This is the text for a sermon I preached a couple weeks ago.
At this time of year, we celebrate such an intricate part of the gospel: how salvation came to the world through the life of one baby. The merit of this one life would be the basis of a sacrifice to redeem all humanity.
I have heard so many great sermons of the gospel and salvation and the question I have always asked myself is this: why? Why would God ever crush His own son on my behalf? Why would Christ ever shed his blood to redeem a dirty, sinful person like me? It is a question that has always humbled and puzzled me. So tonight I am going to do my best to answer that question. If you’ll turn with me to 1 Timothy 1:12-17, you see that Paul lays out an outline of several reasons why Christ came to save sinners.
The first reason is this: God saved us because we could not save ourselves
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But 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. 17To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Three times in this passage, Paul gives a reason for his salvation. The second and third reasons begin with him saying, “I received mercy because…” “mercy” Mercy is such an important part of the gospel. Salvation would not be possible if God was not merciful. However, the first reason that Paul gives starts out differently: “I thank him who has given me strength, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” Strength in the Spirit is the first and most important thing we are given in the process of regeneration. Paul was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and an arrogant opponent of God. And his transformation into a faithful apostle was not an overnight process. All of his sinful habits and behavior did not immediately disappear after his conversion. He had to be strong in order to make his body and his mind obedient to God. This is called the doctrine of sanctification and it is hard work. It takes strength and endurance. Though it is not the kind of strength that Mr. Cochran mentioned you could get in a gym last Sunday. This is the strength that only God can give.
“God saved us because we could not save ourselves.” Because without the strength that God gives through sanctification, we are nothing. If we were to attempt to save ourselves, it would be as if we were pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It cannot be done – at least not without supernatural help. The life of a blasphemer, persecutor, and opponent of God, just like Paul, is all that any of us can hope to have without this supplied strength. So when God saved us, he gave us the strength that we needed to break our habits of sin and to live a life obedient to his commands.
– It is this same strength that sustains us after regeneration and empowers us to face obstacles of physical need and temptation. It is as Philippians 4:13 says, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The second reason for which God saved us is this: God saved us because he is gracious to those whom He has chosen to justify. This is found in the second half of verse 13. Paul reflects on his days of being blasphemous and being a persecutor of the church as he writes, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Now Paul is not saying that he received mercy because he acted ignorantly. Rather, he is contrasting himself with the false teachers and religious leaders of the day. Paul acted ignorantly – he sinned – while he did not profess to have belief in Christ. Many of the leaders of the day would claim to be Christians, yet they would still act in sin, as if they were also ignorant of God’s teachings. They were hypocrites. In doing so, they were coming dangerously close to being cut off from the possibility of God’s mercy. Scripture makes it clear that hypocrisy is one of the vilest sins in God’s eyes.
Paul concludes his statement by saying that it is an overflow of the grace of God from which all good things must first come. “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” It is by an overflow of his grace that we are saved, that we are justified, and eventually glorified. However, it is by his common grace that we are able to do any good works at all. It is by his grace that we have the capacity for selflessness and are able to perform acts of forgiveness and altruism. And God’s grace, as Edwards said, is the only thing keeping the earth from opening up and swallowing us into Hell this very second.
But even with this gift of common grace, we are still completely unable to save our selves. Without some greater, propitiating sacrifice, we are still slaves to out own passions and desires. Titus 3:3-7 says this:
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” He saved us! God did for us everything that we could not do for ourselves.
“Not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Through the gospel, God has chosen to give us that which we could never even dream of receiving without his grace. We are heirs to His Kingdom! This means two things.
1. First, it means that while here on earth, we will experience the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the spirit.” Salvation brings divine cleansing from sin and the gift of a new Spirit generated, Spirit empowered, and Spirit protected life.
2. Second, it means that God has legally declared us as justified before His throne. As adopted children of God we are heirs through faith in Christ. However, we are also heirs with Christ. When Jesus bore His father’s wrath on that tree, his death became our death, his life our life, and his righteousness our righteousness. So when God looks at a believer’s life, He sees nothing that we have done and everything that Christ has done. We will be given the same reward as that of Christ our Savior. Next time you think about how unfair your life is or how you might wish that things were a little different, I encourage you to dwell on the fact that we, quite unfaithful Christians, will receive the same inheritance as the captain of our salvation
God saved us because he is gracious to those whom He has chosen to justify.
The third reason for which God saved us is that He is a loving God who will be faithful to redeem you for His glory. Verse 15:
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
For Paul to say, “This saying is trustworthy and full of acceptance” is a way of giving a thesis and summarizing the whole letter in one sentence. When we read that it deserves our full acceptance, it is Paul’s way of saying that he is about to let us in on some key points that Christians need to know.
Now the fact that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners is at the crux of the gospel. God came to save sinners. But then Paul adds, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.” That means that if you were to form a line of all the people in the world and put the very least of sinners at the end of the line and the most wicked, vile, and depraved people at the begging, Paul is declaring that he would be in front of everyone else. Yet in spite of his wickedness, God chose to redeem Paul and make him probably the most influential preacher and writer of all time.
A similar story can be found in Matthew chapter 9. Jesus made a habit of calling the foremost of sinners to be his followers. Everyone hated tax collectors. They were despised and known only as cheaters and traitors. Matthew was hated above all these men not only because of what he did, but also because of who he was. Matthew was a Jew. But because of he collected taxes for the government; he was required to do whatever the Roman Empire asked of him – the same institution that had held Israel captive for hundreds of years. Matthew had become friends with the enemies of his brothers. Yet this was the man to whom Jesus said, “Follow me.” Matthew 9:10
“And Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.”
We have a loving God who is faithful to redeem you for his glory – no matter who you are or what your occupation has been. He is able to use the most wicked sinners to bring glory to himself. Why? Why would Jesus seek out those who were held most condemned by the law and choose to offer them mercy before anyone else?
Coming back to 1 Timothy chapter 2, we read that Paul directly answers this question in verse 16:
“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.”
Through this verse, Paul uses himself as an example by which he can clearly show that salvation – that regeneration and sanctification – can only be the work of God and not of man. The law formerly condemned him as a blasphemer and persecutor, but now by the grace of God, he is able to preach the gospel that he once fought to destroy. This incredible example of transformation shows God’s great faithfulness and it is evidence that only by the patient working of the Holy Spirit can anyone have hope of salvation. 2 Peter 3:15 actually tells us that we are to consider God’s patience and our salvation to be the same thing:
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…” “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation.”
We know this to be true because without God’s patience, it would be impossible for any good work of the Spirit would come to completion.
“… Take care that you do not get carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and until the day of eternity. Amen.”
The world is full of ignorant and unstable people who twist and pervert the gospel. But God, through his faithful patience will turn ignorance into knowledge. And through his sovereign grace is able to make the disobedient obedient. God saved you because He is a loving God who is faithful to redeem you for his glory.
For my final point, please turn with me to 1 John 4:19: “We love because he (God) first loved us.” It’s a small verse, yet it carries so many implications and so much doctrine. We love because he first loved us. Now the first half is addressed to Christians who are to follow the two greatest commandments that we have been given: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” We love others in order to exemplify what God has done for us through Christ. And we love God because he fist loved us. In verse 17 we read that
“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
When God saved us it was so that we would not have to feel his wrath and it is because of his love that we are capable of following any of his commands. Christian love is always a gift from God. God’s love always takes the initiative. We see this by his sacrifice on the cross and we know it is true because we bear his image. However, there is one step in this process of love that we do not as often acknowledge.
– We love people as a result of our love for God.
– We only have the ability – the capacity – to love because God first loved us.
– And to take it one step further, we recognize that before God loved us – before he was even able to love us, he first must have loved himself. In order for God to love us, he first must have loved himself. What does that mean?
It means that God is the ultimate source and the ultimate embodiment of goodness, righteousness, and holiness. Every part of God, including his affections must also be perfectly, good, righteous, and holy. In order for God to love us wicked sinners, he first must have loved himself. Because he is altogether good, all of his actions must reflect his perfect nature. And because of that, there is only way that God could both love himself and love sinners at the same time. He must be faithful to redeem sinners for his own glory. Therefore, we love because he first loved us and before God could love us, he must have loved himself. Everything God does, he does because of who he is. And because of who he is, everything he does must ultimately for his own glory.
So, am I saying that when Christ was on that tree, He didn’t really care about you? He couldn’t even bear the thought of you, really. He simply endured the cross because he knew he would receive glory.
– No! You were made in God’s image and because of that Jesus cared more for you than you could ever imagine.
But this is what I am saying: When Jesus Christ was on that tree, it had nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done and it had everything to do with who God is and how he is going to redeem you for his glory.
You can have full assurance that God chose to save you because:
1. You, in our sin, were unable to save yourself.
2. God is a gracious God to those whom he has chosen to justify.
3. He is a loving God who is faithful to redeem you for his glory.
And as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be the honor and glory forever. Amen.”