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Living in the Past

By James Metsger 

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 (Philippians 3:13-14a) 

I didn’t major in history, but I’m a wonderful historian. This is particularly true when remembering my past sin and failure. It’s not that I just remember it, but I can feast on it. Paul gives wonderful advice to folks like me. “Don’t live in the past.” Don’t dwell on past failures. This doesn’t mean we minimize our unwise decisions from the past. We don’t wave at them with a hearty, “Oh, that wasn’t such a big deal!” Paul never said, “I probably shouldn’t have persecuted those Christians, but, you know, youthful indiscretion.” Paul didn’t minimize his past, but he also didn’t live in his past.  

Do you have moments you’d like to do over? Any past relationships you’d like to strike from the record? Any words spoken you’d like to have back? Of course, you do! Welcome to the club. There’s good news. Your past doesn’t define you. Past decisions may be a part of your story, but they are not the point of the story. You are not defined by your past sin. 

Just as you are not defined by past sin, you are also not defined by past success.

This is important to remember and bears repeating. Past failures don’t disqualify you from future fruitfulness and past success doesn’t define you. That may sound a little strange, but sometimes we get so fixated on past success that we forget God may have something for us in the future. We talk as if every good thing that could ever be done or experienced has already happened. We live in the old days and forget God’s new morning mercies. With Christ, a new day has dawned!  

Paul reminds us that it’s hard to run ahead when you’re looking over your shoulder. He was straining forward, forgetting his past, looking ahead with his eyes fixed on the one who went before him—Jesus.


Is there anything in my life that I need to let go of today?  

What am I moving toward?  

What does it look like for me to take a step in the right direction?