Paul never lost the wonder of the gospel of God’s grace to him. Even after 30+ years of walking with Christ and serving as the lead apostle among the Gentiles, he remained blown away by the fact that God had saved him. In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul recounts his testimony of how the grace of God transformed his life. Before Christ stopped him on the road to Damascus he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1:13). But the grace of God was more than sufficient to save him, since “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15).
At this point Paul makes a surprising statement. We might expect Paul to continue his thought by saying “among whom I WAS the foremost.” Given his life before Christ, who could argue? He was a persecutor of the church and a blasphemer! But instead Paul says “among whom I AM the foremost” (1:15). In other words, Paul thinks of himself currently as the “foremost of sinners.” It is not merely a description of his former life, but a statement of his current experience.
So how could Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, think of himself as the foremost of sinners after 30+ years of walking with Christ? I believe the answer rests in his self-understanding and his God-understanding. Paul knew the mixture of his motives, the impurity of his desires, the extent of his failure to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. As he grew in his understanding of God he progressively saw the depths of his sin in ways he never appreciated. Combined with his growing understanding of the perfections of God in Christ his sin became increasingly odious to him.
Who came to mind when you saw the title of this post? Did you think of a mass murderer? A child molestor? Osama bin Laden? Hitler? I am becoming convinced that the biblical answer to that question for every single person is “me.” Sure, I haven’t committed the outward acts that would lead others to call me the worst sinner they know. But when we recall Jesus’ exposition of the Law in Matthew 5–6, I reach a different conclusion. I am guilty in my heart of the very sins that Jesus describes. Even my best actions are tainted by sinful motivations, many of which I do not even fully recognize or appreciate.
I am convinced that one of the marks of growth in holiness is paradoxically a growing awareness of the depth and extent of our sinfulness. As the Spirit continues his work in our lives, he exposes the idolatry in our lives in all its various forms. But he does this to cause us to abandon those idols and instead cling to Christ. And that is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily.
So, who is the worst sinner you know?
One of the perennial issues when discussing NT theology is the tension between the diversity of the individual documents and the claim that they contain a unified message. When reading through the NT, it does not take long to realize, for example, that Luke sounds different than John, and Paul different than both of them.
So what basis is there for seeing unity in the midst of such diversity? I suggest the following five foundations, offered in approximate order of significance in my mind.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; no doubt others can think of other reasons for seeing unity in the 27 diverse NT documents. As to the order, I have chosen to prioritize the first three in order to stress that claiming unity in the NT does not rest solely on one’s belief in divine inspiration and the acceptance of the canon.
This past Sunday we came to the end of my class on the Minor Prophets. In an effort to try to summarize what we covered in the previous twelve weeks, I focused on two key concepts and four key themes.
Two Key Concepts
Four Key Themes
Although there were a number of themes that we could have highlighted, the following four were particularly important in light of their prominence in the New Testament:
Summary List of the Theological Big Idea for Each Minor Prophet
As a final review tool, I have provided a summary chart on your handout for each Minor Prophet and the Theological Big Idea that I identified for it.
Theological Big Idea for Each Minor Prophet
|Hosea||God’s people must turn from their idolatrous pursuit of lovers who will not satisfy and return to the Lord, their true husband and redeemer.|
|Joel||In the coming day of God’s universal judgment, those who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be filled with His Spirit to enjoy the new creation with Him forever.|
|Amos||When the Day of the Lord comes, God will judge the sins of His people and reconstitute His people under a Davidic king to inhabit a new creation.|
|Obadiah||God will soon defeat the enemies of His people and establish His rule over His people forever.|
|Jonah||God’s extravagant compassion towards us should prompt us to be conduits of compassion to others.|
|Micah||Because our sin has been judged at the cross and we live in the last days, we must walk humbly with our truly unique God in heartfelt obedience.|
|Nahum||God will judge the wicked and restore His people to freedom through His ultimate Warrior-King, Jesus Christ.|
|Habakkuk||Even when we cannot trace God’s hand of justice or providence, we can patiently trust and rejoice in His character.|
|Zephaniah||Yahweh is a mighty warrior who brings judgment but saves the remnant who flee to him as their King.|
|Haggai||Yahweh will renew His presence among His people and re-establish His reign over His people by sending Jesus Christ as His Messianic King.|
|Zechariah||God’s people already participate in the restored Jerusalem through repentance and faith in Jesus as they await the consummation of God’s kingdom.|
|Malachi||God calls his people to repent of our apathy towards his proper worship and fear his name in anticipation of the great and fearful Day of the LORD.|
Want to hear more? Check out the links below:
Week 13 – Conclusion (Audio)
NOTE: This is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.
As evangelicals we often talk about ourselves as “sinners saved by grace.” While this statement is true, the Bible also describes believers as saints. According to its consistent use in the New Testament, the term translated saints (hagios) refers to all believers, not a special class of individuals who are super-spiritual as in the Roman Catholic tradition. The term simply means “holy ones” or those “set apart” for God’s special purposes,1 so in that sense every Christian is a “saint.”
This language is drawn from the Old Testament (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 11:45, Leviticus 19:2; Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:27), and particularly Exodus 19:5-6, where God refers to Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Believers’ status as “holy ones” stems from the fact that God himself is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:13-16). So believers demonstrate that they are set apart for God’s special purposes by living lives that reflect (albeit imperfectly) the moral purity of God himself. So while the focus of the term is on the believer’s status/identity because of their faith in Christ, those who truly have that status will reflect it in their lives (Hebrews 12:14).
Since 2006 Dr. Matthew S. Harmon has served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College and Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also a member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he serves on the Preaching Team, leads a small group, and teaches regularly in their Life Education classes.
Find out more at his blog, Biblical Theology, which is a forum for all matters pertaining to biblical theology (and some entirely unrelated).
Follow him on Twitter: @DocHarmon