Everybody wants to quit something. Whether it’s smoking, drinking, junk food, or biting your nails, all of us have something that occupies our “quit do” list. But for some of us, the best thing we could quit is our regret. That’s what the apostle Paul had to do.
Paul writes a letter to the Christians living in the city of Philippi and tells them that knowing Christ personally is more important than religious rules and regulations. For Paul to make that statement is a big deal, because his success was defined by his religious credentials. He had to quit his definition of success. Philippians 3:12-14 says:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
You might be wondering what somebody with Paul’s credentials would have to forget. Most people in his shoes would be celebrating his past, not trying to forget it. But Paul actually had a regret that haunted him his entire life.
In Acts 7, we read about a disciple named Stephen who was stoned to death for being a follower of Jesus. Verse 58 says that his accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Who was Saul? Saul was Paul’s name before Paul was a follower of Jesus (Acts 13:9).
So Paul—or Saul—was present at the stoning of Stephen. He wasn’t just an innocent by-stander either. He issued threats and was “eager to kill the Lord’s followers” (Acts 9:1-2). He even requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, seeking help in arresting any followers of Jesus.
Paul’s greatest regret was the way he persecuted the church. Before becoming a follower of Jesus, he was killing followers of Jesus. He later wrote, “For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
So how does Paul respond to his regret? By “Forgetting what is behind…” Sound impossible? The word forget doesn’t imply memory but rather influence. While Paul couldn’t remove from his mind the memory of his past, he could remove its influence on his life. In other words, Paul’s regrets defined his past but they did not dictate his future.
Despite Paul’s poor choices, God still had a plan to use him. In fact, he was the instrument God chose to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Therein lies an important truth: Your bad choices don’t keep God from choosing you. Yes, our choices have consequences. Yes, our choices can derail God’s plan for our lives. But our choices don’t define who God is, and our choices don’t prevent God from choosing us. We can’t let regrets dictate our future. If God can choose to use Paul after he killed Christians and persecuted the church, God can choose to use you. Your regrets are no match for God’s grace. Quit your regrets and embrace His grace.