Monday, September 10, 2007

Paul or Me? Lord Have Mercy!

15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Over the past year or so, this verse has become more and more precious to me. It is not that I believe more in the infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible than I once did, nor is it that I have been only recently convinced of my own sinfulness, but it is that the magnitude of my own sin in relation to others, believers or unbelievers, has become more clearly focused in my eyes.

I listen to The Way of the Master Radio program daily on my iPod, and I regularly hear them sharing the gospel with people on the street. When they share the gospel, they walk the witnesee through some of the Commandments in order to expose the wickedness of their lives and their imminent condemnation before God. It is always humbling for me to hear the Law and to allow it to cut anew into my own sinfulness, and I am grateful for that.

So here’s my bone to pick with Paul. How come I feel, and believe that I have facts that could make a compelling case, that I am a more wretched sinner than anyone else that I know, and perhaps even him? Don’t get me wrong, I am not challenging the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible; I am simply making an observation that is in complete agreement with the Bible and that it is, in fact totally, true in its description of sin. And I am a living testimony that Paul’s laments about his own sin in Romans 7:18-25 are the cry of the heart of a believer. In fact, the reality of my sin can be so overwhelming that it makes me conscious of just how much I need to be saved.

Have I been justified by faith in Christ? Yes, I believe that Christ saved me and justified me when I was a small boy, but I had massive areas of sin that took me years and years to deal with and, ultimately, overcome. Even now, there are sins in my life that I trip into. I desire to be free from them, and I also agree with the Holy Spirit inspired cry of Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). I have been freed from the penalty and condemnation of sin, but I have not been freed from the presence of sin, the temptation to sin, nor the adulterous heart that continues to sin. Because this is the case, I must continually be brought back to a place of repentance, faith, and a place where I lean totally on the mercy of Christ.

It is not cavalier or reckless abandon of all constraints in an act of diving into a known sin and reveling in it that I am referring to when I mention my own state of perpetual sin. My heart that is, as yet, not fully sanctified to the point of glorification does still desire to sin because of the fleeting and deadly pleasures that result from it. But God is faithful, and He has allowed me to be tempted only as far as I can resist that temptation. Graciously, what seems to mark my sinning is the virtually immediate, and sometimes even preemptory, warning and conviction from the Holy Spirit. It is this ministry, along with the ministry of the Word in my heart and mind, which strengthens me in the face of my temptations so that I can withstand them. But also, when I fail and sin, it is this same Spirit that convicts me of my sin.

This conviction from God in the Person of the Holy Spirit following my sin is both sweet and bitter to me. It is sweet because my God chastens me as any good earthly father does. He does it in love for my good and His glory. But it is also bitter because as any child detests a spanking from a loving father, the pain and sorrow of disappointing, not just that, but it is of sinning against my Father, Savior, and Comforter that cuts to the core and hurts the most. I remember being more broken when my father would, with sad eyes and a straight and sad face, looked at me and uttered those eight words that just shattered me. “Eric, I am very disappointed in you, son.”

The statement from my father just like the conviction from my Father would be bearable, if it weren’t for painful truth of what I’d done that was embodied in the loving tone of the final word ”son.” Oh how wretched I feel when I know that I have sinned against God my Father, and only against Him. It was He who chose me before the world was made. It was He who called me by name. It was He, in the Person of Christ, who died for me to satisfy His own just wrath at my sin. It is He who keeps me from falling from grace. It is He who lavishes grace upon grace, and mercy upon mercy on each new day. And it is against my Father, my Savior, and my Comforter that my sin is truly offensive.
Oh God, my Father, Savior, and Comforter, I humbly plead that you would strengthen me in my war against sin. I pray that you would increase my desire and hunger for Your Word and my desire to pray more intentionally. It is only by grace that You have saved me, and it is only by Your grace that I am saved. Please help the cause of my struggle be of loving You. Help me to struggle and strive so that I may run the race with the goal of attaining the price.

So, even though I am not challenging the inspiration of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I believe that he and I can speak in concert together regarding our own lives and sinfulness and the glory of God when he wrote,
15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Corinthians 1:15-17)

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