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The Infinite Reach of Grace

September 25, 2016 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: 1 Timothy

Passage: 1 Timothy 1:15-17


This morning, we are going to finish our study of vv. 12–17. In this paragraph Paul reflects on his experience of the incredible mercy of God. In so doing, he offers a stirring testimony to the grace of God that ought to move every heart no matter where we may be today.

Remember that 1 Timothy 1 is dedicated to addressing the influence of false teachers in the Ephesian church. They were known for their arrogance and for legalistic understanding of the Christian life. They promoted themselves as brilliant and holy, and they preached a message that was focused on earning the favor of God through keeping OT laws. And so in this paragraph Paul uses his own testimony and a basic but powerful statement of the gospel to shine a bright light on how far the false teachers had strayed from the heart of genuine Christianity. This paragraph reminds us that true Christianity does not promote my greatness; instead, it humbly acknowledges my sin. It does not marvel in what I have accomplished but in what Jesus did for me on the cross. And it does not boast in what I have to offer the church; instead, it humbly marvels that God would give me the privilege of serving him. And so this is a glorious paragraph of Scripture.

It includes three distinct sections. Verses 12–14 are a thanksgiving, vv. 15–16 are a meditation on a foundational creedal statement, and v. 17 is a doxology, or hymn of praise. We covered vv. 12–14 last week, and today we will consider the creed and the doxology, which I’d like to summarize with three statements. The first is…

Jesus came to save sinners (v. 15).

Again v. 15 is built around the statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” But before Paul gets to this statement, he gives a rather lengthy introduction Let’s talk about…

The Trustworthiness of the Creed

Pretty much everyone agrees that this formula is intended to introduce a well-known, often repeated statement of foundational Christian doctrine. The Gospels record a number of similar statements from the mouth of Christ, though none match this statement perfectly. It seems that the early church took the words of Christ and formulated them into a memorable statement through which to teach doctrine. In a time when most people couldn’t read and there were few books, we can assume that the churches probably taught a lot of doctrine using similar short, memorable statements. Paul’s introduction affirms the truthfulness of this statement in two ways. First, Paul says that it is a “faithful” saying. In other words, it is a trustworthy representation the message of Christ and the true gospel. And then he adds that it is “worthy of all acceptance.” This phrase highlights the universal authority of the statement. All people need to hear and believe God’s truth. This affirmation is consistent with the Bible’s message that the gospel is not just one of many ways to God. Mankind is not free to decide for himself what he wants to believe and whether or not he will obey the gospel. No all people must accept this truth if they want to be made right God. And so if your attitude toward the gospel has always been that it’s great for other people, but it’s just not for me, then understand that you are wrong. The Scriptures are very clear that there is one way to the Father, and it is through the gospel of Christ. The creed in this verse is trustworthy and authoritative. So what does it say? Let’s talk about…

The Content of the Creed

Essentially, this statement is intended to answer the question, “Why was Jesus born into the world?” What is the purpose of the incarnation? The NT gives several answers to this question. For example, Jesus came to reveal the Father, to fulfill God’s promises to Israel, and to judge the world. But the most basic reason Jesus came was “to save sinners.” So why do we need saving? The basic answer is sin. Sin has created a host of problems. Practically speaking, sin has blinded our eyes so that we cannot see God clearly, and sin has enslaved us so that we cannot live lives that please God. But sin has done much more than pollute our hearts; it has made us guilty before God. It has separated us from him and made us deserving of eternal punishment. And the Scriptures are clear that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Now, we can dress ourselves up to look good. We can adopt some “Christian” practices that make us look like good people. But you cannot change the fact that you are a sinner who falls infinitely short of God’s holiness or to take away God’s wrath against your sin. And that’s why Jesus came. Jesus came to save sinners. The title sinner is not exactly flattering is it? Most people don’t want to think of themselves as sinners. They want to hide their sin or pretend like it’s not there. But that’s what we all are. And yet Jesus came for us. Isn’t that incredible? Jesus didn’t come to save good people who have it all together. He didn’t come to save the rich and mighty who could give him some great kickbacks or help him win an election. No, infinite God gave his life for blind, rebellious, miserable slaves of sin. And this fact, summarized in this simple creed is the heart of the Christian faith. The church is a humble community of sinners who serve a gracious God. But Paul goes on to say that this creed was much more than a theoretical doctrinal statement; it had great significance for him. Let’s talk about…

The Application of the Creed

Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. The word translated chief simply means first. It can mean first in time or first in degree. Paul intends the second idea. He considers himself the worst of sinners. But is that actually true? Yeah, Paul did some pretty bad things, but he just said that he did them “ignorantly.” And Paul had since turned his life around. Surely, there were worse sinners out there than Paul. But this statement is Paul’s honest evaluation of his sin. We need to be careful not to minimize the significance of what Paul had done. Paul’s ignorance did not change the fact that he was the first aggressive persecutor of the church. He conspired in the murder of Christians. He ripped families apart by throwing fathers into prison. By persecuting the church Paul persecuted Christ. He committed some terrible crimes, and yet even Paul was not beyond the grace of God. He includes this statement at the end of v. 15 to say that there is no floor to the sinners for whom Christ died. Jesus came to save the worst of sinners.

Application: There may be someone here today who thinks that he or she is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Maybe you have done some terrible things, and you cannot escape the guilt of your sin. You don’t think there’s any way God would ever forgive you. Or maybe you haven’t done anything too bad, but you don’t think you’re worth a whole lot. You wonder, “Why would God ever care about someone as insignificant and worthless as me?” But no matter what you have done or how worthless you may feel, Jesus came to save you. God loves sinners, and no sinner is beyond the reach of his grace. Ultimately, those excuses are just a twisted form of pride. Humbly cast yourself on his mercy, and he will forgive.

For those of us who are saved, this verse is a needed reminder that there is nothing impressive about us. Jesus doesn’t love me because I’m important or because he really needs me. I am just a wretched sinner who has been given an incredible gift. This verse is also a good reminder regarding our witness in a dark world. It’s easy for us to develop a snotty attitude toward the sinners around us. We forget that only thing that separates us from them is the grace of God. We don’t love sinners as we should, and we are not passionate about reaching them with the gospel. Maybe we even think that some of them are beyond the reach of God’s grace. We need to remember that Jesus came to save sinners, and he was far more comfortable among wicked sinners who understood they had problems than he was among self-righteous snobs who thought they had it together. We need to pray that God would give us the heart of Christ for lost sinners around us. All of us ought to praise the Lord that Jesus came to save sinners. Notice secondly that…

God’s mercy is available to any sinner who believes on Christ (v. 16).

This verse builds off of Paul’s own testimony, which he mentions at the end of v. 15. It seeks to answer this question. “Why did Christ choose to save such a wicked sinner like Paul?” Paul assumes that he did nothing to secure this mercy. The word translated “obtained mercy” is the same word he used in v. 13. It describes Paul as a passive recipient who was granted a gift. Paul goes on to state that God showed mercy to Paul in order to provide a pattern or to teach lessons about the nature of his mercy. Paul’s testimony is a significant teaching tool because of the wickedness of his former life. The word translated “first” in v. 16 is the same word translated “chief” in v. 15. I believe it’s best to keep the translation “chief” or “foremost” in v. 16 based on how he just used it in v. 15. And so the idea in v. 16 is again that Paul is the worst of sinners, but God saved him to provide a pattern of his mercy. In other words, one of the reasons God saved Paul was to teach future generations some important lessons about the nature of God’s grace. Paul highlights two lessons. First…

Jesus is patient with sinners.

Paul says that the mercy he received testifies to the fact that God is “longsuffering.” Of course, this word is a graphic picture of patience. God doesn’t immediately squash sinners when they sin against him, like we would squash an annoying fly. Rather, he suffers or endures our sin for a long time. Paul’s point is that when he first began to persecute the church, God had every right to end his life right there and condemn him to eternal punishment. There was nothing that obligated God to wait on Paul to respond to the gospel. But he did. God withheld his justice long enough for Paul to believe and be saved. God’s patient waiting on sinners to respond to the gospel is something that we don’t consider often, especially those of us who believe strongly in God’s sovereignty over salvation. But it is clearly a biblical idea. The classic expression of God’s patience is found in 2 Peter 3:1–9. The question that dominates vv. 1–8 is why doesn’t God just come back and put an end to all of the evil in our world. We feel that way sometimes don’t we? We think, “Lord, why don’t you just judge all of these wicked people, and bring in your kingdom?” Peter answers in v. 9. God will fulfill his promises and judge the world, but he has not done so yet because he is patient with sinners and wants to see as many of them saved as possible. What’s the holdup on God’s eternal plan? It is God’s patient purpose to save. That’s incredible. Think of how much sinners shake their first at God and rebel against his will. If I were God, I would lose patience pretty quickly and put them in their place. I would have been done with sinners a long time ago. But even while sinners arrogantly stand opposed to God, he loves them and desires to save them. Maybe someone in this room has been shaking their fist at God for a long time. Maybe you think you’ve done it too long. Paul’s testimony is recorded as a pattern to show you that God is patient. If God would wait on Paul, he can wait on you. Now, don’t trample on God’s patience because there is an end to it. You don’t know how long you have, and the Scriptures are very clear that today is the day of salvation because you do not know when God’s patience will end. And so come to him today and be saved.

God’s patience with sinners is also significant for those of us who are saved. We are all recipients of God’s mercy because we should have been judged the first time we sinned. We ought to be humbled by this fact, and we should also be challenged to extend the same patience we have received. Again, we can sometimes have a very snotty attitude toward lost people who are very different from us. We see ourselves as better, we see them for all intents and purposes as beyond God’s grace, and we do not love them. We mimic the arrogant judgmentalism of Jonah sitting bitterly on the hillside waiting for God to rein fire down on Nineveh. As wicked sinners ourselves, we have no right to extend less patience than we have received. We need to love the sinners around us and be deeply burdened for their souls understanding that God can change any heart. We must model the patience of God as we consider our witness in this world. Paul’s testimony highlights God’s patience with sinners. Second, it tells us…

Jesus will save any sinner who believes.

Paul ends v. 16 by anticipating the fact that in the years ahead God will save many evil sinners who believe on Christ. Church history is filled with stories of unlikely converts that once rebelled against God but were transformed into his greatest servants. Folks, the gospel is amazing. God’s love and patience are incredible. I’m sure that as Paul wrote these incredible words he was filled with joy but also sorrow as he thought about the false teachers. The gospel is incredible, yet sadly the false teachers had become blind to this glory. They had forsaken this incredible truth for something shallow and vain. I hope that no one here will make that same foolish decision. There is nothing you can pursue in this life that compares to the riches of the gospel and to living under the umbrella of grace. It might be that someone here is toying with walking away from Christ. You are wondering if Christianity is really worth all of the sacrifice. I pray that you will see today the glory of God in the gospel and renew your commitment to it. Again, if you have never been saved, just come to God in faith. This verse is clear that there’s nothing more you have to do. Come to God today and accept his mercy.

Paul has just pondered the rich truths of the gospel, and his heart was obviously overwhelmed with joy and praise. As a result he bursts forth in v. 17 with a doxology. My third major statement is…

We must glorify God for his incredible mercy (v. 17).

This is not the first time in Paul’s epistles that he has contemplated the gospel and responded with an impassioned doxology. Many of you are probably familiar with Paul’s doxology at the end of Romans 11. After the longest study of the gospel in the NT, Paul responds in vv. 33–36 with a powerful hymn glorifying God for his mercy and wisdom. Paul has a similar response here. The gospel has brought sinners some incredible blessings, but the gospel is not ultimately about us. It is intended to bring glory to God. I’d like to highlight three truths from this hymn. First…

God is transcendent.

Transcendent is a big word that describes the fact that God is high above his creation. He is infinitely greater than we are. The descriptions of God that begin this verse highlight his transcendence. First, God is the King. Of course this speaks of his sovereign rule over creation. All human powers are ultimately insignificant in comparison to the power and rule of Christ. Next, Paul describes God as eternal. God has no beginning and no end. This is an incredible thought that we as finite humans simply cannot comprehend. Third, he is immortal. This term speaks to the fact that God does not decay. Again, that’s not how we are. From the moment we are born, our bodies are slowing down. We become more and more stiff, we lose our endurance and strength. We deal with more and more aches and pains until our bodies decay to the point of death. Our minds go through a similar process of slowing down and losing capacity. But God is not like us. He is immortal. Next, he is described as invisible. Paul expands on this idea in 6:16. It’s not so much that God is inherently invisible but that he is so high above wicked sinners that we cannot approach him or see him in all his glory. His glory is so great so we could not bear the sight of it all. In his grace, God keeps his glory hidden or invisible from our fallen sight. Finally, Paul describes God as the only God. Wise does not appear in the Greek, and so the point is God is the only God. Of course, in the ancient world, this doctrine set the Judeo-Christian faiths apart from every other religion. Everyone assumed that there are many gods. But Jehovah-God has no rivals. He is the only God who reigns over everything. Together, these titles describe the Godhead as high above us and everything else in creation. He is transcendent. Of course, that’s awesome but why would Paul bring up God’s transcendence in a context where he is discussing God’s purpose to save sinners? It’s clear that Paul intends to highlight an amazing paradox. Not only is God transcendent.

God is immanent.

In more familiar terms, God is near. The point of these descriptions of God is to highlight the wonder of the fact that God is infinitely higher than us, and yet the second member of the Godhead became one of us. He took on himself a human body and a human nature. And he died a miserable human death. He came to save sinners. I hope that we will never become dull to the incredible paradox of God’s greatness and nearness. We should amazed and humbled. That brings me to my final point about the doxology which is that…

God deserves all glory.

In light of this incredible paradox, Paul declares that God is worthy of “honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” If you are Christian, then this is how you must respond to the work of the gospel in your life. Give God the honor and glory he rightly deserves. Praise him with your mouth. Live for him in a way that accurately demonstrates his great glory and the great grace he has given you. Do that this week. Don’t leave today just having a little spiritual charge that will wear off by the time you sit down for dinner. No go out this week and live a life that brings rightful glory to our Savior.

If you aren’t saved, then come to him today. Fall on your knees before the Sovereign King, and say, I’m sorry for how I have shaken my fist in your face. I’m sorry for how I have defied your will. I believe that Jesus is my only hope and that his death and resurrection are sufficient to save me. I want to be saved, and I want to live my life to the honor and glory of God. Today is the day of salvation. Don’t leave without having this settled.

More in 1 Timothy

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