These days, there are a significant number of churches who wish to either ignore altogether or diminish the idea that all of us humans are sinners. They prefer the progressive, social justice, or prosperity gospels–falsely teaching that accepting Jesus is just about taking us to a higher level of knowledge and advancement (material or otherwise) in our self-serving human condition. Neither Jesus himself nor his apostles taught such nonsense. Among the core teachings of the true gospel of Jesus Christ is acknowledging that we as humans have a wicked nature of spiritual blindness that can only be remedied by humble repentance toward the Lord Jesus.
In other words, accepting the truth of the gospel is to accept the realistic view of Jesus’s identity and his purpose while accepting a realistic view of ourselves in all our sinfulness. Paul expressed all of this in a nutshell in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 when he says:
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
The verses may be rather short, but they reveal many things about Christ, Paul, and the nature of salvation. Specifically, Paul had a good understanding of the following:
- Christ’s existence and power is outside of and surpasses the confines of this world of space, matter, and time.
- Christ has the power to voluntarily insert himself into the realm of mankind.
- Christ cared about mankind so much that he used his infinite power to make salvation available to all sinners who have ever existed or will ever exist, meaning he is from everlasting to everlasting.
- Christ is extremely patient and merciful to sinners even when they don’t deserve it.
- In order to accept Christ’s salvation, a person must acknowledge just how evil and sinful they are and just how much they need Jesus’s mercy and grace.
Paul thought of himself as chief among sinners, the worst of the worst, for his staunch persecution of the church which was, by default, a persecution of Christ (Acts 9:5). He most likely was even responsible for the murder of some Christians given that he consented to Stephen’s death by stoning. Paul’s language here implies his heartfelt humility, considering himself the least of the apostles who wasn’t fit to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9) and lower than the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8). Nevertheless, while being mindful of his sin with godly sorrow that kept him humble, the grace of the Lord Jesus toward Paul that brought the apostle salvation was used as a pattern for everyone after Paul who would become believers and receive everlasting life (v. 16 above). A pattern revealing just how far the Lord’s mercy can reach when we are humble enough to admit our sin while we repent of it.
Paul’s character is in stark contrast to the Pharisees in John 9 who reflect the blindness that most people are content with. They were so self-righteous that they refused to acknowledge or turn away from their spiritual blindness, mocked the very idea they were guilty of it, and, therefore, their sin remained as they refused to acknowledge Christ’s identity and his purpose, as evidenced in this exchange:
39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. John 9
May we as believers continue to show the humility Paul did, so that we can draw closer to the Lord and make ourselves available to the Father’s greater revelations just like Paul.