Don’t Look Back

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not.’ But afterward he regretted it and went (Matthew 21:28-29).”

Do you have any regrets? Some are determined to live their lives without regrets but in truth such a goal is unobtainable except for those with an unhealthy assessment of themselves. We all have things that we wish we could go back and undo or other decisions in which we would choose to do differently if given the chance. A scholarly journal, known as Emotion, recently published a study conducted by Cornell University that examined which types of regrets people most hold and found that most of us are remorseful about not becoming our ideal self (1). We lament not achieving a goal or an image of who we believe we should have become by now. Regrets are horrible things that can haunt us and deprive us of hope and peace.

There are some bells that cannot be un-rung and no deed done can be undone. Paul was acutely aware of his past mistakes and how he had persecuted the church of Christ with the intention of destroying it (Galatians 1:13). He was bent upon the murder of every last Christian he could catch (Acts 9:1, 22:20, 26:10). The Apostle looked back upon his record and viewed himself as the world’s greatest sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). But that is not his legacy, two millennia later he is known for writing most of the New Testament, building handfuls of churches, embarking on several missionary journeys, and saving more souls than any human being except for Jesus Himself.

Did Paul, reach his ideal self? He would write to the Christians in Philippi that he had “not yet attained (Philippians 3:12),” that is he was still growing towards spiritual maturity. But he was not forlorn or hopeless over this assessment, rather he was confident and buoyed by his outlook. He shared three things that he did that can direct all of us in dealing with our own regrets in life and achieving the ideal self that God has for us.

Firstly, Paul forgot the past, then he reached forward to those good things ahead, and finally he applied himself diligently to grasping that mark that Jesus has set before him (Philippians 3:13-14).” Being forgetful of regrets is critical to avoid the paralysis that comes with the pain of our failings. Judas was overcome with his betrayal of Christ and could not forgive himself nor receive the Lord’s forgiveness (Matthew 27:3-5). Remorse is a powerful thing if properly directed. Paul commended the Christians in Corinth for their godly sorrow that led them to repentance which was not to regretted (2 Corinthians 7:10-12). For Christians, regrets that lead us to forget the past and commit our lives to Christ are not themselves to be regretted. God promises to forget the sins (Jeremiah 31:34) of everyone who enters into the New Covenant (Matthew 26:28).

Having put the remembrance of the past behind Paul encouraged those in Ephesus to also put off their former conduct (Ephesians 4:22) and to those in Colossae to put those things to death (Colossians 3:5). Christians, just as it was for Paul, and those Christians to whom he wrote it is true for us two thousand years later, we were allowed to crucify our old sinful selves and be raised with Christ (Romans 6:2-6).

It is this firmly established biblical principle (our sins are forgiven and forgotten) that allows us to reach forward each day towards that mark that Christ has set before us. The ideal self, that God has set for us is to be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Trust that God has forgotten and has forgiven you. You have been justified, not by redeeming yourself but by the blood of Christ. That inspired Paul (Galatians 2:20) and even though he had been the world’s greatest sinner he could say that he had “fought the good fight, finished the race kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).” Whatever your past, look up Christian. Your future is bright.

“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).”


Billy Alexander is a member of the church of Christ in Jersey Village in Houston, TX. He and his wife Gwen both work at Hewlett-Packard where they met and have worked more than 25 years each. Billy enjoys teaching Bible several times each week at Jersey Village and Memorial church of Christ. Since 2008, his weekly article "Equipping the Saints" as run in the Jersey Village bulletin.