There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. (John 3:1) We have two descriptions here: ‘Pharisee’ and ‘ruler of the Jews.’ ‘Ruler of the Jews’ means that he had risen to the top in his profession. Here is a man who was highly successful...
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)
This is one of the great statements of the Gospel in the New Testament. Paul is saying “Here’s something absolutely clear, and solidly reliable. You can stake your life on it. I want the whole church to buy into this fully. I want everyone to get this and to own this, without reservation, hesitation, and without qualification: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…’” (v15). This is the Gospel, and Paul says to Timothy “Keep this front and center of the church.”
We are about Christ Jesus who came into the world to save sinners. He came… That’s the incarnation. God entered this world as a man in Jesus Christ. He came to save sinners… That’s the atonement. He did not come to tell us how to live. He did not come to change society. He came to give His life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross in order to save sinners. It is through the cross that human lives are redeemed.
The Gospel is good news, not good advice. Christ did not come into the world to tell us what we have to do to be saved. He came into the world to save us. That is the good news.
Testimonies to God’s grace
Paul gives testimony to his own experience of God’s grace: “Let me tell you about how Christ saved me.” He tells us about his sins. He tells us about God’s grace in his life. And when he gets to the end of His story, Paul explodes with praise: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).
Every Christian has a story of God’s grace. Your life may not have been dramatic or spectacularly interesting, but if God has saved you from hell and made you His child and now inhabits your life by His Holy Spirit—you have an amazing story to tell.
Your testimony can be glorifying to God, strengthening to you and useful to others. But you need to know how to read your own life. You need to know how to discern what God has done and how to pursue what He’s doing.
When Paul speaks about himself there is nothing pompous or arrogant. There’s no self-deprecating humbug either. We’re going to learn from the framework of Paul’s testimony, so that you can share yours in a way that glorifies God, helps others and bears fruit in your own life.
One way to follow up on today’s message would be to write your own testimony as Paul did here. Try to limit yourself to writing it on one page, so you don’t get lost in the details.
You might like to bring what you have written and read it to your LIFE Group. You could email it to me, or to one of the other pastors. Paul tells his story to help and encourage Timothy, and this is one of the ways in which we can help and encourage each other.
Remember Your Sins Redemptively
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” 1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV)
From time to time, I get to speak with someone who is bored with their Christian life. They feel that their faith isn’t doing anything for them. It’s dull. It’s lifeless. There isn’t any joy in it. It’s not exciting.
Here’s something I’ve found. If you probe a bit, a person who finds their faith boring will agree that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But if you ask “What sins has Christ forgiven in your life?” they would be stuck for an answer.
What sins would you list? Jesus said “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much” (Luke 7:47). If you can’t think of anything that needed to be forgiven in your life, you won’t have much love for Christ, you won’t feel much need of the cross, and you will quickly become bored with your faith.
Remembering your sins is important, but let me give this counsel about sharing your testimony. Use discretion in sharing your past sins with others. Some people may be helped by knowing what you did and how Christ redeemed you from it. Others would be better helped by not knowing what you did.
You may choose to share some things with some people when it will be helpful. But you will not share all things with all people. You will consider the degree of trust and the depth of the relationship, and the maturity of the other person in discerning what is best. Paul’s sins were public. Everyone knew what he had done. And Paul uses that for the glory of God.
Paul identifies three sins:
I was once a blasphemer
“I… was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth… I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme.” Acts 26:9,11 (NIV)
Paul resisted Christ. He spoke against Christ. He tried to get other people to do the same. For how many years did you resist the claims of Christ on your life, thwarting the Spirit, turning a deaf ear to the word of God? (Acts 7:57)
I was once a persecutor
“I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” 1 Corinthians 15:9 (NIV)
There are some memories that are always painful. This was one of them for Paul. He resisted Christ and He resented the church. He harmed the church and he injured God’s people.
Some people want to say that they love Jesus, but they resent the church. The church is the bride of Christ—a very imperfect bride, often an unfaithful bride, and sometimes an unattractive bride, but the church is the bride of Christ.
One writer puts it very helpfully “If I say that I am your friend, but I hate your wife, am I really your friend?” How can you be a friend of Christ if you are filled with resentment towards his bride?
“I was once a violent man” I Timothy 1:13 (NIV)
Behind Paul’s resistance to Christ and his resentment towards the church, there was a churning anger inside. He was in conflict. His conscience was troubling him and it spilled out in ways that wounded other people around him.
Paul is not afraid to face his past sins. He is not in denial. There’s no hiding from the past. He has faced the truth. He makes no excuses. He knows that he’s a sinner. The Gospel produces this kind of honesty.
Satan will be happy for you to forget your sins. You won’t love Christ much, and you won’t grow much either. But when you remember your sins, he will try to use that to bring you into defeat.
Maybe that happens for you in church or in bed at night. You think about your sins and Satan says to you “What a failure you are.” He brings you into self condemnation.
Christ did not die to free you from God’s condemnation, so that you could live the rest of your life under self condemnation. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
a. God’s Mercy
“But I was shown mercy…” 1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV)
“God had pity and compassion on me.” I expect the tears rolled as he wrote these words. Tears, as he thought about what he had done, and more tears because of what Christ had saved him from: “I was once a blasphemer… but, not any longer. I was shown mercy!”
Let the memory of your sins be a means of magnifying God’s mercy. Paul says: “Look at what I was! If God’s mercy can save me, you can be confident in His ability to change the most broken lives and redeem the most resistant people.”
b. God’s patience
“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.” 1 Timothy 1:16 (NIV)
Paul is using his own testimony to encourage the church. Are you praying for a friend or loved one who is far from Christ? Has it been like that for years?
Paul says “Remember the patience of Christ. I kept pushing Him away but He never gave up. He displayed unlimited patience towards me.” You may have resisted Christ for years. It is not too late for you to come to Him. You can believe in Him and receive eternal life today.
Affirm God’s Grace Thankfully
Faith sees your sins and your failures, but it also affirms what God has done in your life. Of course you are not yet what you will be. But you are not what you used to be either. And the reason for that is that God’s grace has been poured out into your life.
Grace poured out abundantly
“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.” 1 Timothy 1:14 (NIV)
Don’t think of God’s grace as a past experience. It is a present reality in your life: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (v15). He does not say “I was the worst.” He says “I am the worst” (present tense).
John Stott is really helpful here:
“[Paul] had not investigated the sinful and criminal records of all the inhabitants of the world, carefully compared himself with them and concluded that he was worse than them all. The truth is rather that when we are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, an immediate result is that we give up all such comparisons. Paul was so vividly aware of his own sins that he could not conceive that anybody could be worse. It is the language of every sinner whose conscience has been awakened and disturbed by the Holy Spirit.”[i]
The message is not “Christ came into the world to save sinful people like you.” That would be horribly self-righteous. The message is “Christ came into the world to save sinful people like me.”
We do not live on grace—in the past tense. We stand in grace today. There isn’t one of us who lived a single day this week in a way that merited access to heaven. Our righteousness is not in ourselves. It is in Him! Right now the grace of God is being poured out on you abundantly in Christ.
Faith poured out
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)
Where did Paul’s faith come from? He says that he “acted in… unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). He resisted Christ. Where did His faith come from? It came from Christ. That’s Ephesians 2:8.
Love poured out
“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5 (NIV)
Love is “in Christ Jesus.” Paul says “I was an angry man. I was injuring other people. And the love that is in Christ Jesus was poured out into me!” That’s Romans 5:5.
An unbelieving heart flooded with faith. An angry heart flooded with love. That’s the transforming power of the Gospel.
Look at the grace of God in your life: How did you come to trust Christ? How did you come to love Christ when the natural condition of your own heart is to resist Him and not to believe Him?
Here’s what has happened: God’s grace has been poured out on you abundantly along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Faith affirms that with thanksgiving:
King David said: “Who am I… and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18).
Paul put it this way: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
For the Christian, God’s grace is not simply out there. It’s in here. His grace has reached me. I have received this grace. I live in this grace. It has been poured out abundantly on me!
Pursue Your Calling Joyfully
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.” 1 Timothy 1:12 (NIV)
Notice the pattern of Paul’s testimony:
- I am a sinner. God has been merciful and patient towards me.
- His grace has reached me. It has been poured out abundantly along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
- Now I pursue with joy the work that He’s called me to do.
The evidence of your testimony is seen in the way you invest your life.
a. He appointed me to his service
Paul can’t get over this. I resisted Christ! I resented Christian people! And now by God’s mercy I get to be part of His redeeming work in the world! He appointed me to His service! I can’t believe I get to do this.
b. He considered me faithful
Paul is not saying that he is worthy to be an apostle. He is saying “Although I am not yet what I will be, God views me in Christ and considers me faithful in Him.”
Aren’t you thankful for that? If God was looking for faults in my service to Him he would find plenty. Augustine said “I dare not commend the work of my hands for fear that you may find more sins in them than merits.” When we have done our best, we are unprofitable servants, but God views us in Christ. He considers us faithful in Him.
c. He gave make strength
“Here’s my testimony Timothy… God gives me strength as I extend myself in the work He has called me to do. So don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid. Give yourself to the work that He is calling you to do. You will prove Him. You will find Him faithful.”
Is this your testimony?
Can you say “I have confidence in Christ?” Can you say today “I love Christ?” Are you living for Christ, finding joy in serving Christ? Are these things true of you? Or are you living in a nether world, not knowing whether you’re a Christian or not?
If these things are not true of you today, I want you to know that Christ came into the world for you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! He came to save people who don’t have faith and don’t know the love of God. Look at what He did for Paul. Think about what He can do for you! Mercy, grace, faith, love, service, joy…
If this is your testimony, are you confident in this Gospel? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is able to transform the most broken lives, and the most resistant people? Paul has been talking about people who kill their fathers and mothers—murderers, slave traders and compulsive liars.
What will change a person like that? No use talking about morality. You can tell him what he is doing is wrong. You can tell him what he should do, but that won’t give him the power to do it. The law can’t save anyone.
Paul says to Timothy “You preach this Gospel. Don’t ever be ashamed of it. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I’m the worst. And look at what He has done in my life. He saved me, the hardest and most resistant blasphemer, the most violent man you will ever meet.” Do you believe that? Let God’s Word increase your confidence in Christ’s ability to save.
Are you rejoicing in this Gospel? If we are remembering our sins redemptively and affirming God’s grace thankfully and pursuing our calling joyfully, then we will be a church full of thanksgiving and praise and gratitude and joy, a church energized in ministry and service, and a church confident in the ability of Jesus Christ to transform the most wounded and broken of lives.
Most of all, we will be a church marked by doxology, by worship: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).
© Colin S. Smith
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[i] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, p. 53