A pastor I knew insisted he had found the only error in the Bible. Of course, my antennae went up because I believe the Bible to be without error. It is the Word of God. What was the mistake he had discovered? He found it buried in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
“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)
The pastor took issue with Paul’s insistence with his self-assessment that he was the worst of sinners. The pastor believed himself to hold that prominence of notoriety. Of course, the error was unearthed through the exegesis of humility. The pastor in profound awareness of both his sin and absolute need for salvation bound up in Christ laid claim to the title, “worst of sinners.”
However, Paul spoke of himself in those terms for a reason. Just prior to verse 15 Paul had described himself as a “blasphemer, persecutor and violent man.” He had hunted down Christians and imprisoned them. He had been party to the execution of the first martyr for Christ. He admits to seeking to destroy the church. He was not speaking of a building but the disciples of Jesus.
Paul’s résumé for worst of sinners far exceeded that of my pastor friend. That is the point. Paul’s statement was not a mere expression of humility. It raised a bar that most of us do not measure up to. In so doing he was saying that if the work of Jesus to save sinners applied to him, it was sufficient for any.
All of us have sinned. We sin because we are sinners. Yet God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. In the sacrificial death of Christ is found the only payment for the debt of sin’s guilt. In Christ’s perfect life of obedience is found the exclusive record of righteousness necessary to reckon sinners acceptable to a holy God—even for the worst of sinners.
That being said, there is a problem. Though saved by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone, we continue to sin. True, the guilt of our sin is no longer counted to us. It was credited to Christ and paid for in full. True, God looks at us clothed not in our own righteousness but that of Christ. But it is equally true that we still sin.
John goes so far as to say that if we say we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and make God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). But if we confess our sins, God promises to forgive us because His justice was satisfied in Christ. If our trust is in Christ, we can count on God’s forgiveness because He is faithful (1 John 1:9).
God’s forgiveness does not rest on our confession of sin, but on Christ’s sacrifice for sin. That’s why John goes on to say:
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2)
There is no other salvation for the whole world. There is no other salvation in the whole world with its religions. No other way than Jesus. Thus says God.
Those words, “if we do sin,” catch our attention. God ministers to us in our sin, those times when we join Paul’s lament in Romans 7 for his relentless sinning. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) From Romans 7 Paul moves to Romans 8 where he describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us.
Jesus addresses that ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16. He is the Paraklete. The verb form, parakaleo, speaks to comfort and encouragement. The Spirit is the Helper, the Counselor, the One who comes alongside us to guide us into truth. The Spirit brings Christ to us, and us to Christ. Jesus does not leave us as orphans but comes to us in resurrection victory and power by the Spirit.
Typically when I think of the comforting, encouraging ministry of the Spirit, my mind goes to some sort of distress of the heart, like sadness, suffering or weariness in this fallen world. The Spirit comforts me in my sorrow and frustration. But when we look at the role of the Holy Spirit in terms of John 14-16 and Romans 8, His ministry to us takes on another aspect.
The Spirit is our comforter, encourager and helper in the face of our continued sin. He comforts us as we grieve over our sin and see ourselves as wretched ingrates and disobedient children to our Father in heaven. The Spirit comforts us with the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
As we despair in our constant rebellion, each foray into the darkness of sin and unbelief convincing us of our vileness and unworthiness, the Spirit encourages us in the love of our God for us in Christ. That love will not let us go. Nothing in all the created order can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Through His Word and operation, the Spirit impresses that upon our anxious hearts.
The Spirit is with us to help to abide in Christ, to stand firm in Christ. He helps us in our profound weakness to press on in newness of life, to repent of our sin and bring forth fruit in keeping with our repentance.
Praise be to our God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—for such a great salvation!