The Worst Sinner in the World

Mary Magdalene, Ciseri,_Antonio_1864 Public domainI’ll call her Grace. That’s not her real name, but she’s a real woman. Looking down, wiping tears, with her voice barely above a whisper, she told me, “I haven’t gone to church in a long time. I believe. . . but I don’t pray anymore, not since. . . well, I just feel. . . not worthy.”

I know how she feels. The apostle Paul also expressed this feeling. He said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

So often I hear this verse taught with disbelief, as if Paul were expressing an exaggerated false humility. I’ve even heard Christians claim–bragging!–that they feel that they were worse than Paul before they came to faith. But I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe that among human beings on this earth, Paul was the worst sinner of all, according to God’s standards.

And is that really so hard to believe? According to the Scriptures, Paul was a violent man, a blasphemer, and a murderer who went out of his way to hunt down innocents–all the while believing that he was in the right. The statement that he was the worst sinner truly deserves our full acceptance.

So, how do we react to this? Are we supposed to be impressed with Paul’s conversion, turning from persecuting the church to promoting it? No. We’re supposed to be impressed with the grace of Jesus. After Paul said he was the worst sinner, he said, “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)

If you ever believe that you are too bad for Jesus to forgive you, if you ever think you’ve lived in sin too brazenly for too long, if you ever think you’re not worthy to pray, God offers Paul to you as an example. If Jesus displayed his patience to Paul, the worst sinner in the world, he will show his patience to you.

Grace said, “I just feel. . . not worthy.”

I said, “I think that’s the point. That’s why Jesus came.”

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Believe in him and receive eternal life.

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