FORGET OR REMEMBER?
I am sure you’ve heard about the guy who sowed his wild oats and then prayed for crop failure! In a similar way, too many of us have lived with little or no spiritual accountability, and then at some point tried to easily forget what we did. Memories, as the old song goes, become “too painful to remember, so we simply choose to forget.” But at what cost do we live in a world of deliberate amnesia about our own past? Of course, many at this point will quote one of my favorite passages of Scripture. “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.” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV) To that great advise I can only say “amen!” It seems, however, at first glance to easily excuse a generation that wants to disavow any memory of people or places that remind us of our past mistakes. But, is “forgetting” the only advise Paul gives regarding our pre-Christian past? Hardly!
In Ephesians 2:11-12 Paul insists we remember what we were when we were not saved! “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” He told the Corinthians something similar: “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.”(1 Corinthians 1:26 NLT) And, in a personal example, Paul shared his testimony all of his life and said toward the end of his life, “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Earlier he had observed, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) Clearly Paul never forgot who he was or what he did before he came to Christ!
So which is it? Forget or remember? It is both. The Bible does not allow for spiritual amnesia- but neither should we spend our lives dwelling on past mistakes, losses, sins, and pains we cannot undo. The Bible mentions memory over 200 times and in one sense it is a great tool. For one thing, we can remember NOT to do some things again, precisely because those actions were so costly the first time!
The experiences in the past that immobilize us with pain must be surrendered to God who forgets our sin when we repent of it. “…I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12) The sins you can’t forget are the same sins God can’t remember! The word “forget” in the famous Philippians passage about “forgetting the things which are behind” isn’t even the greek word usually used to describe memory. Paul wasn’t saying he had no recollection of his past, was he? Of course not. Rather, he refused to give his pre-Christian past much consideration. He left painful events behind him, and refused to encourage them. The word translated “forgetting” actually means he “neglected” the past rather than merely losing his memory of the events.
When we come to Christ we don’t wake up one day with a memory edited by the Holy Spirit like an accidentally deleted computer file. We are not left wondering where we’ve been for the last 25 years! We will always be people with memories not easily forgotten, and we can learn from our memories- even the painful ones- and hopefully even use them as examples for others who might avoid our same mistakes!