“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-16
If you know Paul’s (Saul before conversion) story then you know he should know what it means to be a sinner. Innocent people were unjustly tortured, imprisoned and even murdered as a result of his actions. Not many people can say that. Not many people actually have to live with that reality. But Paul did every day. I have to believe that reality was the reason he gave himself that peculiar title – worst of all sinners. I also believe that reality gave him a truer appreciation for what God’s mercy really is than most of us, including me.
It’s so easy for us to minimize God’s mercy and grace to important ingredients in a religious formula that grants us a desired spiritual outcome – salvation. This happens when we are able to divorce mercy and grace from the real sin that exists in the world and in our life. The Bible says that sin includes any wrongdoing (1 John 5:17), but also not doing the good we ought to do (James 4:17). Who isn’t included in this definition?
Sin is evil. It reflects evil in the world around us. It reflects the evil that exists in you. It reflects the evil that exists in me. That is not something we want to acknowledge and live with, but Paul was able to get in touch with that.
He knew and never forgot the great need he had – every day of his life, before and after his conversion – for huge doses of God’s mercy and grace. He was thankful for it. He devoured it every chance he could get. He wanted his life to be an example to the whole world for what God’s mercy and grace could do. And it was!
How about us? We may not be “the worst of all sinners,” but are we in touch with the reality of sin in us so that we can be in touch with the reality of our need for God’s mercy and grace! I hope so.
Where has God’s mercy and grace been particularly real in your life lately? Where is it on display for others?