1 Timothy 1:15 “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.”
Paul’s admission of guilt is not too shocking given his past. He zealously pursued Christians and brought them to be tortured and put to death all in the name of religion. He stood by when Stephen was stoned. He was on his way to Damascus to deliver letters.
It was on that road that Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 9:3-5 “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
His heart was under deep conviction. He may have even seen what Stephen saw. In any case, we know that within the next twenty-four hours, Paul placed his faith and trust in the Lord and became born again.
But it begs the question:
“Were Paul’s atrocities enough to warrant him to be called the ‘chiefest of sinners?'”
You might say that Herod could be worse. Killing the innocent children two years and younger to eliminate the threat to his throne or beheading John in prison.
Anyone of the Caesars whose reign was strewn with deceit, murder, and immorality could rise in the ranks of chiefest of sinners.
The ruling kings of Israel had, at some point, the capacity to be called the chiefest when plunging a whole nation into Baal worship and apostasy.
So what possessed Paul to consider himself the ‘chiefest of sinners?’
One might consider that he viewed his sin enough for Jesus to suffer the crucifixion – personally. It may very well be that Paul was present when Jesus died on the cross.
Whether that is true or not, I believe that Paul saw, very acutely, that it was HIS sin that caused Jesus to suffer. He saw his sin as exceedingly sinful.
Romans 7:13 “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
In light of the law, Paul saw his sin as exceeding sinful. He did not try to justify it. He didn’t compare it to others to lessen the severity. He saw himself standing alone, accountable for every wrong committed against the law.
In that light, he saw how far he was from righteousness or perfect goodness.
For me to see myself as Paul did that day means eliminating any excuse, comparison, or justification I may use to placate the judgment of my sin, which is death in Hell. My sins today are in violation of both the Old and New Testament.
I remember the conviction I felt as an unsaved man. When I think about the depth of the conviction and the stark truth that if I died in my sins, I would split Hell wide open, I begin to tremble all over again.
Have we lost the ability to feel as we once did before we got saved?
Have we filed away our worst sins and created a highlight reel of a life that wasn’t so bad?
I violated God’s law in the extreme. I rejected Christ on my first presentation of the gospel at age 21. It wasn’t until ten years later that I heard a second clear gospel presentation. In those ten years, I amassed quite a few sins that were added to that list.
Even now, I do not feel as convicted over my sin as I did back then, and I ask myself, ‘Why?’
Is it because I convince myself that all my sins are forgiven, and I already have my place in Heaven secured that it doesn’t matter?
Have I deceived myself into thinking that sin is okay if I am the only one it hurts?
That very lie is from the pit of Hell because my sin, no matter how small or insignificant, stands in the way of a close, personal, intimate walk with God. It is adding to the weight of sin Jesus had to bear on the cross.
And how much more wicked is it knowing what Jesus did for me, that I would willingly do something contrary to what drove Him to the cross in the first place?
Joseph took sin seriously.
Genesis 39:8-9 “But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
Our life after salvation must be lived in light of the gospel. We cannot fashion it to fit our life and lifestyle. We must allow God to fashion us as He would desire. As a purchased possession, I cannot take what is not mine to do with as I please.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Paul knew his own carnality. He also saw the carnality infest the churches at Corinth and Galatia. In every case, he pointed to our relationship’s personal nature and dealt squarely with sin at the core.
It is a sin that corrupts every one of our relationships. It is a sin that deceives, divides, and destroys everything good and right. It is our enemy and must be dealt with as such.
Paul’s view of his sin is only extreme if we have allowed our sin to come close and reside without confession or repentance. Unless we stop allowing sin to be regarded as anything less than exceeding sinful, we are in danger of drawing close and opening the door.
When the church looks more and more like the world, it becomes hard to distinguish right from wrong and good from the bad. We cannot be like them to win them. I saw the stark difference in the lives of those who called themselves Christian. It was that difference that drew me to them – not pushed me away.
Seeing ourselves as the chiefest of sinners can allow us to keep the right perspective in our relationship with God. Let us pray we are more shocked by our own sin than those seeking to pull us out of the fire.
Jude 21-23 “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”