Are You Still Living in the Past?

Philippians 3:7-11 ESV

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul was referring to all the things that he had gained in the flesh, that had given him a sense of pride and of “bragging rights.” For the church today, this might include the number of people on membership rolls, or the number of baptisms or salvations (not always genuine salvations). Or this might include a charismatic preacher or an extremely talented “praise team”. Or it might include all the fun and interesting activities the church offers, etc.

For individuals who call themselves Christians, this might include training in Bible theology, or seminars that they attended, or college degrees, or particular talents, or careers, or incomes, or possessions, or anything that they were able to accomplish in the flesh to give glory to the flesh. Or it might include who they know or what they have experienced or how long they have been members at a particular institutional church, etc.

But whatever we have accomplished and gained in the flesh is here today and it can be gone tomorrow. It holds no eternal value whatsoever. Now, some of these things can be used as instruments of righteousness in presenting the gospel or in having Bible studies or times of Christian fellowship with other believers – such things as our computers, and our homes, and our dining room tables, etc. So “things” are not all bad.

But if we glory in the flesh and in what we have accomplished in the flesh, it holds no eternal value. All those accumulated things mean nothing, especially if they are not being used for the glory of God but only for selfish gain and for “bragging rights” so that we can look important or feel as though we are important. So, we are to lay all these things down at the cross of Christ and surrender them all, including ourselves, to the Lord.

And then we are to follow Jesus Christ in obedience to his ways and to his commands, and we are to go wherever he leads us, and to do the things he would have us do, and share what we have with others, and minister to the needs of others, and share the gospel, but also live the gospel in our every day lives in dying to sin and living to God and to his righteousness. And this will include suffering for the sake of the gospel, too.

Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

“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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Now, I have heard many people take this passage of Scripture out of context to excuse away their sinful habits (addictions, practices) claiming that no one is perfect, not even Paul. They will use it to excuse away the fact that they are still in the same sinful rut they have been in, some of them for many years, and that they have not yet come out from. For they will claim that it “takes time” to overcome a sinful habit, as though a lifetime is not long enough. But it never ends. Just more excuses.

And then they will take this part about forgetting what lies behind to mean that they can ignore their sinful condition and pretend that they are not addicted to sin, and they are not those who practice sin, for they feel that if they admit sin that God forgives them and now it is all past and that anything that they do in the way of sin from that point forward is just an individual sin and is all just part of this process of being made perfect.

Now, I am not suggesting that what God has forgiven that we should drudge back up from the past. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that if we have been addicted to (enslaved to) sin for a long period of time and we have not yet surrendered our lives to Jesus, and so we keep repeating the same sins over and over deliberately and in direct defiance of God and of his commands, then the Scriptures say we don’t really know God, which would indicate that he does not see our sins as past.

So, we have to understand here that it is not truly past if we keep repeating the same offenses over and over again, deliberately, willfully, in direct defiance of God and of his commands, without true remorse, and without true repentance. For if the cycle keeps repeating itself, then we never were free. We never were forgiven. For our sins were never gone. For they are still here being repeated over and over and over without end. So, we can’t treat habitual sin as though it is not habitual if it is what we practice.

Now, regarding what Paul is teaching here, he is talking about how he put his flesh behind him, and now his goal in life was to have the righteousness that comes from God and that depends on faith, and that he may know Christ and the power of his resurrection, which is the ability to live in freedom from enslavement to sin, and that he may share in the sufferings of Christ because he is becoming like Christ and he is doing his will.

But all this is a process of a lifetime. But it being a process does not mean we can sin as much as we want and claim we are in process. The process is clearly one of forsaking our sins and following Jesus in obedience, and us dying daily to sin and to self and us living holy lives pleasing to God. It is a process that should reveal that progress is being made in us becoming more like Jesus every day and much less or not at all like we were in the flesh.

Forgetting those things which are behind, thus, has to do with us no longer engaging in the same sinful activities as we did before. Paul did not forget that he did such things in the past, for he gave testimony to them frequently, but then he shared how Jesus had changed his life. Amen! So, forgetting is really about not reliving the past in the present, and therefore not showing that we have not yet really let go of the past, but that it still has control over our lives. For the past needs to be put to a final death.

So, as Paul chose to no longer live in the past but in the present, he pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He lived his life now for Jesus and he did not keep going back to doing what he did in the past. For those who keep returning to their vomit over and over again, their past is not really past, for they are still living it, the same old, same old. No real change of heart, mind, or purpose, but just recycled habits and responses that keep on going and going.

So, if you are still in that rut, I pray today that you will shut the door to your past in that you will no longer live in your past but that now you will live a new life in Christ Jesus, by the grace of God, through genuine God-given faith in Jesus Christ that dies with Christ daily to sin and to self and that walks with Christ daily in his righteousness and holiness to the glory of God.

[Lu 9:23-26; Jn 6:35-58; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Co 6:9-10, 19-20; 2 Co 5:10, 15; Tit 2:11-14; Jas 1:22-25; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:3-6; Gal 6:7-8; Rom 2:6-8; Matt 7:21-23; Heb 10:26-27; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 2:8-10]

Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer

Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897

Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.

O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.

O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

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