Posts Tagged ‘chief of sinners’

Was Paul “the Chief of Sinners?”

October 15, 2019

The following well known verse is often used to make a doctrinal point… “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Timothy 1v15) It never ceases to amaze me how this verse is constantly used to make an excuse for habitual sin in the lives of many who would call themselves Christians. Note the words “of who I am chief.” Paul is speaking in the present tense here and if he was speaking of himself he was referring to his (then) present state. Therefore was he “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope…” (1Timothy 1v1) saying “I am the chief of sinners?”
How could Paul (the regenerate servant of the Lord Jesus Christ) be “the chief of sinners?” We need to look at the first few words of this verse… “This is a faithful saying…” The phrase “faithful (or true) saying” is used five times in the New Testament: 1Timothy 1v15; 1Timothy 3v1; 1Timothy 4v8&9; 2Timothy 2v11-13; Titus 3v4-8; in each instance it is “a true saying” – a proverb, which is “worthy of all acceptation.”
This saying was never meant to apply to Paul as an individual at that point in time. However, unfortunately it suits many to believe that “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” was the “chief of sinners,” so that they can preach “a sinning religion.” There are two types of people in this world: saints and sinners. I am aware that there are also “seekers” and of course not everyone has sunk into the same depths of evil – but the unsaved charity worker, like his drug dealing neighbour, is lost until he comes to that place of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour.
Nowhere in the Bible do we read of “saved sinners” and yet this is a term which I have often heard used in evangelical circles. Amazingly I have also heard of someone who preached that “a little bit of sin keeps us humble.” The Bible makes it clear that “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1John 2v1) Note that it is not when we sin, indicating that sin should be something alien in the Christian’s life. Another phrase which I have heard quoted is “we sin in thought, word and deed every day;” this too is a man-made phrase and unscriptural.
I remember the words of someone speaking at a children’s meeting held years ago in a back garden… “We are all so sinful…” I cannot recall her exact words but she made it clear that she regarded herself as being as sinful as those she was addressing. One little girl who looked confused, asked… “But what’s the point then?” I believe that what she meant was: “What’s the point of me asking Jesus into my heart, if He’s not going to make me a new person?” That little girl is now a young woman whom I haven’t seen in many years and I don’t know where she stands spiritually. Child workers and Sunday school teachers bear such a fearful responsibility.
What Paul was effectively saying was… if I had been the only one, the Lord would still have died for me. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” (2Corinthians 5v14)
If we read on in 2Corinthians 5, we see that “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (Verse 17) When Paul was blinded by the light of the Lord on the Damascus Road, his subsequent experience changed him dramatically. Although Christians were fearful of him at first, it soon became evident to them that Saul the persecutor had become Paul the saint; miraculously he had become a sincere and fervent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his own words… “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6v21-23)
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2Corinthians 5v21)
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Corinthians 6v18)
“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4v22-24)
Surely only a hypocrite could utter such words if he was indeed “the chief of sinners.” And we know that Paul was not a hypocrite.