Public sinner number one
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)
Here in his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul makes a simple, yet profound, statement that no Christian should ever forget: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…’.
And then he adds six little words: ‘—of whom I am the worst.’ The NIV translation is relatively bland but Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase renders it more strongly as, ‘…Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy.’ (1 Timothy 1:15 The Message).
Remember this is Paul, the missionary giant, speaking. The man who encountered the risen Jesus on the Damascus road, who is credited with writing much of the New Testament and who was equally at home verbally sparring with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill as he was defending himself face to face with the powerful King Agrippa.
So considering that many believe Paul to be the most important person after Christ in the history of Christianity,1 is this extraordinary display of public humility justified? Can Paul, as he claims, truly be the very worst of sinners, the ‘chief’ of sinners as the King James Version puts it?
Yes Paul’s sins were grievous indeed. He zealously persecuted the early followers of ‘the Way’ one of the first names given to Christianity (Acts 9:2), and was complicit in the martyrdom of Stephen. But the full impact of what he had done did not hit home until his dramatic conversion. As light from heaven flashed around him, the voice of the Messiah spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4 NIV). It was at that moment Paul realised how much his sin had cost his Saviour. And in the very next instant he understood his Saviour would save him anyway: ‘But I was given mercy so that in me Christ Jesus could show that he has patience without limit…’ 1 Timothy 1:16 (ERV).
Isn’t this the very process that every believer goes through when our consciences are pricked, our eyes opened and our hearts convicted by the Holy Spirit that we are ‘Public Sinner Number One’? The moment we become acutely aware of our absolute need for our Saviour’s grace: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ Romans 3:23-24 (NIV).
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.2 Amen.
Study by Peter Mill
2 Adapted from ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton.
About the writer:
Peter Mill is a Minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Scotland, Ireland and Northern England
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