One of the benefits of documenting and reading history is the ability to learn from the mistakes of the past with the goal of achieving a better future. Avoiding the failures of the past encourages us to create a world which is more enjoyable, less painful and more satisfying than the past. Not only is this true at the macro level, when we view the entire history of the world, but even at the micro level of our individual lives.
In Deuteronomy 1-11, Moses recounts the forty year history of Israel to all the Israelites with the goal of motivating them towards obedience to God. A new generation of Israelites has grown up during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and just as they are about to enter the promised land of Canaan, Moses compels them towards obedience by recounting all God has accomplished for them, despite their past failings. There is hope place in their ability to learn from this short history, but despite this knowledge and their commitment to obedience, God reveals at the end of Deuteronomy that the people will not obey. They will not remember all the works of the LORD, but will desire their own way. Just as the wilderness account reveals how quickly the Israelites were to forgot the grace and mercy of God, so also would this new generation experience the same short-term memory loss as they entered into the land of Canaan.
It is easy to read the account of the Israelites believing that we would have responded differently.
We tend to believe that if we were witnesses to the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, manna in the desert, water from the rock and the thunder of God’s voice at Mt. Sinai, we would have chosen obedience, not the sinful desires of our heart. Yet, consider how in recognizing all God has accomplished for us by sending Christ as a sacrifice for our sins; becoming a man, living as a servant and ultimately laying down His life on the cross for our salvation, we are quick to forget the grace and mercy of God. Even after we turn towards Christ in faith with a heart of repentance and forgiveness, our lives continue to bear scars of sin, pain, disappointments and failings as we continue to wrestle between the desires to love Christ through obedience and the desire to give in to our sinful nature. One of the evidences of a true believer is the existence of this war which is constantly raging within us.
In light of this, the Apostle Paul provides us with words of encouragement and motivation. We should not allow past failures to keep us from continuing to pursue holiness and sanctification, but rather follow the example given by Paul, who writes “one thing I: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13). Paul does not consider that he will ever achieve perfection while still in this life, but regardless of his continual failings, he pushes forwards with the goal of achieving “the prize of the upward call of God” (Phil 3:14) where we will find our glorification at the future coming kingdom of God. Not only this, but Christ did not leave us alone, but provided the Holy Spirit as a helper who guides us into all righteousness (John 14, 16, 17). We will never achieve sinless perfection in this life, but forgiveness of sin found by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Christ, provides hope that we will be rid of sin forever in the future. For now we do one thing, press on towards the goal of becoming more like Christ each day through the help of the Holy Spirit. We learn from our past and we recall the blessing of God, but we do not allow it to drive us towards discouragement.