"Forgetting Those Things Which Are Behind"
It can be hard on a Christian to be confronted with the past. When either a friend, with fond recollection, or an enemy, with bitter resentment, from bygone years, calls to memory the sexual promiscuity or the drunkenness or the drug addiction or the dishonesty or the foul language or the hatred or the violence or whatever iniquity characterized the now-saved person when they were still lost, shame may resurface.
Paul addressed memories of a sinful past when he wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
The apostle had to forget the past and, in his case, there was much to forget. Elsewhere, he described his old ways thusly: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). Within that same context he called himself the “chief” of “sinners” (15). Such was his former condition, though! It did not describe the apostle Paul, but the man he used to be.
When Paul warned the Corinthian brethren not to be fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, and such, he concluded: “such were some of you!” The difference was they “were washed,” they “were sanctified,” they “were justified” in Christ and His Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)! Thankfully, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Eliminating the old self and embracing the new is precisely what the gospel is about. So, all disciples get to join the apostle in declaring, “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:4-7). Submission to Christ in baptism is about burying the old man and rising to new life in Jesus!
Those who have thus obeyed the gospel are set free from the bondage of sin, provided they continue to behave accordingly. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth” (Colossians 3:3-5). There is need for constant renewal in Jesus. “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
When Paul told the Philippians he had to forget what was behind (Philippians 3:12-14), he also said he needed to “press on,” “reach forward,” and “press toward the goal.” Letting go the past is useless without “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!”
So, the answer to those who bring up the sinful past is this: “Thank God I’m not like that anymore because Jesus changed me!” Whether the other person recalls the former ways as pleasant or awful, the response of the Christian should be the same.