“…0ne thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 3:12-14
These words are helpful when we feel stuck in regret, or limited by our past choices. One of the wonderful things about God is that he sees us as we will become, and tenderly grows us towards that; we need never fear that we limited by our past or stuck in the present. God knows what we can become if we keep pursuing him and growing more like him. He reminds us in scripture and in person that with him our future will be greater than our past (Haggai 2:9). In a similar vein God reminds us that he has good plans for us that he intends to bring about (Jeremiah 29:11); that we need not despair because we are being daily renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and that we just need to make sure we dwell in him: he will enable us to be incredibly fruitful (John 15:5-8).
Paul’s words are written within a context. He has just reminded the readers that he used to have impressive credentials as a religious man, and then he met Jesus and realised what true worth was; he now considered all his past gains worthless compared to the value of knowing Christ and becoming like him. This is the chief ‘goal’ to which he refers. He has acknowledged his failures to the Philippians but is not going to let them determine his future.
The amazing thing is that when we engage with God he calls out the best in us and leads us into new freedoms. Even when he identifies something in us he wants to change, he does it with such love and gentleness. If you’ve ever known any people like that, you have been blessed. Paul does not compare himself with anyone else, only Christ himself. And he knows that he could be discouraged in the height of such a standard, but he knows this is a work of God in him: “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”
In other words, he can’t say he does everything right by his own effort, but he presses on, aiming to live out God’s call to righteousness, and rejoicing that he is a better man than he used to be.
Any wrong we have done, we bring it to God and he disposes of it completely. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions [sins] from us’; in other words, he flings them to the far side of the sea, figuratively speaking. Practically speaking, they are even further away than that; they are gone, and we are free to be the person he is making us into today.