I am the worst of sinners

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

In the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to his protégé Timothy, Paul has just finished listing a number of ways that people break God’s laws. But soon after calling out all of these examples of sinful behavior, he shines the spotlight on himself. He tells Timothy that he considers himself the worst of all sinners. But Paul follows up that indictment with the amazing truth that, despite his rebellious past, he has been shown incredible mercy and patience by Jesus in order to show that no one is beyond God’s reach.

It's worth reflecting upon Paul’s view of himself. Do you consider yourself the worst of all sinners? How would such a view of yourself change the way that you look at others? I think that if we have the courage to be brutally honest with ourselves, if we truly pay attention to the thoughts that go through our head or the judgments we pass on others, we must realize that at the very least we are not as good a person as we like to think we are. Indeed, one of the most important moments of my Christian walk was when I realized that even my most holy moments were stained by self-centered sinfulness.

Make no mistake – seeing yourself as the worst of all sinners is not some kind of pathological self-hatred. Rather, it is precisely the recognition of our depravity and our inability to overcome sin on our own that causes us to open the door to the amazing grace and love of God. The fact is that we are so sinful that nothing less than the death of the son of God could save us. But we are also so loved that Jesus, the very Son of God, willingly gave His life for us. We may be the chief of sinners, but the beautiful reality is that the God who knows all of that (and more) has taken away our guilt and shame and calls us His beloved child.

So how does seeing ourselves as the worst of all sinners change the way we look at others? I believe that when we truly see ourselves as the worst of sinners, we recognize that we have no basis on which to look down on anyone else. We don’t look at anyone else – people of a different political persuasion, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. – as a worse sinner than us, because we know our own hearts and recognize that apart from God’s grace and mercy, we would be lost. We can approach others with a genuine humility and compassion, because we know what our hearts are capable of.

Do not be afraid to be brutally honest with yourself. But do not stop there – let the realization of your own sinfulness drive you to the amazing grace, mercy, and love of our great God.  

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