1 Timothy 1; Isaiah 31-33; Psalm 119:33-64
How do we see ourselves spiritually? Most of us look at ourselves in a pretty good light. I’ve heard many people say “I may not be the best, but I’m not the worst. I’m better than a lot of people.” What this means is that people are willing to accept mediocrity in themselves when talking about spiritual things. Maybe we’ve learned to settle in life. Maybe we’ve learned that being second isn’t really so bad. After all, we wouldn’t want to be extremists about this sort of thing.
If you were to ask those same people something like, “who is the best spiritual person you can think of in history aside from Jesus?” I am sure that Paul’s name would show up in the top three responses. Paul didn’t see himself in this way. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” I think Paul hit upon a truth that most of us are afraid to recognize. Until we realize that we are the worst of sinners, we will have a difficult time understanding the grace of God. The more we understand of the grace of God, the more we recognize the extent of our sin. When we stand before a holy God our own sins become magnified. We can’t start arguing that we aren’t as bad as someone else because our own personal rebellion against God is so obvious. When we imagine that Jesus was crucified for our sins; our trip to the dark inner recesses of our own lives reveal the truth that all must cry out: “I am the worst sinner of all.” And yet when we stand face to face with God we are not in despair. At the same time we recognize how vast our sin against God may have been, we also realize the love of God in sending Jesus to die for us. What should be a terrible psychological devastation turns into an amazing picture of love, grace and forgiveness as we realize that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners like ourselves. We realize that our lives have never been mediocre: we hit the extremes of depth and height all in this one statement.
I know we aren’t supposed to disagree with God’s word, but I can’t help but wonder if we are supposed to disagree with Paul here. When quoting this verse, we don’t say “Christ Jesus came to save sinners of whom Paul was the worst.” We voice the words, “I am the worst.” If I try to get off the hook and remind people that “Paul is saying that, not me,” I’ve lost the point of the verse. Today, I will live as one who once was the worst of sinners, but now has been redeemed through Jesus Christ.