Who is the worst sinner you can think of? Hitler? The terrorists of 9/11? A serial killer? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the answer may surprise you. The answer is you.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst,” 1 Timothy 1:15 says. The words of that Bible verse were written by none other than the apostle Paul. Yes, Paul. One of the greatest missionaries of all time. The man inspired by God to write roughly a third of the New Testament. The one who endured beatings, imprisonment, hardships, shipwrecks, and more, all for the sake of spreading the Gospel. Yet what does he call himself? “The worst of sinners.” Ouch. If he’s that bad, what does that say about us? Why would he say such a thing about himself? Because he knows his heart, dear one, just as you know yours.
First of all, yes, Paul was Saul the persecutor before he was Paul the apostle. There is that whole ugly side of his life. Maybe that’s what makes him call himself the worst of sinners. He knew and experienced God’s grace and mercy in a way few of us ever will. Hopefully none of us have ever persecuted Christians or committed heinous crimes. We aren’t “bad” people by earthly standards. Those who have committed crimes know and feel their sin keenly, if their conscience is intact. They know they are unworthy of God’s grace, and thus, they can say with Paul the words of 1 Timothy 1:15 with a poignancy many of us will never understand.
But make no mistake about it, you are a sinner. One who deserves eternal death. By Jesus’ standards set in His Sermon on the Mount, you are an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a liar, and more. For you see, your thoughts condemn you. Those “little” sins in your heart are as bad in God’s eyes as any crimes that land a person in prison on this earth. Paul knew this as well. He sums this up in his discourse in Romans 7:15-25 about not doing the good he wants to do, but instead doing the evil he doesn’t wish to do. That is our continual struggle as well. So we can say with Paul, “What a wretched man [or woman] I am” (Romans 7:24), and confess with him that we are indeed “the worst of sinners.” But take heart. Look at the beginning of the verse again. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” For your sake, Jesus took on your sin and became Himself the worst of sinners on that cross. So yes, you are a sinner, but you are a saved sinner. Thanks be to God!
Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.
Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine.
(LSB 611, verse 1)