The Chief of Sinners

Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-16

Due to his past, Paul would have seemed to be an unlikely candidate for salvation, let alone apostleship. But in our text, he explains to Timothy why the Lord chose him and how he was able to be saved.

Paul’s Past

  • It is easy to see why Paul would describe himself as “chief” of sinners – consented to the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1); immediately afterward he started persecuting the church (Acts 8:3-4); after the disciples scattered, his persecution of Christians continued toward Damascus (Acts 9:1-2)
  • He was very zealous in all of this (Philippians 3:6)
  • While on the road to Damascus the Lord appeared to him (Acts 9:3-6) – in Damascus he obeyed the gospel & became a disciple of Christ (Acts 9:10-19; 22:16)
  • He made a complete change that everyone could see (Acts 9:21)

Paul’s New Life

  • We can see why Paul might have been called “chief” of sinners for his past, but what about at the time of this writing? – Was his life still filled with sin? Or had he changed?
  • Some believe the only difference between a child of God and one in the world is forgiveness – they often cite Paul as an example (he still considered himself “chief” of sinners)
  • We’ve already noticed Paul’s past, but what about after becoming a Christian? – he immediately began preaching Christ (Acts 9:19-22); he lived his life in good conscience (Acts 23:1), which would mean doing right after knowing what was right; King Agrippa was convinced Paul had done nothing worthy of punishment (Acts 26:30-32)
  • Paul made certain claims of righteousness that a hypocrite could not make (Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Acts 25:10-11)
  • One would be hard-pressed to argue that Paul was essentially the same sinner after obeying the gospel as he was before – he was a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Paul’s Example

  • Paul’s point was that he was, and remains today, an example showing Christ’s patience (1 Timothy 1:16)
  • This is why he used the present tense (“I am foremost of all“) – not that he remained the same sinner, only forgiven; but that he remains the foremost example of a sinner that can be saved by Christ
  • If Paul could be saved, anyone can be – no matter what you’ve done in the past, you can be forgiven if you follow the Lord as Paul did

The Lesson for Us

  • We should not buy into the false notion that it is expected for Christians to be constantly mired in sin – if we are indistinguishable from the world, we need to repent (Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 4:3-4)
  • Paul’s example shows us Christ’s patience, but not any acceptance of sin
  • God’s patience should not make us content in sin, but motivate us to repent of sin (Romans 2:4-6)

Read the article: The Chief of Sinners

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