead us into destructive spiritual bondage. God says there is a benefit in forgetting the past in not remembering it. Forgetting will liberate us from the bondage of thinking about it. We are then free from occupation with it.
God’s solution is the opposite of obsession. It is the polar diametric opposite of evoking memory to control pain. God’s answer is 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is a matter of believing that God forgave our sins, not our memories. We cannot continue to grow and mature as believers as long as we refuse to forget.
Forgetting the past is an act of faith.
Mature believers can forget past hurts. The ability to confess a sin and believe that God rendered that sin into oblivion takes confidence in God’s promises. Others may remember my sins, but I have rendered my sins into spiritual amnesia. The ability to assign into amnesia confessed sin is the principle Paul was referring to here.
A spouse may remember every offense in the marriage, reaching into the garbage can and pull out your failures. That is a grab for power lust. It is a one-up-manship. To get the best of the argument, we pull garbage out to gain control of the argument. The principle is that “I will get the best of the argument by putting you down. I will excuse my failure by drawing attention to your failure.”
A mature believer does not enter this cycle of destruction. Mature believers assign their past and the past of others into amnesia. How ridiculous it would be if a neighbor came to our front door and said, “Look what I found in your garbage can.” Any relationship in life calls for criticism. Inevitably we will do something that others will criticize. You can say, “Come on in, and we will talk about it,” or you can run out to their garbage can to see what you can find. Typically, in arguments between husband and wife, each goes into the garbage can to find a bigger piece of garbage. Is that the way you want to live?
That is the way we live when we do not forget the past. We excuse our failures based on someone else’s failures. Once we confess sin, we should never look back on that sin. Once others have confessed their sin, we should never hold them to their sin. That takes strong faith.