As we look at the apostle Paul this month, and consider his transition from being the point man for the Jewish effort to exterminate Christianity to being the leading missionary in the first century, his words have special meaning. He calls himself “the worst (chief) of sinners,” and says he “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” (1 Timothy 1:13, 15) King David might argue with Paul about who might be considered “the worst of sinners.” Here are some of his words regarding his disobedience to the God who called him to lead the people of Israel.
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:1-7)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge… Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 1:1-4, 7-12)
However we ourselves might challenge both Paul and David about who “the worst of sinners” might be. The truth is when we look at our own lives we realize that we too have disobeyed God, we too have acted selfishly, we too find ourselves totally in need of the grace and mercy of God. Yet we also know that it is in these times that the words of the apostle Paul have special value to us: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The thing about Paul and David though, is that once they were confronted with their sin, by Ananias and Nathan, respectively, they turned back to God. They went from disobedience to radical obedience. How about you? Are you perfectly willing to accept God’s grace, yet refuse to give your life to obeying His will? To accept the mercy of God without seeking to live under the Lordship of Christ is to disrespect the great cost of our salvation, the life of the Son of God Himself. His sacrifice does not give us permission to disregard His will.