“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15b-16)
Imagine a man who is passionate about his religion. He has dedicated his life to it, and he makes sure everything he does is in accordance with the principles of this religion. One thing he absolutely will not stand for is people preaching a message different from the one he adheres to. So when a small group branch off from his religion and begin teaching something different, his duty is clear: he must be rid of them. This man is ruthless. Men and women both are in danger from him. He hates everyone who holds to this new teaching; his life’s mission is now to eradicate them. Prison is too good for them; they must all die, preferably by stoning as a due consequence of their heresy. His eye holds no mercy. In the name of his law, he will murder anyone who dares speak against him.
Such a man was the Apostle Paul. We tend to think of him only as the man who wrote the majority of the New Testament, glossing over the account of his misdeeds in Acts and focusing instead on the amazing servant he was for God. But while he certainly was an incredible man after his conversion, who he was before he met Jesus was still a part of his life. He was a murderer, killing the children of the very God he claimed to obey. To say he was the foremost of sinners is no overstatement. But not even these horrible acts could prevent God from using him. In fact, He was able to get even more glory through Paul’s life as a result of who he had been. As Paul himself put it, Jesus’ patience and mercy were clearly demonstrated in his own life. If a man like himself could be saved, then no one was beyond redemption.
We don’t like to talk about our sins. We understand that they separate us from God, and we do all we can to cover them up. We don’t even talk to ourselves about them, let alone other people. If we look good enough, we hope, no one will know the horrible people we are inside. This is especially tempting for believers. After all, we’ve been saved; how can we still want to do bad things? Wouldn’t being open about our temptations and failings cast a poor reflection on God?
Well, no, actually. If we want people to know how glorious God really is, they need to know what He’s saved us from. We have fallen prey to the lie that God only wants good people, when in reality He wants sinners who are willing to confess their sin and admit their need for a savior. Paul was not a good man—and he admitted it. We may like to forget who he was, but he never did. He gladly boasted of his weaknesses, understanding that this would give God all the glory. His past probably liked to haunt him, but instead of letting himself become consumed with guilt, he was able to use it to help others understand God’s mercy. We can do the same thing. God’s saved us all from something; even now, He continues to save us as He bring us through His sanctifying process. If we’re honest, we can all identify ourselves as the foremost of sinners. But we don’t have to hide that. God knows, and He’s still chosen to save us. Letting others know where we’ve come from will only help them grasp the glory of God.