But by the Grace Of God
Read 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (ESV)
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.
How does the apostle Paul’s testimony encourage you?
Have you ever been disappointed and disgusted with yourself? Has your sin ever made you feel unworthy of forgiveness or disqualified for service? I think at some point or another, we all have felt that way. But you know what? Those thoughts are lies meant to keep us trapped in guilt and shame so that we are ineffective for God’s kingdom. The idea that we need to punish ourselves for our sins or that what we have done is somehow unforgivable is just not biblical! If God has forgiven us, who are we to withhold forgiveness to ourselves?
In today’s verses, Paul called himself the foremost of sinners. But, he is quick to point out that sinners are the very people that Christ Jesus came into this world to save. He said that despite his egregious transgressions, he received mercy so that we all can know that there is no one that Jesus, in His perfect patience, can’t forgive if we trust in Him for our salvation. It’s like Paul is saying, “Look, if Jesus will forgive me, He’ll forgive anyone!” But we do have to turn to Him in repentance and faith.
If you are a sinner, good news! Jesus came for you! He said so Himself: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
But what exactly is Paul’s story? Why did he consider himself the chief of sinners? We first see him come onto the scene at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:58. Those stoning Steven laid their garments at his feet suggesting that he was involved in the execution. Side note—he is called both Saul and Paul in the Bible because Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Roman name.
Acts 8:1-3 gives us more details about Paul’s past: “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
So, before Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and he converted to Christianity (which you can read about in Acts 9) Paul was a well-known persecutor of the early Christian church. But despite his sordid past, Paul did not let guilt and shame stop him from serving the Lord and working to advance the Gospel. He said, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
Friends the truth is, if you are in Christ, you are the recipient of his amazing grace. The same grace that took Paul from being one of the worst persecutors of the early Christian church to one of the most influential apostles of Christ, is the same grace that is available to you. No matter what you’ve done, you can be forgiven in Christ. If you have already accepted Christ, you are already forgiven. But don’t let His grace toward you be in vain by not forgiving yourself. Like Paul, accept His grace and let Him use you.
Lord, I know that I am a sinner and I’m not deserving of forgiveness. But by Your amazing grace, I am what I am. Forgiven, made righteous by You, a child of God, set apart for Your service, dearly loved. Thank You for the amazing gift of Your grace. Amen.