Last week, we looked at Philippians 3:12-14 and established that Paul compares our spiritual life to a Greek foot race. We discovered that our spiritual goal is to be increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 3:18) and that we must tenaciously lay hold of that goal. We must hold insistently to that goal and not allow our spiritual lives to slip into neutral. So what other directions does Paul give us to ensure our spiritual victory? In verse 13-14, we read, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Verse 13 reveals a critical instruction that has the potential to sabotage our spiritual success. Paul tells us “forgetting what lies behind.” As believers, we are new creations and our past identity has been exchanged with the identity as a child of our Heavenly Father (see 2 Cor. 5:21). As sanctified believers, our nature has been cleansed; we are made new and created in the image of Christ. One of Satan’s most effective tactics to defeat a believer, however, is to take us back, to relive old experiences, hurts, disappoints, and failures, so we ultimately return to our old nature. The enemy is like a master film director who keeps replaying old films in our minds if we’ll allow him. Why is this such a powerful tool in the hands of the enemy?
The enemy doesn’t know or control our future, but he can surmise our future choices because of our past history. Our past is the past and we can’t change it, we can’t alter our choices, good or bad, and we can’t change certain past results. It is these poor choices, sins, and failures that he wants us to revisit. Consider Paul and his past. At the time of writing Philippians, Paul was an incredibly anointed apostle, missionary and powerful preacher. Image the conclusion of a fruitful day of ministry where hundreds gave their lives to Christ and transformation had occurred. As Paul pillows his head that night, he begins to give praise for the multiplication of the kingdom, for being a vessel that God has used to fulfill His work when suddenly, his mind is flooded with thoughts of his past actions that sent believers to prison; believers that he had hunted down for their faith. At that moment, Paul has a decision to make. He can immerse himself in the thoughts of the past which would open the door to guilt, shame, fear, anger, hatred, and death, or he could set his mind on things ahead (or above, see Col. 3:2). It would only take a split second to give the enemy an opportunity (see Eph. 4:27); it would only take a quick glance back for the enemy to flood Paul’s mind with defeat.
History proves how this quick glance can cause defeat. On August 7, 1954, the British Empire Games were being held in Vancouver, Canada. The race was called the greatest mile run because competing in this race was John Landy and Roger Bannister, the two fastest runners at that time. I watched the old celluloid film over and over trying to observe Landy’s error which caused his defeat. You see, Landy had a commanding lead, but he knew that Bannister was notorious for winning races with a powerful last lap. Landy, at three minutes and fifteen seconds into the race, gave an almost imperceptible glance back at Bannister. At that moment, Bannister began his move and in the matter of seconds he advanced past Landy. That nanosecond of “diverted focus” cost Landy the race.
The same is true for our spiritual life and Paul knew this. He knew how quickly a person can sink into spiritual defeat by allowing themselves to revisit the past rather than keeping their eyes focused on the prize and goal set before them. Daily, often multiple times a day, the enemy attempts to lure us to glance backward, even if only for a nanosecond. But this glance back, remembering the past, marinating the pain, nursing the wound, or replaying offenses only deepens those thought patterns and this wiring in our brain. These toxic thoughts can quickly become entrenched in our mental, physical and spiritual beings. But Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us to, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
As Paul said, we must “forget what is behind us” and the word “forget” (epilanthamomai), means to neglect. Paul is telling us to willfully neglect the past. If old things have truly passed away, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17, we have no business trying to resurrect what has been crucified. Close the door to the past today and seal it with the blood of Jesus. He will never bring up the past, so heed Paul’s warning and never look back. Interestingly, in verse 13, Paul tells us to do the opposite of look back; he tells us willfully “reach forward” (epekteinomai), focusing with our entire mind, body and spirit on the goal of Christlikeness.
Paul brackets this passage, in verses 12 and 14, with the admonition to “press on.” In light of 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, Paul knew the weightiness of pressing on. He also knew this was the hope of our spiritual victory. Yes, we have to run and yes, we have to persevere, but there before you is the finish line where our Savior waits to crown us victors.
Keep pressing forward and never look back.
Thank you Father, that as your children, you have forgotten our past through the blood of Jesus. We will keep our eyes on the goal you have placed before us; always pressing forward, amen.