Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – 1 Timothy
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
Before his conversion to Christ, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee, a very law abiding Jewish man of dignity who was respected among his peers. Paul speaks about how confident (we should say ‘over-confident’) he was of his ‘righteousness’ before God in Philippians 3:4-6,
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in
the flesh (good works), I have more: circumcised on the eighth
day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;
as for zeal, persecuting the church;
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Paul’s point here in Philippians was to illustrate that if we were to be judged and declared righteous because of our own personal ‘goodness’, then Paul would be the first in line to be greeted by the Lord in glory. But Paul knows better than that. He tells us in every Letter that he wrote to the churches that it is not position, good deeds, religious activity, natural birthright, or any other ‘good work’ that qualifies any of us to be considered ‘holy and righteous’ before the Lord. Our salvation is all of God’s grace; all of God’s choosing, not based on anything other than God’s good pleasure and purpose (Ephesians 1:4-10).
So, back to our two verses from 1 Timothy. Paul starts verse 15 with an interesting introduction: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance”. And although everything found in God’s Word is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance, Paul wants to emphasize the upcoming critical point. With this kind of introduction, I think we better pay very careful attention to what is going to be said! And again, here it is: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst”. I think verse 16 is part of what we should fully accept as trustworthy, but let’s just stick with Paul’s summation of the Gospel and his part in it.
We should all be aware by now that the Gospel – the Good News – is that the divine Jesus became man and lived among other humans, and did so without committing a single sin. Not only was He good at ‘not sinning’ but since He was perfect from before the foundations of the earth (being that Jesus is God), then He wasn’t going to sin. Jesus came to earth, not just to live perfectly, and teach people wonderful things about love and forgiveness, but Jesus specifically came to this earth to die – to die specifically for the sins of His children 1 Peter 1:19-21; Ephesians 3:9-11; Philippians 2:5-8). In dying for our sins He saved our souls. We are saved, redeemed, transformed, born again, regenerated, justified, all because Christ died on the cross as our substitute (which forgave us our sins and provided mercy to all of His children since we were deserving of death), and then Jesus rose from the dead, thus defeating death (which, by His grace brought to us the gift of eternal life). That is what Paul means when he very simply states: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.
But then Paul continues by humbly admitting, that although he was a ‘righteous Jew’ because he followed the Law meticulously, he was still spiritually dead, separated from the Lord God, an enemy of the Triune God, and deserving of eternal punishment. In his mind, he was ‘the chief of sinners’.
Christianity is often falsely accused of being a religion that encourages poor self-esteem because we all have to admit we are sinners before we can come to saving faith. Well, have you ever had an angry thought – so angry that you wished the person you were angry at would drop dead? Then you’re a sinner. Have you ever left work earlier than you were supposed to, or took that roll of Scotch tape home because it was easier than going to the store to buy your own (“And they have a closet full of tape. They won’t miss one roll!”)? Then you’re a sinner. Do you worship the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might? I’m going to guess ‘no’, since none of us can worship the Lord perfectly. Then you and I are sinners in need of forgiveness – in need of a Savior – because we are NOT going to be able to pay the Lord back for our sins, and anyway – we DON’T WANT TO!
So, Christianity isn’t a ‘low-self-esteem’ religion, because Christianity simply calls us to admit what we all are – sinners. And when we see our sin (only by the revelation that comes from the Holy Spirit as He is speaking His life – the life of Christ – into me) I will be moved to repent of my sins. And as I do so I will be unconditionally forgiven and loved, and given eternal life through Christ, which means that my life is Christ’s life. And guess what that means? If my life is Christ’s life, then I have a very, very positive self-image (although I still humbly recognize the tendency of my flesh – my mind and body – which aren’t perfected yet – to still sin at times). So, Christianity is the OPPOSITE of the low-self-esteem attitude that so many unbelievers have about our faith!
Again, Paul is simply confessing or admitting to his readers what his sinful condition was before coming to Christ, and he does so (remember the verses from Philippians in which he mentioned all of his former Jewish ‘religious’ good deeds) in order to remind all other people (who may try to rest in their good religious deeds) that Paul was a sinner, thus so are they/we.
Paul goes on in verse sixteen to share more of the true and complete Gospel message. Once the Holy Spirit spoke life into Paul through his blinding encounter with Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was enabled to see and admit that he was the chief of sinners, and in doing so he was shown mercy (through the cross or sacrifice of Christ), and by Christ showing him mercy, this was a beautiful and true picture of the patience that the Lord had for Paul, and it would serve as an example to you and I – all those who believe on Him and have received eternal life – just how patient, loving, merciful, and gracious our heavenly Father is through Christ.
Throughout my young life (I came to faith at 19) I always saw myself as a ‘good boy’. I didn’t do a lot of things that my peers did, and I was a good churchgoer. I believed the fundamentals of the Christian faith, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ. I was one of the ‘good-deed-doers’ that Paul and the other biblical writers spoke about. When I compared my life and the things that I did and didn’t do to the lives of other people, I figured I was doing okay. But when the Lord in His mercy and grace opened my eyes that Sunday morning, October 27, 1974 (Reformation Day, but I didn’t know it!) I recognized (albeit not perfectly) that I was indeed a sinner and needed God’s mercy and grace through Christ to forgive me and make me ‘right’ before the Lord.
I may not have been the ‘chief of sinners’ when compared to others, but I was indeed in the exact same boat as all other humans: I was spiritually dead and at the bottom of the ocean, and it was only God’s grace and Spirit that reached to the deepest part of the Marianna Trench and brought up my dead self, and breathed His Life into me. I was dead, but now I was alive. I was blind, but now I could see.
We don’t have to go around kicking ourselves for how wicked we are/were, because most of us are pretty ‘good’ on the human level, but when we are placed on the scale of God’s perfection on one side, and our lives on the other, it isn’t even close. We need Christ’s righteousness – His life – to become our spiritual life, and we are then seated in heavenly places, forever eating at the Lord’s Table as one of His children.