The Worst Sinners Often Make the Best Kind of Repenters

Here’s a question: Who is the worst sinner you can think of throughout history? Or who is just the worst sinner you know? Think a little bit before you answer this one…

Who is the Worst?

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 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 1:15-16, NIV)

We all think of the Apostle Paul as a holy man. He was a zealous convert to Christianity, a dedicated missionary, and an amazing theologian. But that’s not how Paul thought of himself. Based on what he wrote, I’m pretty sure Paul believed himself to be the worst of all sinners. And since he had been not only a self-righteous “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, but also a persecutor of the early church, I’m sure he had a lot to answer for. I’m sure he was aware of the Biblical prediction that every man was appointed to die, and after that, to face judgement. (Hebrews 9:27)

I guess I could be relieved that Paul was the worst sinner, and I could perhaps even feel a little smug looking around at lots of people who are pretty sinful. But what I have been learning over the last few years is that every one of us has a lot to answer for—and that what YOU have to answer for should matter to YOU, and what I have to answer for should matter to ME. I’m not sure the Holy Spirit ever convicts us about OTHER peoples’ sins, and I have observed that often the people who think they are close to God are righteous and indignant over the wrong person’s sin.

worst sinner

Finger-pointing May not be Good For You

You may think you have been relatively good, but the more I read Scripture, the more concerned I am about all the things I have done. I’m concerned even more about all the things I haven’t done. I see things in Scripture that hold me accountable not just for what I have done, but for what I have thought. (And I hate to admit this, but I have committed far more despicable sins in my mind than I have even had time to commit physically. Perhaps you are different, and never sin mentally or dabble with mental selfishness or depravity…) Based on my rough assessment of my own personal inventory of sin, I’d have to say that Paul might need to move over and accept his place as the SECOND worst of sinners; he may have over-staked his claim to being worst.

In the real world, my ACTUAL sinfulness has cost me opportunities and relationships, and it has caused immeasurable harm to any number of people, including those I love the most. It has also diminished my own usefulness: how much time have I wasted on sin that could have been spent serving others or spending more time with my Father? How do I account for that? Paul says that it took the “immense patience” of Jesus Christ. His brutal, painful death paid the penalty for sin, and made it possible for a Righteous Judge to offer mercy to all sinners.

So here’s the thing: even if I were the ONLY sinner to ever live, Jesus would still have had to go to the cross for my redemption. It’s nice that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but the main thing to me is that he had to die because of ME. MY sin was incredibly costly. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap: It cost God his Son. It cost his Son his life.

It has become clearer to me that the closer we get to God, the more our own sins matter, and the more convicted we become—and not in a morbid, negative way (oh I feel so guilty! Whatever am I to do?), but more in an ‘awareness of the majesty and mystery of Grace’ way (oh I feel so grateful! What, Lord, should I do?). I hope you are aware enough of what Christ did to be grateful. I hope that we sinners can be aware enough to be deeply convicted as well… If you feel like you’ve been pretty good overall, and you are not somehow devastated by the price that has to be paid for your sins, then you probably ought to do a quick position check. You may not be as close to God as you think.

Who Owns the Title?

Of all the righteous Pharisees, Paul said he was the first;
But out of all the sinners, he proclaimed himself the worst!
Now, Paul preached Christ in every town and prison he was in,
But he still felt inadequate because of all his sin.
We all judge sin from time to time–it’s what we see in others;
We even notice faults among our Christian friends and brothers.
Surely Paul’s assessment of his sins was overrated,
And when He called himself the worst, perhaps he over-stated…
Perhaps we’d see Paul differently and understand him clearer
If we felt worst about the sin reflected in our mirror.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Look in the Mirror. If You See a Judge There, Maybe It’s time for a New Look

Jesus must have been pretty familiar with Obadiah, since many of his statements about being judgmental resonate pretty strongly with this short prophetic word. One of the things Obadiah said could be paraphrased like this: Take a hard look in the Mirror: if you see a judge looking back at you, consider this…

look

“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah v 15, NIV). Reading through the Minor Prophets is not for the timid. This verse certainly connects with Amos and his dire warnings about the Day of the Lord. If you look through these prophetic books, there are plenty of references to God as a Holy and Righteous Judge.

At the same time, it is interesting to note that this theme resonates in Scripture: Galatians 6:7 says “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Matthew 7:2 says, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” While the Bible is not real big on karma (See: eastern religions, legalism, causality, and ‘tit for tat’), it is pretty consistent about consequences. And there is the nagging suspicion I have that Jesus meant what he said—that I will be judged, somehow, some way, with the same intolerant standards that I have used to dismiss others.

I have heard a lot of Christians say, “well, of course, God won’t judge ME, because I am covered by grace.” And yes, I believe we are ultimately and irrevocably covered by grace. But I also think that I will stand before God among the great and small (way back there in the “small” section), and I will be humbled by how I lived; that I will be ashamed of what I did (and didn’t do); and that I will see how short-sighted and ignorant my judgments were. Things will look differently to me then than they do now. I will feel the weight of my own selfishness and pettiness, and my sins will be evident before God. (And maybe everybody!)

Yes, I am confident that I will look at my Savior and behold the majesty of God’s grace, and yes I am confident in my salvation. But we Christians tend to see the cross as our escape, and see judgment as an “either-or” situation. Both Jesus and Paul said that followers of Christ would not experience condemnation; I’m not sure either one said we would not experience judgment.

Perhaps, with a whole eternity available for God to work in us and on us, there could be a “both-and” possibility in which ALL of these verses are true… I’m probably treading on thin theological ice to suggest such a thing, but we know that 1) all men will stand before God in judgment, (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:12) and that 2) believers will face their own specific judgment before the Bema seat (I Corinthians 3).

Nowhere are we told that believers are exempt from or immune to judgment, yet I know I often live as if I can make all the mistakes I want, or be as mediocre as I please and it doesn’t hurt anything. OR, I subtly (or blatantly) pronounce judgment on others, particularly if they are liberal or conservative, divorced, or gay, or tattooed, or different from me. Perhaps you do the same thing? If so, read Matthew 7:1-2 again. It says what Obadiah says. In any case, it would probably improve our behavior if all of us Christians lived as if we would indeed reap what we sow, and be judged exactly the way we have judged others. If I read my Bible correctly, we will be.

Here Comes the Judge!

Judging is an easy thing; we do it every day.
As Christians, we judge “sinners” for the things they do and say.
We can call out public sins, or stuff that no one sees,
Sounding in our righteousness like modern Pharisees.
Jesus knew the evil and the wickedness of men,
But said he only came to save us, rather than condemn.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged” is something that he said,
While Obadiah said your deeds will fall upon your head!
So please be careful how you judge, and what you say and do,
Since every judgment that you make will also cover you.
Jesus made a statement: from its terms he never budged;
Remember that he said, “Judge not, let you yourselves be judged.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread