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July 24, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”—1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV)
Paul was a well-traveled man. In fact, it could be argued that he was among the most-traveled individuals in the world during his lifetime. His travelogues of three separate missionary journeys are recounted in the Book of Acts. His travels, for the sake of sharing the Good News of Jesus, took him from one end of the Roman Empire to the other—from epicenters of civilization such as Athens and Corinth to a small community of islanders in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
But there’s one journey that Paul took that is easily the most important of all. It isn’t as obvious, nor is it chronicled for us in Acts. It’s a journey that isn’t measured in meters or miles, but in moments of revelation and realization. It’s a journey that happened over the course of several years, and one that every follower of Christ must also take. It was his path from who he thought he was to who he truly was in light of who God is.
We see the first marker of this journey in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church. Towards the end of this letter he writes that he was “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
The title of “apostle” was something sacred at that time. The Christian community recognized that the Lord had specially chosen and groomed a select number of men to carry forth the message of the gospel. Paul was one such man and would have garnered much honor as one. So even though he states that he is the “least” of the apostles, he is still putting himself in some good company.
About five years later, Paul writes to the Ephesian Church. However, this time, he doesn’t identify himself as the least of the apostles, but as the least of the saints (Ephesians 3:8).
Just so we aren’t confused, a “saint,” in the true biblical sense, is anyone who has decided to follow Christ, a Christian (1 Corinthians 1:2). But do you see the progression? Paul has moved from being the least of the apostles to being the least of all Christians, in general.
We see the final marker in this journey in the verse above. It’s later on in Paul’s life, as he’s writing to his protégé, Timothy, that he identifies himself not as the least of the apostles or the least of the saints, but as the chief of sinners.
That’s quite a journey! To go from identifying yourself as an apostle to a chief sinner . . . some would say that it was a serious trip backwards. But in reality, this journey demonstrates a powerful principle that applies to every person who has decided to follow Christ.
Paul came to understand that the closer we get to God, the more we sense our own sinfulness. Just as an object’s flaws will become more evident as it’s brought into the presence of a great light, the sinfulness of our hearts is exposed as we draw nearer to the holy presence of God.
This is the journey of moving from who we think we are to who we truly are before God. Of course, a lot of who we think we are is actually true. Paul was an apostle and remained so for the rest of his life. He was also a saint. So, it wasn’t inaccurate to identify himself as such. But despite these realities, there was also a deeper underlying truth: He was a lowly sinner in light of God.
As we follow in Paul’s footsteps, there will be a growing revelation of just how unholy we are compared to God. This realization of just how infected we are with sin, of who we truly are in light of God’s holiness, humbles us and makes us all the more thankful for the accompanying truth in Paul’s passage above, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners . . .”
May we all join Paul on this journey of seeing how sinful we truly are, and in that process, may we also recognize just how needful we are for Jesus to do what He has done for us!
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.