Remembering and Forgetting
The 1st September is Spring Day here in the Southern Hemisphere. For the last few years, if memory serves me correctly, it has not felt like spring on Spring Day. As I write (22nd August) the forecasters are saying that there will be some sun – so it is looking hopeful! On Spring Day 2019 we have also set aside time in our Sunday service to place before God our sincere hope and trust that he will lead us into a new season at ECCC. We feel like most of winter is behind us and we are longing for the warm days of summer.
In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. This passage, in part, answers the question about how Paul treats his past failures and offences before God, other people and within himself.
What is Paul ‘forgetting’ here? I am sure there are many things, but it would certainly include the terrible memories of persecuting Christians, binding them in chains, throwing them in jail, and pursuing them to the point of their death (like the death of Stephen in Acts 7-8). In other words, there was plenty in Paul’s past that could have paralysed him. But he would not be caught up in replaying those memories for his own shame and self-punishment.
However, at the same time we must recall that Paul also wrote this in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
Here Paul instructs these Christians to remember! They should bring to memory the alienation they experienced from God, the horrible things they did as they lived lives in direct opposition to God.
So we must ask: “Which is it Paul? Should we forget our past position and sins or should we remember?”
As you may expect (!) the answer is both. We should forget and remember our past sins and alienation from God according to what is good for the growth of our faith and love for God. We should remember for our humbling and deeper celebration of God’s grace to us (Eph. 2); we should forget so that we are not paralyzed by shame or crushed under the weight of guilt (Phil. 3).
There will be times as Christians when we offended or upset each other, or when we sin against fellow Christian by our actions or failure to act. In this case I think Paul is saying: remember these things so that you never think of yourself more highly than you ought but rather think of yourself with sober judgment so that you change your thoughts, words and deeds, and so that you make sure you won’t fall into the same kind of errors again. But at the same time, forget these things because they have been dealt with at the cross, if you have truly repented then beating yourself up about these failures is actually just self-indulgent, self-serving sorrow.
This is the same as the way in which God relates to our sin too. In Jeremiah 31:34 it says that God will “remember their sins no more”. The problem is that God cannot forget. He is omniscient. He knows everything all the time. God will never say, “Oh yes, I forgot that”!
The point of that text is that God no longer deals with us on the basis of those sins. He chooses not to interact with us on the basis of our failures and shortcomings but on the basis of the perfection of Christ that is credited to our accounts in salvation. He would only bring to his memory our past sins if it would serve our good and his glory (although I am not sure what those circumstances would be, but they may exist in the mind of God).
Our past failures teach us to be humble, to depend of God and to be sensitive to others. The full and free forgiveness of God (and the forgiveness offered by others) by our repentance and faith inspires us with hope and freedom for the future.