April 27, 2019

When You Are Forgiven but Don’t Feel Free

By Grant Nixon

People have different driving habits. I don’t know if I have ever seen my wife operate a vehicle without applying some form of make-up at the same time. It’s quite impressive. Both Pastor Mike and Pastor Rick drive as if they are in a race where not only are they awarded points for speed, but also for how many cars they pass and lane changes they make. Pray for them.

What’s my strange driving habit? I treat my driver’s seat like it’s the stage of Radio City Music Hall, and I’m Mick Jagger…er…I mean, Chris Tomlin.

I rock out.

If you are stopped next to me at a redlight, it’s going to be weird for you. I sing my heart out, and nothing gets me more emotive than worship music. Every Sunday morning my drive to Grace is a sight to behold — an embarrassing sight — but a sight nonetheless. One song I sing at the top of my lungs is called “Death Was Arrested” by North Point InsideOut. The bridge is what really gets me. It says:

Oh, we’re free, free
Forever we’re free
Come join the song
Of all the redeemed
Yes, we’re free free
Forever amen
When death was arrested and my life began

Just reading those lyrics, one can easily see why it moves me so much! Singing about our freedom because of the death of Jesus for us — does it get any better?

If I’m honest, even though I sing those lyrics and I know that they are true, I don’t always feel free. There are many days I don’t feel free from my sin. The consequences of my sin are in my face. The memory of my failure is vivid and present. The guilt from which Jesus released me has returned. I don’t feel very free.

In Christ, we have been forgiven, so how do we embrace the freedom that comes along with that forgiveness?

Look at Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “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)

He tells us first to forget what lies behind. Maybe you are thinking the same thing I was when initially reading this passage, “Forget?! I’ve tried that! I can’t! The memories don’t leave! The consequences are here to stay!”

It’s a mistake and a misreading of this text to think that Paul is telling us to flip a switch in our brains, and just decide to forget. We aren’t Dory, and we can’t just keep swimming. Paul’s instruction to forget is coupled with another imperative: press on.

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind AND straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal…”

I don’t think Paul forgot his past, in that he didn’t remember it anymore. I don’t think he forgot his self-righteousness. I don’t think he forgot the execution of that young follower of Jesus, Stephen, that he watched and approved. I don’t think he forgot the men, women and children he had arrested for their belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

But I do think that forgetting here is not about memory but  about dwelling. Paul is saying that he is choosing not to dwell where God has already forgiven him; but, instead, he will constantly move forward to where God is calling him.

Paul’s forgetfulness of the past is directly connected to his pursuit of the future. In other words, you can’t possibly let go of the past without also reaching for God’s future for you.

Don’t stop running after Jesus.
Don’t stop serving.
Don’t stop obeying.
Don’t stop worshipping.
Don’t dwell where God has already forgiven you! Constantly move forward to where God is calling you.

But what do we do when we are tempted to stop and dwell in the past? What do we do when the memories materialize and the guilt returns?

Tell yourself the truth.

God doesn’t condemn me. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

My old is gone; I am new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

My master is grace, not sin. “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

Jesus has set me free; therefore, I am free. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Stop dwelling in what you did, and start marveling in what Christ has done for you. When we do that, we can press on and experience the freedom God has given us in Christ.


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