By David Faust
“I consider myself the worst of sinners,” says Paul.
“Funny you should say that,” David replies. “I feel the same way about myself.”
“But you have to understand,” Paul insists, “I persecuted God’s people and threw them in jail! I stood there approvingly while Stephen was stoned to death—and all he did was tell the truth about Christ. I blasphemed the name of Jesus. I was so wrong!”
David scratches his chin and answers, “Well, you have a point, Paul. But have you read my story in the Old Testament? You’ll have to agree I was just as bad.” Smiling ruefully he says, “Paul, in a sinner contest, you and I would tie for worst.”
David and Paul are two of the greatest leaders mentioned in the Bible. One thing they had in common was a keen sense of gratitude for God’s unmerited favor.
Forgiveness: the Greatest Blessing
David exclaimed, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). God gave David lots of “benefits.” He made David king, granted him victory over his enemies, and promised that the Messiah would come from his ancestral tree. Yet the first and greatest benefit David reminded his soul to contemplate was this: the Lord “forgives all your sins” (Psalm 103:3).
David knew how it felt when his guilty conscience stabbed like a knife. He likely recalled how the prophet Nathan confronted his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and proclaimed, “You are the man!”
Nothing feels worse than unpardoned sin; but nothing frees the soul more than the reality of forgiveness. God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. . . . As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Awareness of Unworthiness
Paul spent the first part of his life building a reputation as a meticulous keeper of God’s law, but when he repented and believed in Christ, he realized how far he fell short. Paul confessed, “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).
Christ came “to save sinners.” Not merely to set an example of goodness and heal the sick, although he did those things. Jesus came as a lifeguard to drag the person drowning in guilt back to the safe shore of God’s grace.
Christ doesn’t just save sinners generally; he saves specific sinners individually. When Jesus startled Simon Peter with a miraculous catch of fish, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and exclaimed, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus didn’t go away. He entered Peter’s world for the next three years and showed him wonders no fishnet could hold.
Forgiveness was personal for Paul. He couldn’t talk about sinners without adding, “of whom I am the worst.” He wasn’t on a guilt trip. He was acknowledging the depth of his gratitude. Make no mistake about it: Paul had been pretty bad—”a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). But we’ve been pretty bad too. On the sin scale, we’re all tied for worst. That’s why we must be grateful for God’s mercy. We can’t lead others to the throne of grace unless we’ve walked that pathway ourselves.
1. How have you personally experienced God’s forgiveness?
2. How does God’s grace affect the way you view other people?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 3, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Thessalonians 3:14–18
2 Chronicles 34—36
1 Timothy 1:1–11
Ezra 1, 2
1 Timothy 1:12–20
1 Timothy 2
Ezra 4, 5
1 Timothy 3:1–10