// ILLUSTRATION //
Hours behind the runner in front of him, the last marathoner finally entered the Olympic stadium. By that time, the drama of the day’s events was almost over and most of the spectators had gone home. This athlete’s story, however, was still being played out.
Limping into the arena, the Tanzanian runner grimaced with every step, his knee bleeding and bandaged from an earlier fall. His ragged appearance immediately caught the attention of the remaining crowd, who cheered him on to the finish line.
Why did he stay in the race? What made him endure his injuries to the end? When asked these questions later, he replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles away to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.”
- Quote magazine, July 1991
// INTRODUCTION //
As Christians, we are in a race. But we’re not running for a gold medal.
- We are running for something greater than a gold medal.
- We are running for something more prestigious than a gold medal.
- We are running for something that lasts longer than a gold medal.
We are running for the prize of eternal life, in all its glory. The prize is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, being in perfect fellowship with Christ forever.
You see, if you have been born again, if you have put your faith in Jesus, you have received salvation, you have been forgiven for all your sins, and you have been promised eternal life.
But the fullness of that eternal life is not yet a present reality. It is still to come. There is a day when we will inherit new bodies, spiritual bodies, and we will dwell with the maker of Heaven and Earth for all eternity, in a place with no more sin, or sorrow, or pain, in a place where the streets are like gold.
I want to make it to the end. I want to make it to the finish line. I want to see God face-to-face. I want to be welcomed in to Heaven.
But there’s a race to be run. There’s a destiny we are called to fulfill. There’s a plan that God has for our lives.
And I think we often start the race well. When we first come to know Jesus, it’s like we’re on fire. We begin to devour the Word. We start to pray like never before. And we are excited to tell others about our new found faith. And some of us catch a vision of doing something big for God.
And then as time goes on, things tend to fade away. Our hunger for the Word fades. Our passion to pray all the time dwindles. Our excitement to tell others about Jesus turns into fear. And the vision we once had to do something for God becomes a distant dream.
What matters most is not how we start the race.
What matters most is how we finish the race.
So in the next few moments, I’m going to unpack one of the greatest keys to finishing well, to finishing strong.
// SERIES: LIVING WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL //
This morning, we continue our series called “Living Worthy of the Gospel”. In this series, we will be looking at portions of scripture from Philippians.
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel
Paul is saying, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Conduct yourselves, live in such a way that is deserving of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul is basically saying, you’ve been saved, washed clean of all your sins, delivered from bondages, transformed in your heart and mind, now live like it.
Live worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Over the course of this series, we will look at various passages from Philippians and unfold what it looks like to live worthy of the gospel.
// SCRIPTURE //
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
// FORGET THE PAST AND MOVE FORWARD //
In this series, we said that to live worthy of the Gospel, we must  suffer well,  go all in,  be humble, and this morning, we will see that we must forget the past and move forward.
// WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? //
In our passage, Paul just got done saying that all he had that was of value, everything that seemed worth boasting about, it is all trash compared to knowing Jesus.
And he continued by saying that his life aim was to know Jesus, and be united with Him in His death and resurrection.
We pick up with Paul saying, but I’m not there yet. I’m not perfect. I’m haven’t reached the end yet. I’m still a work in progress.
If we’re honest, that’s us too, right?
I still fail, I still fall. I’m not perfect, but I’m not who I used to be.
- I may not be perfect, but I certainly don’t get high like I used to.
- I may not be perfect, but I certainly don’t talk like I used to.
- I may not be perfect, but I certainly don’t drink like I used to.
- I may not be perfect, but I’m definitely not as selfish as I used to be.
I may not be perfect, but God’s working in me.
Paul pictures himself as in a race, straining every nerve and muscle and exerting every ounce of strength, like a runner, lest he fall short of the goal. That goal was that he might attain unto the resurrection from the dead. He had had a glimpse of the glory of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:4) and was determined that he would, by the grace of Christ, get there, with as many others as he could possibly persuade to come along.
And Paul gives us his secret – forgetting the past and moving forward.
Paul had a past. Remember, Paul wasn’t always the great apostle who preached the gospel across the known world.
He was born Saul of Tarsus. And before he put his faith and trust in Jesus, he was an enemy of Jesus. In fact, Paul was responsible for persecuting Christians, even to the point of death. Christians were afraid of Paul. He was so well known for coming against the Church that even when he got saved, Christians were still afraid of him.
Paul had a past. And even as a Christian, he wasn’t perfect. He was a man, he was a human, just like anyone else, and he had to deal with temptations, and sin, and pride, and disappointment, and hardships.
But he had a goal in mind. He wanted to make it to the end. He wanted to finish the race, and finish well. But how? How can he come from such a dark past, and still finish well? How can he go through all the pains and heartaches of this world and still finish well?
He said, I forget the past and I move forward.
I forget the past, good and bad.
// WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? //
The past can cripple us. The past can hold us back. The past can keep us from moving forward. The past can keep us from fulfilling all that God has for us.
61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Don’t live in the past.
Don’t be bound to your past.
Don’t allow your life to be dictated by your past.
This goes for both the good and the bad. We have a tendency to live in the past.
For some of us, maybe we’re resting in our past victories. God set us free years ago. Or we used to serve God years ago. But as of today, we aren’t moving forward from that. We have settled, and become comfortable with our past successes, our past victories. We need to let go. We need to keep moving forward. There is more to be done.
On the other side, some of us are fixated on our past failures, our past hurts, our past regrets. And we live in the past. We’re still dealing with that thing that happened 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And this keeps us from moving forward.
And for some of us, we dwell on our past mistakes, and our past experiences so much that we think God could never use us.
The past weighs us down. It’s like extra weight, extra baggage.
It’s time to put the past behind you. You can certainly learn from the past, but move forward.
God calls us to the finish line, not the starting line.
// HOW DO WE DO THIS? //
But practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we forget the past and move forward?
1. Realize we all have a past.
We all have a past – good or bad.
We have all failed in more ways than one. We have all done things that we aren’t happy about. But if we are going to make it, we must move forward.
What’s in your past?
- Maybe you’ve had some bad relationships in the past.
- Maybe you’ve mishandled some situations with your kids in the past.
- Maybe you’ve been hurt in the past.
- Maybe you’ve been abused in the past.
- Maybe you’ve been abusive in the past.
- Maybe you’ve done some things you regret.
- Maybe you’ve said some things you regret.
We all have a past. But your past doesn’t have to be your identity. You are a new creation. You are now a child of God.
- You are not an addict
- You are not a drunk
- You are not a fornicator
- You are not a liar
- You are not a thief
- You are not a murderer
- You are not a victim.
Your identity does not need to be attached to the fact that you had an abortion. Your identity is not based on the addictions you had.
Paul essentially said, my identity is not a murderer of Christians. That is the past. I’m moving forward.
2. Find forgiveness.
First, we must receive and embrace forgiveness from God.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Then, we must forgive others. If you ever want to move forward, you must allow yourself to be healed from past hurts. Bitterness and hatred will just hold you back from breakthrough and progress in your life.
Finally, we must forgive ourselves. Sometimes, this is the hardest part. And oftentimes, we continue on without ever forgiving ourselves. And the pain and regret of our past continues to haunt us and weigh on us.
3. Identify areas for growth.
We need to realize, like Paul, that we are not there yet. We haven’t arrived anywhere.
I don’t care how holy you are. I don’t care how much you’ve been delivered from. I don’t care how many times you’ve gone to church.
On your best day, you need Jesus just as much as anyone else. And if you’re still alive, you are not done yet.
So ask yourself, in the call of God, where are am I at? In your spiritual walk, where are you at? In your journey toward becoming like Christ, where are you at?
Identify areas of growth. Is there a sin you are dealing with? It is time to deal with it.
Is there a command you have not been obeying. It is time to start walking in obedience in that area.
Put the past behind, and move forward.
// CONCLUSION //
Imagine what it would look like if this was a reality in our lives.
Imagine what your marriage would look life if we could forget the past and move forward.
Imagine what your family would be like if you could all forget the past and move forward.
Imagine what you could do for God if you forget the past and move forward.
This morning, I want to challenge you to do 2 things:
1. Let go of the past.
Is there anything in your past that has been holding you back?
- Maybe it’s a decision you regret.
- Maybe it’s an old relationship that you’ve never let go of.
- Maybe it’s a sin you’ve been dealing with.
Whatever it is, let it go. Learn from it. Forgive whoever needs to be forgiven. Forgive yourself. Embrace God’s forgiveness. And let it go.
2. Take the next step toward moving forward.
- Maybe you haven’t really been coming to church, maybe taking the next step involves coming to church regularly.
- Maybe you haven’t read the whole Bible Maybe taking the next step for you involves reading the whole Bible.
- Maybe you don’t pray The next step for you might be committing to spend more time in prayer each day.
- Maybe you feel called to a specific ministry. Maybe taking the next step involves preparing for that ministry. Don’t wait until you’re asked to be a part of ministry before you start preparing yourself for ministry.
It doesn’t matter how you start the race, all that matters is how you finish the race.
Let’s finish strong. Let’s finish well.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24