1 Timothy 1:15. “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” This is God’s Word.
As I was considering and praying what the Lord has for us this morning, God lead my mind to ask what are the essential parts of a local church. That is, what is it that makes a church a church? Is a church any Christian organization? What about a Christian family? Or a group of Christian friends that gather to encourage one another? The answer, biblically and historically, to all of these is “no.” The Reformers and modern evangelical scholars all agree that the Bible teaches there are three parts that make a church a church. They are: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the gospel. If those three things are being done faithfully, then there is a church. And of the three, it is an understanding of the gospel that is the most important, because you cannot do the other two without it. If the gospel is the most essential, that is the most important, thing we do, then we must make sure everything we do includes this. To the extent we include the gospel into a church, the more it will be a true church. Without the preaching of the gospel, a church ceases to be a true church. So for that reason, we ought to spend much time thinking about what the gospel is and how it changes us. And this passage is one of the most clearest that does just that.
Now, I should take a moment and clarify what we mean by the word “gospel.” We don’t mean a genre of music, as some of the unchurched may think. And we also don’t mean the Bible in general, or a synonym to the New Testament, or just the life of Jesus. I find that those who grew up in a Catholic context have to unlearn that. Instead, the gospel is the core of the Christian message; it is the main point of the whole Bible; that is, the good news that if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus, God’s Son, as your Lord and Savior, God will forgive you of your sins, fulfill his every promise to you, and raise you up from death to eternal life when he returns to judge the living and the dead. After all, the word “gospel” means “good news,” and this is the greatest news that the Bible teaches! So with that, let’s look at our passage to see how it heralds this good news.
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost We will be looking at this in three steps. First how does this verse Summarize Christianity? Second, what Offense does this verse have? And third, what then does a Christian Life built on this good news look like? Christianity Summarized, the Offense of Christianity, and A Christian Life. So, let’s look at it.
This saying “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” was probably an early church slogan that summarized Christianity. It answers two questions: who is Jesus and what did he do. We learn in this verse that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. The fact that Jesus had to come into the world means that he was somewhere else before he came into it. And if he was somewhere else before he came into the world, that is when he was born, it means that he existed before he was born. Therefore, he must be God, dwelling in heaven. But second, the fact that he came into the world means that now he is a part of the world, and so he is also man. So in this little verse we see both Jesus’s divine nature and human nature.
And so what did he come into the world to do? To save sinners. He did not come, as some claim to be a good teacher or to be a good example of how to live. Instead, he actually accomplished something, he purchased our salvation. He did not come to give good advice on how to be reconciled to God, but instead he worked the good news that he actually did reconciled us to God. He is the Christ, the promised Savior from the Old Testament who will save his people. And how did he do this? By living a sinless life and dying on the cross for our sins, and then he rose from the dead to prove that the payment has been complete. The Son of God lived the life we were supposed to live, but then died the death that we deserved. At the cross, God then was pleased to take all of our guilt and place it on Christ, and take his righteousness and place it on us. So now God not only makes us in right standing with God, he is right to do this; it isn’t unjust. In fact, it would now be unjust for God not to forgive us, because we are now in Christ. In other words, once we have been found in him, he not only forgave us of all of our past sins up unto conversion, but included in his death was the forgiveness of every future sin we have yet to commit. He came to save and accomplished it, not just to start the process. The salvation Jesus accomplished is total, completely comprehensive. No leak, no change, no chance of anything keeping us way from the love of God! He came to save and he did it.
It is so important to stress this in order to avoid the idea that our salvation is based on our good works. There is nothing we do to contribute to our salvation; it’s all him. Yet, at the same time we must remember that this salvation is not only a salvation from God’s wrath; it is also a salvation unto good works. How we obey really does matter. Not as the basis of our salvation, but as the evidence of it. We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. And so we persist in doing good deeds, but not looking to them for our standing with God, that’s what Christ came to do. All this is captured in this little phrase Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This is Christianity summarized, the heartbeat of all Christian teaching, the message we must believe to be saved. It is the good news of the Bible, the gospel.
But now I want to draw your attention to how Paul introduces this phrase. He says it is “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” To be honest, when I began studying this verse. I did not think much of this at all. I thought Paul was merely saying this in order to say that it is important. I wasn’t expecting God to meet me in this introduction. But let’s think about it. He calls it trustworthy, it is something you can believe and be sure of. In stressing this fact, doesn’t it imply there is something about the gospel is hard to believe? And the next phrase, deserving of full acceptance. It is something that would be better for you if you don’t resist it. This implies that there must be something about the gospel that is difficult to accept. What then is it about this message that is hard to believe and difficult to accept? It is certainly hard to believe something that you cannot see, but we normally don’t say we can’t accept something we can’t see. In fact the hardest things to believe and accept are the things we can see, but don’t like. The gospel exposes something about us that we do not want to see. And if we look at the phrase again, it becomes clear what this is: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
It is difficult for us to think of ourselves as sinners. It doesn’t come natural to us. This is the offense of Christianity. We like thinking of ourselves as competent, righteous, able, independent, good, praiseworthy, successful, achieved, loved, accepted, valuable, significant, unique, special. It is uncomfortable and offensive to think of ourselves as weak, wicked, broken, dependent, bad, guilty, failing, poor, wretched, estranged, without, needy, unclean, common. Yet the Bible only offers hope for sinners.
You see, the human hearts does not want to relate to God as a sinner. We all have two different bents. Some of want to relate to God by assuming his favor. If you grew up out of the church, you probably thought, if you ever thought about God, thought that of course he loves me, that’s what God does tight? Of course I’m not perfect, I’m just being myself. As long as I stay true to me, I’ll be fine and God will never stop loving me.
For those of us who grew up in the church or with an awareness that there is a god, we want to relate to God a different way. Instead of assuming his favor, we try to earn it. We think God must accept me, because I have done this and that for him. I have not kept all his laws, of course, but I’m decent enough. I give,I’m nice, I even go to church and pray.
The problem with both these views is that they refuse to accept the fact that they are sinners. They both admit that they aren’t perfect, but they think that they are capable of doing something good. They can at least be good enough, but this is not the type of person the Bible gives hope for. Paul, potentially the greatest Christian said, “No goodness dwells within me.” David cries, “I have no good apart from you, Lord.” When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he meant only those who see their complete spiritual bankruptcy have a chance of entering the kingdom of heaven. We cannot hold onto any island of righteousness inside of us as the basis of God excepting us. We have absolutely nothing to offer to the table. We must come before God as sinners in utter need.
You can see now why this is a message that is difficult to except. God inspired that word “full,” this is “deserving of full acceptance,” to drive this point home. The world, and us right beside them, is ready and eager to accept that they are partially broken, but we all don’t want to fully accept that we are thoroughly broken.
How in the world that is this good news? It sounds an awful lot like a bad news, doesn’t it? The good news is that God, in Jesus, has opened up a third way, and entirely new way, to relates to God, by grace. In fact, the other two ways of relating to God are incredibly dissatisfying and destructive. To relate to God by assuming his fever, is to never get real help for our problems. It assumes that even if sin does exist, it’s not that big of a deal. And it isn’t gracious of God to leave us in our sins, that’s the very way the Bible pictures judgement. God punishes the world for rejecting him, by giving them over to their sins. In other words, to relate to God by assuming his favor is to be given over to our sinful passions.
And on the other side, trying to relate to God by earning his fever is just as bad. Though these kinds of people outwardly appeared to be more moral, because they’re actually striving to meet God‘s standards and avoiding sin, they jump straight into the other ditch of religious superstition, hypocritical judgementalism, and moralistic pride. In other words, to relate to God by earning his favor is to turn into a Pharisee.
So what then does it look like to relate to God by grace? In other words, what does a Christian Life look like? Let’s look at Paul’s last phrase. After saying the gospel, and urging us to fully accept it, he models for us what that looks like. He calls himself the chief of sinners, of sinners, I am the foremost. Notice the verb: “I am.” Not “I was,” but present tense, “I am.” Paul still regards himself as a sinner, well after conversion. He publicly puts his standing before God as a sinner on display for all the people of God to read about, detailing the fact that he prosecuted the church of God, he was an ignorant opponent, a blasphemer. In so doing, he placed himself with all the other heroes of the Bible. We know all of their greatest falls. But because they know they relate to God by grace, they are free to do so! In fact, accepting your continuing sin nature (not saying liking it, but accepting it) is the most freeing thing you can do. It no longer matters what the world thinks of you, because you know you have been accepted by God! It doesn’t matter when people accuse you of wrong, whether they be right or wrong, you know nothing they can say even comes close to how bad we actually are. It doesn’t matter when someone wrongs you, you know you deserve far worse. This doesn’t mean this suffering isn’t still tough, but it does mean it is no longer ultimate. But more importantly that freeing you, accepting your sin nature is the best way to make war on your sin. Because then sin is robbed of all its power. Your failures doesn’t define you. Your value, security, significance, happiness, hope can’t be taken away from you, because you standing before God is purely based in his grace, and he has promised, get that he has promised, to never once cease from doing good to you. This is the beauty of accepting our sinfulness. We are so sinful that the Son of God was the only adequate replacement for our punishment, and a the very same time we are so loved that he was glad to. The cross declares that e are far more sinful than we ever imagined, but at the vry same time that we are far more loved that we could have ever dreamed. And it’s only when we see our sin caused his death, do we encounter the love of God in the cross. Now his death changes us. Both the approval and the favor we have always longed for is given to us for free. Let me read you a quote from Milton Vincent, a pastor out in California. “The deeper I go into the gospel, the more I comprehend and confess aloud the depth of my sinfulness. But such an awareness of my sinfulness does not drag me down, but actually serves to lift me up by magnifying my appreciation of God’s forgiving grace in my life. And the more I appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness of sins, the more I love him, and delight to show him love in heartfelt expressions of worship.”
Let me give you an example. When someone shows you that you made a mistake, what is your reaction? What is the knee-jerk of your heart? Is it to self-justify? In that case, you are really saying that what you did was in fact not wrong because of your circumstances. That is the same argument of relating to God by assuming his favor. Do you despair? Here, you are allowing your ability to measure up define you. And because you failed to reach the standard, your world is collapsing. That is the same value system of relating to God by earning his favor. Running away, acquiescing, retaliating they all fail to accept our sinful nature.
But if you accept your sin nature, making war on it all the while, it completely changes the way you respond. It no longer is threatening to have your wrongs exposed. You know that you need grace. So instead of self-justifying or despairing, you own it and move on. You admit it, but don’t let it define you. Correction becomes an opportunity to humble yourself, remember you are not the Savior, receive grace, grow in holiness, and celebrate your champion Jesus who will bring you home through all your sins and sorrows. It is those who refuse grace, choosing instead to relate toGod by attempting to rarn his favor or assuming it who reject God, and on the last day, God will reject them and give them fully what their hearts have wanted: no grace, but to be banished from his presence forever.
Friends, let’s together be a people who fully accept the gospel. God wants us to come to him with our brokenness. God wants us not to despair over the fact that we continue to be broken, but trust on the finished work of Christ alone to redeem us. He does not want us to assume nor earn his favor, but receive it by grace. And, God wants us to reflect the grace we’ve been given to others.Friends, let’s be a lowly people, not only accepting our own brokenness, but also the brokenness of others. But we can only love in this way to the extent we have experienced being loved in this way. Know the love of your Father upon you. Behold him at the cross pouring his wrath on his Son for you. You have been saved to the uttermost. Now attempt not to earn, but repay him (knowing you can’t) by being gracious to one another.
Let’s pray. How you have loved us. How you have saved us. We praise you for the riches of your glorious grace. Please, God, make us a gracious people, so that the world around us would see a bit more clearly how gracious you are. And thank you for promising to be with us although out. In the name of tour Son, we pray. Amen.