Many people feel that they’ve lived such a sinful life that they cannot be saved. They’re just too bad to be forgiven. They’re beyond redemption, without hope. But, is that what the scriptures actually teach?
The apostle Paul, referring to his own life shortly before becoming a Christian, wrote this to Timothy: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief ” ( 1 Tim. 1:15 ). He was not speaking aimlessly; he gave specific reasons for so identifying himself. He had been “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” ( vs. 13 ). Paul purposefully employed these three terms to explain why he identified himself as the “chief” of sinners.
To blaspheme is to speak against something or someone. The worst case of blasphemy is to speak against God, and that is exactly what Paul had done in denying Christ- God, the Son . Upon seeing the risen Christ, Thomas addressed Him as “My Lord and my God!” Jesus did not reject that identification given by Thomas. When making his defense before King Agrippa, Paul recounted, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9 ).
Paul’s blasphemy was not merely verbal. He actively, vigorously persecuted the church ( 1 Cor. 15:9; Phlp. 3:6 ) which is “the body of Christ” ( 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22-23 ). He was a ringleader in the severe persecution that broke out against the church following the martyrdom of Stephen. “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” ( Acts 8:3 ).
Paul also referred to himself as having been “an insolent man.” Both the KJV and the ASV translate the Greek word as “injurious.” Neither English term seems to do justice to the full meaning communicated in the original language. Paul was violent in his opposition to Christ and the church, and he took out his violence against the Christians whom he persecuted. He was portrayed as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” ( Acts 9:1 ). He described himself as having “persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,” ( Acts 22:4 ). He stated that he had“shut up in prison” many of the saints, “and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them , I persecuted them even to foreign cities” ( Acts 26:10-11 ).
Paul wanted to get across just how big and bad a sinner he had been. Identifying himself as the “chief” among sinners was not done in vain. In so doing he offered encouragement to all sinners of all ages, no matter how heinous and long lasting their sinfulness might be. God’s grace extended even to the “chief” of sinners; Paul was forgiven and saved ( 1 Tim. 1:14-16 ).
If a sinner is willing to come to Jesus in repentance and obedience, he can be forgiven ( Matt. 11:28 ). The gospel is the Lord’s message of salvation is for everybody ( Mk. 16:15-16 ). “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” ( Rev. 22:17 ). Yes, even the worst sinner in the world can be saved…
Gary L. Hutchens