Jesus Saves Sinners
So today means we are four weeks into the book of 1 Timothy, and one of the themes of this book that we have seen so far is that sound doctrine is very important.
In fact, every sermon up to this point has had something to do with sound doctrine.
Pastor Joe’s first sermon was on the connection between nature and sound doctrine.
Then in the second sermon I talked about how sound doctrine is the purpose of elders.
And then last week Pastor David said that the foundation to sound doctrine is the infinite happiness of God.
A lot has been said so far about sound doctrine, and we’re going to keep talking about sound doctrine, but today’s passage is extra extra important when it comes to sound doctrine because in verse 15 we find the clearest, most concise description of sound doctrine in the entire Bible — and I mean what I just said.
The apostle Paul is so straightforward and simple here. He is intending to give us something that he wants us to hold onto. He is telling us something here that he wants us to never forget. And this is it — it’s that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.
That is the main message of this passage, and therefore it’s the main message of this sermon. It’s also the main message of this church. This is the reason why any of us are here right now. It’s because Jesus saves sinners.
And so here’s the sermon outline for today. It’s just one sentence in three parts:
1) Jesus saves sinners, 2) even the worst of sinners, 3) and God gets all the glory.
We’re going to look at each of these, but first let’s pray and ask for God’s help.
Father, in this moment, with your Word opened before us, we are gathered around the greatest news in the entire universe. Wherever our minds are darkened, give light. Wherever our hearts are cold, send fire. Show us your glory, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Part 1) Jesus saves sinners
It’s important to keep in mind that Paul has been talking about false teaching. That’s the main thing he’s been discussing in the first 11 verses — and so here in verse 12 when Paul starts reflecting on his own ministry, it’s in that false teaching context.
And so what Paul does her is he distinguishes himself from these false teachers by giving us the origin story of his apostleship. Now he’s going to land everything in verse 15 — that’s the crescendo on sound doctrine — but verses 12–14 remind us who the man is who is saying verse 15. And so we need to see it. All this is all meant to set up verse 15. There are just a few things here to point out, [and I’ll do this quickly.]
And the first thing we see is that Paul exists because of Jesus.
In verse 12 Paul gives thanks to Jesus for the strength that Jesus has given him to fulfill the ministry of Jesus that Jesus has appointed him to. That’s what Paul says.
So contrary to the false teachers, there is no self-selection going on with Paul’s apostleship. Paul is Paul and he does what he does because of Jesus. Paul is in the ministry of Jesus, appointed there by Jesus, filled with the strength of Jesus, and therefore he gives thanks to Jesus. Paul exists because of Jesus.
The second thing we see is that Paul is not like the false teachers.
Jesus has orchestrated every step of who Paul is, although — verse 13 — Paul used to be a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” In other words, Paul used to be a bad guy. Paul used to be an enemy of the gospel. And this is interesting because Paul, a former enemy of the gospel, has been talking about false teachers who are current enemies of the gospel. And so how does that work? Wasn’t Paul just like these false teachers he’s now dealing with? And Paul would say NO.
n verse 13 Paul says that he received mercy because he acted ignorantly in unbelief. And that statement is meant to be a jab at the false teachers. Paul is implying that when he was an opponent to the gospel, he was an opponent in ignorance, whereas the false teachers are fully aware of they’re doing. See, back in the day Paul didn’t know the gospel; he didn’t understand the gospel; he was sincerely oblivious. But these false teachers, on the other hand — they’ve heard the gospel; they know the truth; and they have decided to be its enemy.
So there’s a subtle contrast happening here between Paul and these false teachers. Paul is saying he’s not like the false teachers.
And that’s because Paul had been radically transformed by the gospel.
That’s verse 14. Verse 14 is the difference-maker. Paul says:“the grace of our Lord [talking about Jesus] overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This is the mercy that Paul had received.
The grace of Jesus abounded for him — the grace of Jesus overflowed for him — with the faith and love that are in Jesus.
And there’s a question here about what he means: Is Paul talking about his own faith and love for Jesus, or he talking about Jesus’s faithfulness and love for him?
And again, when we see this in the context of the false teachers, it makes sense that Paul is talking about his own faith and love. That is something that the false teachers did not have, but it’s something that Paul did have because Jesus accomplished it in Paul by his grace. Paul used to be a blasphemer and persecutor, but now, because of the overflowing grace of Jesus, Paul has faith and love in Jesus. Paul is a changed man! The apostle Paul himself has been radically transformed by this gospel he preaches. That’s what he’s saying here.
Landing on Verse 15
And all this matters for how we hear verse 15. Paul is not just regurgitating truth here. He’s not just repeating something he heard from somewhere else, even if he believed it were true. No. Paul is about to say something in verse 15 that he has experienced firsthand. And that’s why he starts the drumroll. He starts in verse 15: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance…” In other words, What I am about to say is completely true and you should embrace it wholeheartedly. This is a no-questions-asked absolute kind of statement. This is the sort of statement upon which you can build your entire life. It changes everything. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
Here it is: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners … of whom I am foremost.
What We Believe
It’s no secret that we value sound doctrine at Cities Church. We were planted from a church that values doctrine; we are led by pastors who value doctrine; and even back in our earliest dreams about this church, they had to do with sound doctrine. We love sound doctrine.
Now this has only been five years ago — it feels like a lot longer than that — but way back in 2014, there was just a handful of couples who met together in a living room to dream and pray about what this church might be. We sensed God leading us to plant a church, but we didn’t want to rush anything — and one of the key things we discussed back then — the thing on the top of the list — was how do we faithfully live out sound doctrine? How do we live out this vision of God that we all embrace?
We had this doctrine of God in his glory and his sovereign grace, but the question was:
What does that look like in everyday life?
What does it mean that God is sovereign in his grace for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker?
What does it mean for those who are suffering?
What does it mean for those who are stuck or distracted or just far from God?
What does our theology mean the people of these cities?
Those were the questions, and well, we knew that before we can really answer those questions, we needed to somehow take our theology and distill it down into something we could hold onto.
We had this amazing document in our Affirmation of Faith, and it articulates the most glorious truths imaginable, but what’s the main thing it’s saying? What the main thing we believe? If we could put our whole vision of God into one, little sentence, what would it be?
So we tried it, and here’s what we said: we believe Jesus saves sinners.
And we mean every word of that, just like Paul does.
We believe Jesus saves sinners, and that’s JESUS as in not man. We cannot save ourselves, and nobody like us can save either, unless it’s someone who is fully like us but also fully God, which is who Jesus is. Jesus is God the Son,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God;
begotten, not made, of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he came incarnate by the Holy Spirit and virgin Mary,
and was made human.
This Jesus is the Jesus who saves us.
And it’s SAVES as in not merely rehabilitates. Jesus rescues us comprehensively and eternally and irrevocably. Jesus doesn’t just alter our circumstances, he redirects the destiny of our souls.
And they are the souls of SINNERS as in not semi-good people who need a little pick-me-up. Uh-un, we are sinners who have rebelled against a holy God, and therefore we justly deserve his holy wrath.
Jesus … saves … sinners — that’s what we believe.
And we believe it, first, because the Bible says it, and also, because, like Paul, we too have experienced it. I want you to know that your pastors are sinners who has been saved by Jesus. Jesus saved me. He saved me. And it had to be Jesus.
That’s what I love about that last part there at the end of verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, Paul says, of whom I am foremost.” Paul says that Jesus came to save sinners — and believe me, I know, because I was the worst sinner there ever was.
Now that’s the second part of our sermon: 1) Jesus saves sinners …
Part 2) Even the Worst of Sinners
And I think Paul means what he says here. This is not performative humility. I think Paul really considered himself to be the foremost of sinners. He believed he was the worst. And we see a little bit of his story here, and we see it a few times in the Book of Acts, and then over in Galatians 1 and also in Philippians 3. Paul was open about his past: He persecuted Christians; he sanctioned their murders; he opposed the gospel every way he could.
Paul was the kind of sinner that other sinners are supposed to look at and think: “Well, at least I’m not that bad.”
Seriously. That’s what Paul is saying.
Now I’ve heard it said before that we should all be like Paul and consider ourselves the foremost of sinners. It’s been said that if we were really in tune with our hearts, then we would, like Paul, believe ourselves to be the worst people we know. … I don’t think that’s right.
I believe Paul wants you to know that he was a worse sinner than you are.
And now just to be clear, we’re all still sinners, and we’re all sinful enough to deserve the wrath of God, but the point Paul is making by calling himself the foremost of sinners is that if God can save him then God can save anybody. That’s the point. Look at verse 16:
But I received mercy for this reason — Okay, this is the purpose. The purpose for why Paul received mercy as the worst of sinners is in order that — Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
In other words, by Jesus saving Paul it means that Jesus has saved more unlikely sinners than you. If Jesus can be patient with Paul, Jesus can be patient with anybody.
The Patience of Jesus
And look, that word patience here is is full of meaning. See, a lot of times, I think, when we think about the word patience it’s almost like we imagine a thermometer, and the temperature is slowly rising. Anybody else think about patience that way? Really, think about this for a minute: in what context do you most often use the word “patience?” …
Is it a warning?
“I’m really trying to be patient.” “My patience is running thin.”
Seriously, I wonder, if we were to survey our kids on what the word “patience” means they would probably say it’s that thing that mom and dad mention right before they lose it.
See, I think we can tend to imagine patience from a more negative perspective. It’s that thing we lack and need more of; it’s that thing we only think about when it’s running low. That’s patience for us.
But that’s not how it works for Jesus. The all-patience of Jesus is his longsuffering kindness. It’s his enduring mercy that doesn’t look at his watch and tap his foot and “put up with” stuff, but instead, the enduring mercy of Jesus overcomes every obstacle.
The perfect patience of Jesus for Paul overcame everything that stood between Jesus and Paul, and that was meant to be an example for you. That was an example for us that if Jesus can overcome everything that stood in the way between Jesus and Paul, then Jesus can overcome everything that stands in the way between Jesus and you.
What It Means for You
Which means, you have to stop with the excuse that you’re too far from God for his grace to reach you. You’re not.
Listen, I want you to hear this: some of you shy away from the grace of God because your shame tells you that you’re unsavable. Or, maybe for a lot of us, you think that you’re just barely savable. Like you think God is able to squeeze you into the family, but you know you’re not going to do much. See, we tend to put limits on God’s grace in our lives based upon the way we perceive our own brokenness. And Paul would say: Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?
My whole life, Paul says, my entire story is meant to tell you that whoever you are and wherever you’re from and whatever you’ve done, Jesus can save you and Jesus can use you.
And right now, we need to believe that. Like right now I’m calling us to believe that. Really, try this Everybody turn to your neighbor and tell them this is true. Tell them it’s true: Jesus saves sinners, even the worst of sinners.
And here’s the last part.
Part 3) God gets all the glory.
Jesus saves sinners, even the worst of sinners, and God gets all the glory.
And we see this in verse 17.
Paul starts this whole passage in verse 12 by thanking Jesus as he reflects on his own story and Jesus’s mercy to him. Then he moves to verse 15 and he declares the central truth of the gospel and his experience of that truth. And then in verse 17 he just takes off with this doxology:
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
And in one sense, we read this and think: Paul is doing his thing. If you’ve read the New Testament before, you know that the apostle Paul from time to time just explodes into praise like this. It’s almost like the content he’s been writing about overcomes him, and he just starts to worship. I think that’s right. I think that is what is happening here. Paul is so compelled, so moved, by the mercy of Jesus in his own life, that he just says To God be the glory!
Jesus saves sinners, even the worst of sinners, and God gets all the glory!
That is true! That is what Paul is saying.
And he’s also saying more than that. Paul uses some special language in verse 17, and I think there are two truths at work here that I want us to see in closing.
1. God gets the credit, not Paul.
This is really the plainest thing we can see in verse 17. We don’t even have to read verse 17 to already get the picture that Paul’s salvation is not his own doing. Look at who Paul used to be, and then look at who he has become — Jesus is the one who has made all the difference. This is easy, right? God getting the credit instead of Paul is the logical conclusion anybody would have from Paul’s story.
But this isn’t just true for Paul’s story, this the way that God has designed his salvation overall. God getting credit for Paul’s salvation goes for Paul and it goes for every other Christian there has ever been. Our salvation — our receiving the mercy of Jesus — says more about Jesus than it does us. In fact, the whole thing is engineered so that we cannot boast in ourselves.
Paul says this in other places. I think the clearest place is Ephesians Chapter 2, verses 8–9. Ephesians Chapter 2 changed my life. This is what Paul says, verse 8 —
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Okay, let’s track with it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing” [— Okay, Paul, we get that. We didn’t do this salvation, God did it. Okay, he hear you. But then Paul says it again. He says —] it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Look, if you think there is something about your Christian life that you can pat yourself on the back for, you’ve got it wrong. Now look means are a real thing; decisions are a real thing; wisdom is a real thing — but at the end of the day the decisive cause of our salvation is God, not us; and so God gets the praise.
God the Father chose you for salvation before the foundations of the world; God the Son accomplished your salvation when he died on the cross and rose from the dead; and God the Spirit applies your salvation as he opens your eyes to believe and indwells your life with hope.
It is God from start to finish, and so, to God be all the glory.
And that brings us to the last thing to see here. God gets all the glory, and in particular —
2. God the Father is worshiped because of what God the Son has done.
Notice that in verses 12–16 Paul is talking exclusively about Jesus. In just five verses here, Jesus is mentioned either by name, title, or pronoun 10 times. This passage is overwhelmingly Jesus-centered, and Paul is deliberate in focusing on Jesus. He is being intentional when he says that he gives thanks to Jesus, and that Jesus has strengthened him, and that Jesus has appointed him to Jesus’s ministry. Paul means to say Jesus. He means it when he says that Jesus came to save sinners, and that in saving him Jesus was displaying Jesus’s patience, which is meant to be an example to everyone who will believe in Jesus for eternal life.
All that has happened at ground zero of Paul’s life is because of Jesus. Jesus has been the one involved, and Paul knows it’s Jesus, the real person. Paul is talking about the real person Jesus who back in the day, out of nowhere, as Paul was traveling down the road to Damascus, suddenly a bright light flashed and it knocked Paul to the ground and a voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (see Acts 9:4–5) — that is the Jesus Paul is talking about here!
Paul has met Jesus. Paul has encountered this real person who came to save sinners, even the worst of sinners. And so we can’t just skim over these 10 mentions of Jesus in verses 12–16. Paul means what he says. Which makes verse 17 stand out, because in verse 17 Paul stops talking about Jesus and he unmistakably starts talking about God the Father.
He says to the “King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” — that is an amazing combination of Old Testament imagery. Paul is talking here about God the Father — God who is sovereign over all, God who is indestructible in his power, God who can’t be seen, not even by Moses.
Paul is talking about the God of Israel who said in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Adonai Elohenu Adonai ehad. Paul had prayed that prayer; he believed that prayer. He knew there is only one God, and that one God is above all and over all; that God is categorically different from his creatures. That God is utterly transcendent. And so to that God be glory! But why?
We see it here in this passage: The God who is utterly transcendent gets glory because he is also the God who came near in the person of his Son —
We worship the God who is out there because he is also the God who came here.
We worship the God who can’t be seen because he sent his Son who can be seen, and who came here for our worship —
The Son was sent for our worship — Jesus says that in John 4. Jesus came here saying the Father is seeking worshipers who will worship him in Spirit and truth. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18 that “Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
All that Jesus has done for us in his coming and living and dying and coming back to life is so that we might live and say what Paul does here in verse 17: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” God gets all the glory.
Jesus saves sinners, even the worst of sinners, and God gets all the glory.
And when we come to the Table, that’s what we’re saying. When we receive the bread and cup, like Paul, we are giving thanks to Jesus — we know we’re here only because of Jesus. And so as we give him thanks, we’re also saying because of Jesus, through Jesus, in Jesus: to the King of ages — to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit, be all the glory.
And if you’d say that this morning, we invite you to eat and drink with us.