Whether we consider ourselves Christians or not, we should all be able to explain the Christian faith in a clear and concise way. It is important so that we faithfully represent what Christians believe. One passage that summarizes what Christians believe is found in 1 Timothy 1:15 where we read, “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.” In just a few short words, we see that at the heart of Christianity is an understanding of Jesus.
Paul reverses the normal order by describing Him as ‘Christ Jesus’. He is Christ. Christ is not his last name. The word ‘Christ’ speaks of being anointed. In the ancient world, when a person was set apart to undertake the responsibilities of a high office, they were anointed with oil.
In the Old Testament, the prophets, priests and kings were all anointed with oil having been appointed by God to a particular office. Jesus was also anointed with a work that is summarized in the name given to Him. He was called Jesus because He would save His people from their sin. Jesus came into this world, not merely to teach or inspire others because our ultimate problem goes much deeper than ignorance or aimlessness in life.
Our problem is that we are bent at the core of our being. The Bible uses the term ‘sinner’ to capture this reality. We are all sinners. That is what we are by nature and the wrong we do (sin) flows out of our distorted nature. That designation will inevitably offend many, but it makes sense of the human condition.
But the Scriptures celebrate that God saves sinners. We read, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” Jesus did this by identifying with sinners. He lived the life we should have lived and He died the death that we ought to die. Through His substitutionary death, he paid the penalty of sins for all who trust in Him. The believer does not have to downplay the reality of guilt, but neither do they have to despair because of it.
Paul has the freedom to confess just how much he needs God’s mercy. Speaking of sinners, he says, “… of whom I am the foremost.” Paul says similar things elsewhere. He says in another passage, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Cor. 15:9). Then later, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to peach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8).
But here in 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul writes at the end of his life that he is the chief of sinners. Now that might strike you as overly negative. But notice, what Paul’s point is. Paul, a former persecutor of the church of God, found mercy in God’s sight so as to be an example of who can find favor in God’s sight (1 Tim. 1.16-17). If God is willing to save Paul, then He can forgive anyone who calls on Him. Christianity magnifies the grace of God because it acknowledges the depth of our need and the salvation found in Jesus Christ
Pastor Peter Aiken is with Birchwood Church (www.birchwoodchurch.org). A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.