Was Apostle Paul the WORST sinner?
Q. In 1Timothy 1:15 Paul refers to himself as chief of sinners. Does that mean his was the WORSE sinner in the New Testament? Should Christians refer to themselves as sinners?
A. This scripture must be taken in context to be clearly understood.
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
". . . 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 unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1Timothy 1:12-16, NIV, emphasis added)
Paul refers to the time when he was persecuting and killing those who followed Jesus. Yet (he points out) even such a sinner was "shown mercy" to "display his [God's] unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."
No person lives for any length of time without committing sin. It is a fact of human nature as Paul describes his own plight in his letter to the church in Rome.
"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." (Romans 7:18-20, NIV)
Recognizing that we remain sinners even with our best efforts and striving to live in God’s way brings the humility that comes with understanding of our own nature.
This is what the LORD says:
"'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?' declares the LORD. 'This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.' "(Isaiah 66:1-2, NIV)
Because we have free will and independence to choose our own path, no human being is yet "saved" though we hopefully are on the road to eventual salvation. Salvation, in the long term, is escape from the second death (Revelation 20:6,14). There is always the possibility that we will turn our backs on God and choose our own destruction, even though we may presently be on the road to salvation.
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? . . . It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:26-29, 31, NIV)
While we should not be among those who deliberately choose to sin we should be cognizant that though we are on the road to salvation we remain sinners. It shall ever be so until the return of our Lord and Master.
Written by: Clay Willis