…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Timothy 1:13-17)
I’ve been thinking a lot about sin recently, and listening to a great sermon by Matt Chandler really opened my eyes. I’d seen the sermon before, but I thought I would come back to it again. I’m so glad that I did. One of the things that he brought up was what Paul said in his first letter to Timothy.
Paul, writing to Timothy who was a teacher in the Ephesian church in the first century, makes some bold statements about his life before Christ and his life after Christ. He says that although he had previously been a blasphemer and persecutor of the Church (he approved of the stoning of Stephen; had numerous Christians arrested; and was ultimately converted through a miraculous appearance of Christ while he was traveling to arrest Christians in Damascus), the grace of the Lord Jesus overflowed for him with faith. He claims under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he is the foremost of all sinners (other translations say that he is the “chief” of all sinners). But, in spite of the horrible wickedness in Paul, he was given mercy by God so that his salvation might “display God’s perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”
Do you see what that means? God chose to save the most horrible of all sinners and use him to turn the world upside down and write 70% of the New Testament so that those of us who would come to faith after him would realize that God’s grace is enough for us! It is a tangible sign to us that those who have done immensely more evil than we have, committed more grievous acts of sin, murdered and persecuted the saints, are not beyond the grace and mercy of our God!
I don’t say this to minimize any of our sin. If we are honest we know that if we have lied we are liars, if we have even looked lustfully at someone other than our spouse we’re adulterers, if we have anger or rage we are guilty of murder, if we have stolen then we are thieves, etc. We are all more guilty of sin than any of us care to recognize most times. But most of us can say that we haven’t systematically persecuted the Church in order to arrest and kill all the believers so that Christianity would not spread like Paul did. Most of us could not say that we committed adultery with another man’s wife and then had the husband murdered on the battlefield so that we would not have to face the consequences of our sin like David did. But David was called a man after God’s own heart. Paul—the chief of all sinners—became one of the most influential Christian who have ever lived.
Your sin isn’t big enough for the Cross. Your wickedness does not defeat the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. So what the heck are we hiding from? Why do we cling to our shame in the darkness when we should simply expose ourselves in the light? The whole purpose of Paul’s life and salvation was to provide us with an example that GOD CAN SAVE YOU! Your sin doesn’t impress Him!
And isn’t the Cross the perfect sign of that? The Cross specifically shows us that God isn’t surprised by our sin. He knows every little bit of sin we have or ever will commit. And the Cross says to us that He’s acknowledged our sin and provided for it. He’s covered it all. He’s completed the work! It’s finished! It’s done! His perfect Son was tortured and brutally murdered so that God’s wrath would be satisfied by the broken body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that by His resurrection all who call upon the name of Jesus Christ in faith could be raised from death and into the life of the Son of God.
Look at what He’s done for us:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Why is it that Paul or David or Peter or Abraham or Elijah or any of the saints were able to walk in confidence in their relationship with God and be used supernaturally to change the world? They realized that the righteousness they had was a gift given to them because of the provision made by the Savior on the Cross (Abraham, David, and Elijah came before Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, but they prophesied about His coming and were saved because of their faith in the Messiah who was coming in the same way that we are saved by looking back at what He has done. Everyone is saved because of faith in Jesus, and the Old Testament sacrifices were simply a shadow of the substance that is in Christ’s sacrifice…perhaps more on this later). God made Him who knew no sin become sin so that we would become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Because Jesus absorbed our sin on the Cross, we are free. We are free. We are free. We are free.
Those of us who have been given faith in Christ by God have been baptized into the death of Christ. We were put to death and raised into new life and have been freed from all condemnation, all blame, all the shame, all the weakness… We don’t have to carry the burden of ourselves any longer.
So let go of it all. Let go of your unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, shame, wickedness, sin… Let go of the alcohol, the drugs, the sex, the pornography, the craving of attention, the jealousy… Drop all of the things that have been killing you. It doesn’t have to be difficult–you have been killed by the Cross of Jesus and were raised with Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be burdened anymore. Don’t be enslaved any longer. Grab freedom. You were bought at a price. The payment has already been made… you have nothing to add to it. Rest in that.