Past Tense, Future Perfect

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I had failed. Driving home, I shook my head: how could I have let people down like this? That night I lay awake and compared myself to my peers—all seemingly happy and successful during such dark moments. Failure is common to humans. I knew this, but it provided no comfort.

At such times I can give in to discouragement or decide to make good use of my failures and look to the future. The latter choice is the one Paul exercises in Philippians, chapter 3, and clearly is central in his life. In verses 2 through 11 he describes his past: good family, the best education, religious zeal. But viewed through his faith in Christ, all these things were worthless. Indeed, he was ashamed of parts of his life—especially his persecution of Christians. He saw his past as failure.

In verses 12-14, Paul lays out his strategy. The key, he says, is to avoid feeling as if you have completely failed or completely arrived. Both traps arrest your progress. But I press on, Paul said, precisely because “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (v. 12c). And that is the Christian’s attitude toward failure: because Christ has made me his own, I do not have to prove myself by my efforts. Paul said in a previous verse that he did not count on his own righteousness, but on “the righteousness from God based on faith” (v. 9). Because of this, Paul said, "I am liberated to turn toward the future with hope."

Openness toward the future is healthy both spiritually and psychologically. Because Christ has made me his own, I can forget what lies behind and strain to what lies ahead (v. 13). Paul says: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14).

To focus on our failings is to not focus on life’s true goal: our calling to become like Christ. And central to life in Christ is putting our confidence in Him rather than in the flesh. Paul says in v. 3 that we worship and live our lives in the Spirit of God.

Living my life in the light of God’s future rather than my stumbling past has one immediate result: all the issues once so important, that made me feel so much worse than other people, go into a larger hope-filled perspective.

And I sleep soundly.