“If he can do that, I can do it.” Ever say that or think it? Or how about, “I might not be the best, but I’m not as bad as she is!”
When we sense deficiencies in ourselves, there is a tendency to measure ourselves against others. Someone we may deem worse than us may give us hope that our situation is not as bad as it seems or feels.
Over the years of witnessing to people who are yet to make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, I have seen two extremes: the person who does not think they really need to be saved since God is so loving and kind (like a fawning grandfather), or the person who does not think they can be saved because they are so bad. Frankly, of the two, I’d rather deal with the latter – the person who knows they need grace.
On a number of occasions in recent sermon series when talking about the gospel message, Chris and I have used this phrase: Your sin situation that separates you from God is worse than you think, but the grace and provision in Jesus Christ is better and greater than you could ever imagine! The Apostle Paul would shout a hearty “amen” if he heard that line!
In reflection on his past, the Apostle Paul saw himself as the worst of sinners. His situation was bad indeed! It never ceased to amaze him that God’s grace in Christ was so big as to reach down and save a mess such as he was. He writes …
1:12 – I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 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. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 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. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
So was the Apostle Paul the worst sinner? The first worst sinner? The words here indicate that, meaning the first in a line. He saw himself that way, which is the point he is making. But if not THE worst, it would not take long in the roll call of sinners to get to Paul.
Paul said that his salvation was a pattern for others to see. The word here is an interesting one that speaks of something like a form, or shape, or model figure that could be traced or copied.
I recently heard a sermon where the pastor was talking about grace, and he was mentioning that a prison chaplain told a first-hand story of how a serial killer who ate his victims had come to trust in Christ before his execution. The pastor said, “What would it be like to get to heaven and get the keys to your eternal home on the corner of Gold Street and Emerald Way, only to find out that your neighbor was this guy who was saved at the last minute?” How creepy would that be? Should God’s grace be that big? Or is that just “over the line?”
Theologically speaking, God’s grace is big enough for that.
Trust me, believe me, God’s grace is YUGE! But it is only applied to those who understand that they bring nothing to the deal themselves. Understand that, and you end up saying things like Paul says here, bursting out even into a doxology of praise.
The final thought in this first chapter involves Paul again finishing his opening words to Timothy with a renewed command to Timothy to be faithful and diligent, recalling to his mind the gifts in his possession that were a part of his commissioning to ministry. Others failed in this regard, as Paul mentions a couple names known to them both – men who apparently at one time seemed to be serving well, but through false teaching had seen their faith sink like a ship upon the rocks.
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Take a moment today to again express your thanks for God’s great grace in your life, while also committing yourself anew to the long road of faithfulness that is the Christian life.
In response to your statement several incidents in the Bible come to mind.
You wrote, “Over the years of witnessing to people who are yet to make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, I have seen two extremes: the person who does not think they really need to be saved since God is so loving and kind (like a fawning grandfather), or the person who does not think they can be saved because they are so bad. Frankly, of the two, I’d rather deal with the latter – the person who knows they need grace.”
There might be a theological difference of opinion here driving this issue. Maybe a difference of opinion on the nature of God. We evangelicals are quick to point out how wicked humankind is how we all need to repent. This works well sometimes — if people can see their sin. Then we run into people like you mentioned that live relatively good lives and we might be in the situation of Job’s friends trying to point out how wicked Job really was in God’s eyes. Job’s friends gave up because Job was “righteous in his own eyes.” NIV Job 32:1 has it as,
“So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.”
Jesus had to deal with this same idea. When a Pharisee was pondering why Jesus a let a sinful woman cry over his feet and clean his feet with her tears and hair … and perfume if I remember correctly — Jesus had to address the thinking of the Pharisee. He did so by pointing out the response of love to being forgiven. The Pharisee had few sins and only showed a little love. He had a debt to be forgiven that was in his eyes relatively small. Jesus didn’t launch into an attack on the Pharisee for how sinful he was, but he did point out that he was deficient in love compared to the sinful woman that he was judging.
I know a woman who went through a hard time and ended up in a psychiatric institution for a little while. She had period of pyschosis with some interactions of medication. She requested visits from some Christians in the area and they did not come during her time of trial.
I’ve often wondered about the situation where Jesus drove demons out of a man named Legion. This man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus did not allow him to. Instead Jesus sent the person on an independent mission to tell people throughout the region how much Jesus did for him. This man’s independent evangelism was remarkable.
“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,
“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him.” (Luke 8:38-40 NIV)
I figure that though this man was dedicated to Jesus, his background was so unrefined that he would not have had the mental aptitude to successfully fit in with Jesus ministry.
There is another situation where evangelism was taking place. Note the way Jesus spoke to this man. Hint: It isn’t your typical evangelical assessment of the man being reached out to. Look at verse 47 carefully.
” 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote– Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”
51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.””
(John 1: 45-51 NIV)
Jesus was able to reach people, both the righteous and the wicked …
Then we can even go to the story of the rich young ruler. The man had carefully kept the commandments since he was a child. Jesus “loved him” and said to him “One thing you lack…”
So I guess it is difficult to do what you said, “Chris and I have used this phrase: Your sin situation that separates you from God is worse than you think.”
Problem is then how to reach someone with his need for God if his sin is worse than he thinks. Is the best evangelical strategy to first convince someone of what a bad person he or she is?
I’m such a pathetic person at evangelizing that I better just shut up and “take the plank out of my own eye.” Teddy Roosevelt said “It is not the critic who counts …” Kudos for evangelizing … even if you are not as good at it as Jesus. I am far more pathetic, not just than Jesus but you too and most evangelicals.
I love this!
GODS grace is past AMAZING! And the fact that I cant do anything to earn it or deserve it just makes it sweeter.
Sent on a Boost Samsung Galaxy S® III