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 1:16 (NIV).
Last time we talked about how Paul uses the phrase “here is a trustworthy saying” and that he was a sinner; these are recurring themes in his writing.
Tell me: are you a sinner?
I was raised Lutheran, confirmed Presbyterian, and have been to most every Christian denomination (and non-denomination) around. I’ve practiced my faith with Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and atheists. One thing we have in common: we’re all sinners. We weren’t made for sin: we were made to share God’s vast love. Yet our ancestors – and we – muck up the good plan by embracing sins.
Paul talks about his sins in two tenses. First he talks about how he “was” shown mercy because he ‘was’ a sinner. The things he’s talking about are the actions he took against “the Way” (as early Christianity was called before believers were labeled “Christians” at Antioch). Yet Paul then talks about how “I am the worst” of sinners. He recognizes that his sinful nature is a present affliction, not just something in the past.
How can this be? There are many, many people who are confused by it; yours truly is often one of them.
Jesus is the cure for the common sin. Jesus came because of sin, because we had chosen sin, yesterday and tomorrow. Jesus offers forgiveness of sins: all sins, no matter how heinous or embarrassing or long-standing. Holding a grudge? Jesus can forgive that. Murdered Christians in Jerusalem? Jesus can forgive that. Abortion, adultery, burning anger, cheating on your taxes, withholding forgiveness: Jesus forgives all of them. He did it, once for all, so that we wouldn’t bear the eternal consequences of them.
Jesus came so that you could tell Him what you’ve done, let Him take the guilt and hurt and pain, and then remake you in a way that helps you turn from it. In this world, that means you’re made righteous, even when you mess up again. Past atoned for, future atoned for even as you are who you are.
There are some who believe this isn’t true. That, once forgiven by Jesus, it’s impossible for people to sin. I’d submit they misunderstand the relationship in Christ between love and justice. Even after being “saved” we still mess up. And every time, Jesus then beckons us back to receive His forgiveness again. We all die: if we weren’t sinners, we wouldn’t die. It’s how things are, so what say you about that? I have a good guess what Paul would say.
For further reading: Romans 2:4, John 3:15, Matthew 25:46 1 Timothy 1:17
Lord, forgive my many sins, even the ones I’ve forgotten. Teach me to turn away from them and better follow You.