Jesus Christ Came Into the World to Save Sinners
The Apostle Paul is deeply concerned about the health of the church(es) in Ephesus as it were in danger of wandering from the gospel of Jesus Christ and, instead, turning to self-made ideas about God. Self-made ideas of God are not only useless, they are destructive. We might think, “Oh, well, we’re beyond that today.” The truth, however, is that we are not. Paul’s main goal in this short section is to illustrate the true nature of Jesus’ gospel by sharing his own story of conversion.
We are currently on the very front end of our study of one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy, his close friend, associate, and traveling companion. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to handle some issues that had arisen in the church(es) there. He charged Timothy (1:3) to stop those who “teach any different doctrine” and are promoting “myths and endless speculations” and have “wandered into vain discussions.” Paul is deeply concerned about the health of the church as they were in danger of wandering from the gospel of Jesus Christ and, instead, turning to self-made ideas about God. Self-made ideas of God are not only useless, they are destructive. We might think, “Oh, well, we’re beyond that today.” The truth, however, is that we are not. We are just as full of our own ideas about God and life and ourselves as any other generation that has stepped foot on this planet. Today, perhaps more than ever, we are much more inclined to go with our own personal hunches (i.e. speculation) than with what God has already revealed to us (i.e. revelation) in the Scripture.
“People have got into the way of following private religious hunches rather than learning about God from his word” JI Packer, Knowing God
When we do that, however, we’re operating in the category of myths and legends. That not only happens among those that do not follow Jesus, but also among those who do. This is nothing new. In fact it goes all the way back to the Garden. Instead of relying on who/what God revealed self to be like, when tempted by Satan, we’re told that when Eve “saw the tree was good for food…delight to the eyes…desired to make one wise…she took of it” In other words, she disregarded God’s personal revelation and went with what seemed best to her. Human beings have done the same ever since. Throughout Bible, God corrects his people for making myths about him: “You thought that I was one like yourself.” Ps 50:21
Human perspectives of God and His requirements will always fall far. We need God’s Word.
“The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of his perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture. An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped” A. W. Pink, Attributes of God
God is the most precious reality in the universe, therefore crucial that we get Him right and not merely rely on personal hunches or preferences. “Well, I don’t see God as precious.”Not seeing God as precious has nothing to do with who he is and everything to do with condition of our heart, as we’ll see today. Followers of Jesus are called to be stewards of what we’ve received, not speculators. That’s the issue in Ephesus. That’s the issue in Seattle. That’s the issue within our church.
Paul’s main goal in this section:
Paul’s main goal in this short section is to illustrate the true nature of Jesus’ gospel by sharing his own story of conversion. The false teachers were, in effect, saying that you can be accepted by God by being a good person, following God’s law + more. In other words, they were following their own self-made ideas on how to rightly approach God. Paul, on the other hand, was preaching that acceptance by God comes by grace alone, apart from anything that we do.
It’s important to highlight, as we dig in, that this is not merely a personal illustration for Paul to liven up his letter. He is not saying, “Timothy, let’s talk about me for a little bit.” Rather, he is using his personal story to contrast the transforming effect of the gospel vsuseless self-made ideas about God. He’s saying, “I’m exhibit A for what gospel does in life of a sinner.” Therefore, this is not Paul talking about abstract theological concepts. This was written by someone who is caught up glory and gravity of the very thing he is speaking about. You can sense Paul’s wonder of the gospel and the fact that it would ever be entrusted to him. By the end, he’s singing.
BASIS OF PAUL’S POSITION (12-13a)
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. (see also Acts 26:9-11; 22:4)
The wonder of all this grips Paul’s soul. He begins with, “I thank Christ Jesus my Lord”.
“Strength” This is in reference, not to physical strength, but the inner strength, confidence, fortitude, assurance that the gospel brings into the life of who has been redeemed.
“Judged…faithful” What is going on here? He is saying, “I was faithful so Jesus made me an apostle.” No. That’s clearly not what he is saying. He was unfaithful, as we’ll see. So, what is it? Jesus willing to consider him worthy of trust and one who would be faithful.
“Service” What service does Paul have in mind here? Given the context we know that he is specifically talking about his Apostolic office. Note how he refers to it – as service (diakonia) the same word from which we get the word deacon. Fundamentally, he saw his role as a servant: servant of Jesus, servant of the gospel, servant of the church. This is not only true for Paul, but should be true for every Chrisitan. It is easy to like idea of being “servant” in theory, until we’re treated like servants and then we don’t like it – when we try to love others and get rejected, when we attempt to graciously share the gospel but get irgnored, when we serve with the church on Sundays and go unnoticed. We’re not serving others, we’re serving Jesus, His church and his good news. Often that puts us in positions where we are unnoticed, unappreciated, unvalued and unknown. The next time treated like servant, remember that you are getting just a small taste of what Paul (and Jesus!) experienced in gospel ministry. We are called to service
v13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.
“blasphemer” Pauls is referring to the fact that he denied Jesus could be God, he rejected the idea that Jesus was the Messiah, he spoke evil about him and those who followed him, and, ultimately, was bent on putting a stop to the entire movement. Read: Acts 26:9-11.
“persecutor” To persecute someone is to punish and/or harass them for their beliefs or position on particular issue. Read: Acts 22:4 “I persecuting the followers of this way…”
“insolent” This is a strong word that refers to a mixture of arrogance and violence. Someone who is insolent finds satisfaction in insulting and humiliating other people.
When you put these together, its clear that we’re not talking about some Sunday school kid who wanted to grow up to be Apostle. What was the basis for his being an aposlte? Tehre was no basis! This is really all of us. None of us are likely prospects to be received by God. None of us are likely candidates to be forgiven and adopted into the household of the living God. There is no basis for any of us.
IMPACT OF PAUL’S CONVERSION (13b-14)
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (see also Acts 26:9; Jn 16:2-3; Rom 10:1-2)
Paul is saying “That’s who I was.” But guess what? “I was mercied” (literal Greek rendering) As blasphemer, persecutor, violent man, God did not give me what I deserved.
Clarifying question: Is he saying, “I didn’t know what I was doing so God let me off the hook?” Not exactly. He is not saying that he deserved God’s mercy. That’s clear from the context. The primary purpose of the entire section is to show that salvation is not deserved but if fully, and only, an act of grace.
So, what does Paul have in view here? The Bible distinguishes between intentional and unintentional sins, even though we’re guilty and blameworthy, either way.
Jesus on cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Heb 9:7 “high priest…offers [sacrifices] for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.”
Paul is saying, “I didn’t know…thought I was right, doing what God wanted…either way, I’m still guilty.”
“I was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus…” Acts 26:9
“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things b/c they have not known the Father, nor me.” – Jesus, Jn16:2-3
That is exactly what he was doing, prior to encountering the living Christ on the road to Damasicus. He sincerely thought that he was on God’s side, but in reality he did not know God. Think about that. It’s possible to think that you are on God’s side, doing God’s work and not even know him.
“My hearts desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” – Paul, Rom 10:1-2
It is possible, in this, that Paul is alluding to the false teachers within Ephesus, who though sincere and think they are serving God, were sincerely wrong. In our context, we often associate sincerity with truth. “Well, as long as you believe it strongly…” or “As long as you’re sincere about it…” But, that’s not true. Truth is not a cultural construct or something that we shape through our own personal hunches and preferences. What about you? Do you have a zeal for God, is it according to the gospel? Do you have a real relationship with God, through Jesus? Or are you just checking off boxes?
“overflow” Paul uses a unique word here that doesn’t occur anywhere else in the Greek Bible and rarely in secular Greek literature of the time. The word really means “super” overflow or “super” abundant grace. This passage is the source of the title of John Bunyan’s (author of Pilgrim’s Progress) autobiography “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”
Whereas “mercy” is, not getting what we do deserve, as sinners, “grace” is getting what wedon’t deserve, as sinners. They are two sides of the same coin. Paul’s whole point here is that saving faith is not a meritorious work by which we earn diving approval. Rather, saving faith is the result of the superabundant grace of God, making it a gift to be received and cherished, not something to be worked for.
Paul is saying, “God’s grace overflowed like river at flood level that bursts the banks and carries everything with it..not brining devastation but blessing…even faith and love.” Formerly, Paul was blasphemer+persecutor + insolent. Now, given grace+faith+love. Other than resurrection of Jesus, conversion of Paul one of best evidences for truthfulness of Christianity.
SUBSTANCE OF PAUL’S INSTRUCTION (15)
15 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.
v15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance… This is the first of five of these types of statements throughout the Pastoral epistles. Most commentators agree that at this point early church these served as creed-like statements developed as a means of articulating true, right belief.
“Christ Jesus” As we discussed during the first week, “Christ” designates God’s long awaited, promised one, came into world as earthly Jesus.
“Came into” It is easy to read right past these words without thinking about what they imply. First, they imply the incarnation of God in human form. Second, they imply Jesus’ pre-existence. It does not say “came into existence” or “created”, rather “he came into the world.”
“world” This designates where humans live and sin and, therefore, where humans need to be met and saved.
“save sinners” Let’s slow down here. Everything falls apart if we miss the nature of what this term is saying. Most think of sin, particularly own, as not much more than parking ticket. “Yes, I’ve violated the law, but on the hole, it’s only parking ticket…there are much worse things.” But, according to the Bible, sin is more than in impersonal, minor infraction. Rather, sin is a breaking of relationship and rejection of God himself. Sin, in action, says “His claims on my life are not invalid. I want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, when I feel like doing it.” In other words it is saying, “I reject the care, rule, authority of the one who gave me life” That’s the essence of sin: we want to be god and not let God be God.
Now here someone might say, “But, I never think about God..how could you say I’m actively rebelling?” or “I’m indifferent towards God…how could you say that I’m rejecting him?” Not thinking about God or feeling cold or indifferent towards him is the rebellion and rejection. We were created to be in close, intimate relationship with Him, therefore our indifference, coldness, and even defiance are symptoms of our sin. Jesus’ gospel brings up a number of obstacles and this has to be the biggest one.
We often have a watered down view of sin because we confuse sins (plural) with sin(singular). The difference is important – and huge. I have never met anyone that has a problem admitting they’ve committed sins (plural) – as long as they can think about those sins as isolated little mistakes in an otherwise good life. In other words, a parking ticket here or there on an otherwise clean record is not a big deal. Don’t miss this. It is NOT the gospel to say “Jesus saves us from sins” if we mean he saves us from isolated mistakes or individual parking tickets. No wonder those who claim to follow Christ are often no different than anyone else, but for the difference that we’ve had some “parking tickets” removed from our record.
Bible paints a much bleaker picture: our very nature is sinful. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Sin runs in the depths of our hearts, like a river of corruption, and we cannot manage that on our own terms with our own tools. Its in us and of us. No amount of positive thinking or self-help will deliver us from us. This is why we: grow cold towards God, think so highly of ourselves, our lives are riddled with negative emotions, turn to everything but God for comfort, have such hard time giving lives to Jesus, insist oncontrolling others and more. These are all evidences of a deep river of corruption and rebellion that flows within us.
Now, often our hearts pick up on this and twist it to blame it all on God, when the problem is really in our hearts. To human hearts that think of ‘selves basically good and self-sufficient, idea we’re sinful is revolting. This is why we often question God and his waysbefore questioning ourselves and our ways. “Why is all of this important to understand?” If we misunderstand the nature and extent of our sin we will misunderstand the nature and extent of the gospel.
Jesus does not merely save us from meaningless or emptiness or lack of satisfaction.Jesus does not merely patch up a relational conflict with God for us. Jesus does not merely take care of our paperwork, like a cheap lawyer or insurance salesmen, to ensure things are in order for the afterlie.
Sin is rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and gracious King. You will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required until you see that. We are in predicament of our own making. We have disobeyed. We have ignored. We have rebelled. We have been indifferent. We have been apathetic. We have been cold. We have sinned.
Further more, Jesus himself says that the just judgment and wrath of God will fall on all unredeemed sinners. In the end… “every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom 3:19) In other words, in the end, no one will have anything to say, no plea, no bargaining, no excuses, no case, no appeals. In the end, every wagging tongue, every arrogant swagger, the whole world will be held accountable to God. And if we are among those alive when that happens we will say…
“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Rev 6:16-17
We will see…
“[Jesus] will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Rev 19:15
Final destination for unrepentant, unbelieving sinners is a place of eternal, conscious, torment: “hell” Contrary to popular belief, Jesus spoke more about this place than anyone else. He called it a place of unquenchable fire, “where the worm does not die”. We believe him, through tears, when he says people we love are in danger of being consigned their forever and ever.
But, Downtown Cornerstone, this is a trustworthy saying deserving of full acceptance:Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Not as a moral example, teacher, help us help ourselves…to save sinners.
What about you? Do you view sin as isolated mistakes in an otherwise good life or a corrupt condition of separation in your heart that requires a radical rescue?
“of whom I am the foremost” Paul says, “I’m the worst!” Now, this really bothers people for a number of reasons. Some say Paul is just being pious. Some think he’s just being morbid. There are two ways this is traditionally interpreted.
First, many will say, “Paul cannot be saying that he now sins more than anyone in the world but that he is talking about past sin.” Clearly that does fit the context. Elsewhere he says that he has lived before God w/ a clear conscience. He calls others to follow his example. Therefore, he must mean that his previous persecution of the church makes him the foremost sinner. But, here’s the big problem with that. He doesn’t say “I was” but he says “I am”. Could have written it in the past tense, if he wanted to, but he didn’t. There must be something more going on.
Others, with whom I agree, will say that when Paul says “I am the worst” he is saying that his heart is no different than the worst of sinners. Clearly, he had not researched the sinful and criminal records of all the inhabitants of the world. So, there must be something else going on. There is. When convicted by Holy Spirit, an immediate result is that we give up all of our comparisons to others. Paul was more vividly aware of his own sin than those around him than anyone else – “I am the worst!” It is the language of every sinner whose conscience has been stirred, convicted and awakened by the Holy Spirit. He knew his heart was capable of the same as the worst sinner and he felt worse b/c knew corruption of his own heart the best.
Remember that story tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18? We all begin like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.“ But, when Spirit does work, we end up like tax collector on the ground who is beating his breast, crying out“God have mercy on me, ”uc”>the sinner.” The Pharisee deals with external realities and arrogant comparisons. For tax collector there were no comparisons to be made, he was busy dealing with the internal realities of his own heart before God. Those who have been gripped by the Gospel think of themselves this way. This is not morbid introspection or low self-esteem. You will only say that if haven’t experienced God’s super-abundant grace. It’s realistic awareness of sin that keeps ushumble, dependent on grace, filled w/ gratitude.
Every other religion or worldview – every one – will tell you to try harder and do better…more education…pull yourself up by the boot straps…7 years in Tibet…5 pillars of Islam…4 pillars of Hinduism or 8-fold path to Buddhist enlightenment or secular morality…I don’t question the zeal, but it is without knowledge. If you’ve been coming here and getting the message is “try harder, do better and you’ll be fine”…We have really done a horrible job of articulating the gospel and what the Bible is all about. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all in the same predicament. We are all in need of a radical resuce.
PURPOSE OF PAUL’S TRANSFORMATION(16-17)
16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
When Paul talks about serving as an “example” the word there means “type”, actually hyper-type. He is saying, in essence, “Jesus has saved me so that I can be the ultimate type of what a Christian is”. What is that? A sinner saved by grace. God took the most spiritually blind, violent, blaspheming persecutor and transformed him into a Christian. If God can do that, there is no heart so hard, no anger so bitter, than is out of God’s reach. Why did he do it? Did you see it? It was a “display” or exhibition of Jesus’ infinite patience.
Christian: Do you live like that? Do you view your life as a living display of the perfect patience and grace of Jesus? Live a life of super-abundant grace as you’ve been a recipient of God’s super-abundant grace. Extend patience as God has been patient with you. Offer undeserved love b/c when you were undeserving God loved you, in Christ. Come along side others in their struggles, b/c Jesus came alongside you in your struggle.
“eternal life” There is a common misunderstanding about what eternal life is. We often consign it to something that happens after death. It means that, but not only that. “Eternal” means that something goes on forever, but doesn’t mean it starts after you die. When does it start? It starts when you place your faith in Jesus Christ. That’s when it starts – then never ends. Those who go on into eternal relationship with Jesus are those who begin that relationship prior to death.
With all these great theological truths swimming around in Paul’s heart, mind and soul – no wonder Paul broke out into spontaneous doxology!
v17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.
This grasp of the gospel and glory of God was what drove Paul. This is what drives me. This is what drives us. I hope this is what drives you. Self-made ideas about about God do not change people and are ultimately harmful – forever. Our sins are not isolated mistakes on an otherwise clean record. The problem is much deeper + profound
“The gospel is that you are more wicked than you dared to believe and more loved than you dared to hope – at the same time” – Luther
It is not enough to believe the gospel objectively…but you also must own it subjectively. You must make it yours – every day.
All of this is why we exist, Downtown Cornerstone. We exist to build a great city, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God. A great city is one in which sinners are forgiven, lives are changed forever, marriages are restored, races are reconciled, needs (temporal and eternal) are met and God gets the glory he deserves.
What is the Gospel, Greg Gilbert
Prodigal God, Tim Keller
Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller
Living the Cross-Centered Life, CJ Mahaney