“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.”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of all these sinners, I am chief.
This is a true word, worthy of all acceptation.
How this word of God contradicts those who attempt to make Christ a universal Savior of all men. On the surface it might even seem as if this text would support their position. One might construct the following syllogism: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, all men are sinners, therefore Christ Jesus came into the world to save all men.
Sounds logical doesn’t it?
Yet, there is something wrong. The error lies in the major premise: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But, is that not verbatim a quotation of the text? Indeed, nevertheless in the above syllogism the assumption is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save all sinners! This assumption is unwarranted because of the text and context.
But, are not all men sinners?
There are two kinds of sinners: self righteous sinners and self-conscious sinners. The former are excluded from our text: the latter are included.
With this in mind we can construct a proper syllogism: Christ Jesus came into the world to save self-conscious sinners, I am the chief of the self-conscious sinners, therefore Christ Jesus came into the world to save me!
This is a true saying and worthy of all acceptation.
What really is a sinner?
According to our text, a sinner is one who misses the target or mark. The mark that every man is supposed to hit is none other than God Himself. God deals with all mankind as rational and moral creatures. His command is clearly revealed in the Scriptures and His presence is evident in creation. The central theme of God’s revelation is love me with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength and thy neighbor as thyself. The sinner fails to attain this high calling. Willfully he designs his own mark which satisfies his sinful pleasure. He rejects God and lives for himself.
Since such acts are directly contrary to the purpose that God has for man, these deeds are acts of disobedience and rebellion against God. This exposes the sinner to the righteous indignation of the holy God. Hence the sinner is one who is guilty before God, he stands liable for his deeds, both as represented in Adam and for his own sins. God as Judge does not simply declare mankind guilty; He also executes the sentence and the sinner is brought under His curse. The punishment for sin is death, and death is corruption both spiritually and physically.
The sad tale of human misery gives evidence of this death.
Every person born in the human race is by nature such a sinner. Yet, the text does not speak in generalities; it speaks specifically.
From the context it is evident that some sinners are self-righteous. Paul refers to them in verses 3-10. He tells young Timothy that some teach other doctrines and thereby give heed to fables and endless genealogies ministering questions rather than godly edifying. This has resulted in their viewing the law not as a means to expose their corruption, but rather as a mirror to reflect their innate goodness. They turned aside unto vain jangling, desired to be teachers of the law, but did not understand what they said, imagining that the law was made for a righteous man. Representatives of these sinners were Hymenaeus and Alexander whom Paul said, “I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
In contrast to the self-righteous sinner, Paul refers to the self-conscious sinner. He reminds Timothy that the end of the law is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. Every sinner humbled by grace will look at himself in the light of that law and see himself not as righteous, but rather as lawless and disobedient; he will see that by nature he is unholy and profane, murderer of father and murderer of mother, manslayer, whoremonger, defiler of mankind, men stealer, liar, perjured person, and even as those holding to that which is contrary to sound doctrine.
Paul however, does not refer academically to such self-conscious sinners. He immediately becomes personal and places himself in that category. He adds, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
This presents two problems. How could Paul say that he was chief? This takes on impetus when we recall that the tense of the verb is not past; he does not say, “I was chief,” referring to his past which wasn’t very good, but instead he says, “I am chief.” He says this while he lies in the prison at Rome awaiting his death as a martyr for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a subsequent letter to Timothy, he writes, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” This man is the chief of sinners? Still more, if Paul is chief, where does that leave us? Can more than one sinner be first, or chief?
The solution to these two problems lies within the same context of the above. Paul is speaking of the self-conscious sinner. As each child of God views himself before the holy law of God, he comes to one conclusion: no other sinner can be as bad as I am.
That is the opposite of self-righteousness.
Why did Paul and why must each one of us come to that same conclusion? We must appraise our spiritual state and condition in the light of God. It is not a question for each of us, how do I appear before my neighbor or in the eyes of men. Rather, we must ask how does God see me! This God knows not only our outward deeds, he knows the activities that take place within our souls. He knows the motives of the heart itself. All these He judges in the light of the perfect law which demands a pure heart, good conscience, and faith unfeigned! When we as children of God stand in the light of so great glory, we know ourselves as no other creature possibly can. Our conclusion is that we are the chief of sinners. Paul said, I am chief! Each of us says, I am chief.
The self-righteous sinner spends his time finding fault with others and exalting himself above them, the self-conscious sinner is humbled in the dust and cries out in confession and repentance, “I am the chief of sinners.”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save such sinners.
He came into the world for that purpose.
His name is Christ Jesus.
Upon the basis of this testimony, we must view the work of salvation as God’s work in Jesus Christ. As the Christ He was anointed by the Father for this very task. That anointing has its very roots in the sovereign counsel of predestination. God willed to glorify His name in the way of sin and redemption from these sins in Jesus Christ. The Person of the Son of God, destined to take on human flesh, was anointed to remove the two obstacles of sin: guilt and corruption.
Hence He came into the world. He assumed unto Himself true humanity. In our flesh He entered into the pale of death, subjected Himself under the holy law of God, in order that He might satisfy the demands of this law as they applied to His own and thereby earn the right to liberate them from the servitude of sin and bring them into the everlasting fellowship of the Father.
Our guilt was removed at the cross. Bowing under the righteous indignation of the holy God against the sins of the elect, Christ bore the penalty unto the perfect end. He removed the punishment by bearing it. Triumphantly He cried, “It is finished.” Through such perfect obedience to the divine law, God imputed to our account the benefits and declared that we are righteous for Christ’s sake. Because of this work of Christ, God declared that under the shadow of His perfect law we are no longer sinners, guilty sinners, but saints.
No less does Christ Jesus come into the world to save sinners from the corruption of their sins. Through the exalted preaching of the gospel, Christ efficaciously applies the benefits of His death unto His elect. Having earned the right to free them from the tyranny of sin, He also actually performs that work. By the Holy Spirit, He breaks the stubborn and proud hearts, He humbles the mighty into the dust. He causes the sinner to cry out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” As the Holy Spirit pours forth the sovereign and free grace of God into the hearts of the sinner, his reaction is, how terrible I am! With Paul the sinner cries out, “The good that I would I do not and the evil that I. would not that I do, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The answer is Christ Jesus! He is the Savior of sinners, He directs these sinners daily into the green paths of the law. He keeps the sinner humble, ever reminding him that the best of his works are polluted with sin and that his beginning is so very small. He holds before the eyes of the dying pilgrim the hope that perfection lies beyond the vale of the shadow of death when salvation shall be perfectly realized in the joyful life everlasting.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save self-conscious sinners.
I am the chief of these self-conscious sinners.
Therefore Christ Jesus came into the world to save me.
This is a true word.
Notice carefully, the conclusion is not conditional. Salvation is not optional, not probable, not available . . . but! Our personal salvation is sure. It is final and definite! All who say, “I am the chief of sinners” are surely saved.
The reason is obvious: natural man who is unsaved is always boasting about his goodness. This is true whether he is a heathen or a hypocrite. The unsaved always view themselves as better than others.
He that looks at the holy law of God and smites his breast and cries out in repentance and confession by saying, I am a sinner, yea more, I am the chief of sinners, is already saved. Such a confession is not of man, but it is of God.
It is the evidence that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save such a sinner.
Hence this is a true saying.
And it is worthy of all acceptation.
The more we see our terrible sins, the more we see how hopeless it is for us to save ourselves, so also the more we see the mercy of God in saving such unworthy sinners. Paul saw his own life as a pattern of what great things God does to the chief of sinners. May God give us grace to view ourselves in the light of that same grace.
Only then is man nothing and God everything.
And thus it must be unto all eternity.