The Worst Sinner of Them All
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

The Worst Sinner of Them All

1 Timothy 1:12–20  (ID: 1954)

Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was a blasphemer and a violent persecutor of Christians—yet by God’s grace, he was not only forgiven but also appointed to preach the Gospel. The awareness of his sin kept Paul humble and filled with gratitude to God. Alistair Begg assures us that the same grace that transformed Paul is available to us today.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Timothy, Volume 1

God’s Household of Faith 1 Timothy 1:1–4:16 Series ID: 15401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we pray that the words we sing may really be the expression of our lives, and so that as we take these moments to study the Bible, that you will take my words and speak through them, you’ll take our minds and help us to think clearly through them, that you will take our lives and answer the prayer of our song with them. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Can I invite you to turn again to the portion that we read some moments ago from 1 Timothy? There’s a sense in which these verses, which begin with the twelfth verse, provide us with an opportunity to gaze in on something that is almost embarrassing, on the one hand, for us to see, inasmuch as I think what we have before us in these verses is the opening of an individual —namely, the apostle Paul’s—soul to God; that we do not have here in these verses some kind of arm’s length theological missive, but that we actually have the response of an individual who has been caught up by the very thing he is addressing; that as his letter begins to unfold, and as he addresses the issue initially, as we saw last time, of these people who were a nuisance to the fellowship and could cause real heartache as a result of their confusion and compromise, especially as it relates to the law, he had then gone on to say something of the law. And then, having said something of the law, he was pointing out that the law was there for condemnation but that the gospel had been provided for salvation. And in the course of that, at the end of verse 11, he is mentioning the fact that it is this “glorious gospel” which has been “entrusted,” he says, “to me.”

And it is at that point, I think, that we have this opening of his soul. Because what follows is nothing other than the articulate wonder of this individual that the gospel would ever have been entrusted to him. Because, as he says—and we’ll see it in a moment or two—as far as he is concerned, to think realistically about himself, he must refer to himself as the “chief” of sinners.[1] And it is no surprise that by the time he reaches verse 17, he actually has burst out into song, as it were. Whether he was actually singing it, whether there was a tune to this or not, he is giving vent to his feelings: “Now to the King …, immortal, [and] invisible, [to] the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” I don’t think for a minute that he said to his secretary, “Why don’t we put a quote from a hymn in here, you know? I think it needs a quote. Can you think of a song that might fit here?” And she said, “Well, what about number 386, you know?” And he said, “Well, yeah, that’s quite good.” Not that at all! It just gushed right out of him. And if I can’t somehow convey that to you this morning, then what I do somehow dulls the edge of the impact of these immense truths.

However, I have the responsibility to try and lay the material on the plate in such a way that you can actually eat it. And so, in order to do that, I want to try and gather our thoughts around three main headings: first of all, to pay attention to the basis of Paul’s position; and then to consider the impact of Paul’s conversion; and then, as time allows, to say just a word about the substance of Paul’s instruction, which you’ll find there in verse 18 and following.

The Basis of Paul’s Position

First of all, then, the basis of Paul’s position. What is his position? Well, his position is clearly stated at the end of verse 12: he has been appointed to service. Speaking in the personal aspect of it, he says, “This is the wonder: that he has considered me faithful and has appointed me to his service.”

It’s interesting that he says it is to service. It is not to leadership. It’s not to honor, although there was honor in the service, and there was leadership in fulfilling his responsibilities, but he doesn’t identify what has happened to him in that way. He says, “The wonder is not that I have received honor, nor that I have been made a leader, but the real wonder is that God has appointed me to his service.” And the word that he uses is diakonia, from which we get our word diakanos, which is translated “deacon.” And it is clear that he is not referring here to the duties of diaconal responsibility within the framework of the church, which he addresses later on in his letter, but he is making express reference to the fact that his service is largely threefold: he is a servant of Christ, he is a servant of the gospel, and he is a servant of the church. And the wonder of it grips his soul. “I thank Christ Jesus,” he says, “our Lord … that he … [has] appoint[ed] me to his service.”

Now, on what basis was he appointed to this unique position? As an apostle, as a foundational element in the whole superstructure of the church, what in his background had set him up, if you like, for this appointment? I usually read the appointments page on the inside of the Plain Dealer when I take the Plain Dealer, and that’s in the business section, and also in the New York Times. And I’m always interested to see the people who have received certain appointments. And I read the little piece about them that gives a little bit of background and in most cases attempts to explain why it is that this person has received this appointment. And usually there are a list of qualifications which, when one reads them, says, “Well, I can see how that would be the case.” Every so often there’s an aberration. You read one, and you say, “Goodness! How did she ever get that job?” or “How did he ever arrive in that position?” Because what they describe doesn’t seem to make any sense at all in relationship to the appointment that they have received.

Well, the latter is the case in relationship to Paul. Because Paul, when he identifies what had marked him prior to his appointment to service, he gives to us a trinity that is quite devastating. Look at what he says in verse 13: “I was a blasphemer, I was a persecutor, and I was a violent man.” Now, you imagine him appearing for an interview for pastoral ministry, as it were, since he is involved in pastoral ministry. And he meets with the search committee, and the search committee said, “Well, we just wanted to go through a little bit of your background. Tell us three things that, really, people would know about you and mark you out to this point in your life.” And he said, “Well, I was good at blasphemy, good at persecuting, and I was a really violent guy.” You can just see them looking around the table, going “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” and moving the papers around, and saying, “Yes, well, maybe, uh… Jim, did you have a question?”

Because he can’t say anything else! He was a blasphemer! Look at Acts chapter 26, in his statement before Agrippa. He explains to Agrippa in verse 11: “Many a time,” he says, “I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.” So this wasn’t a kind of weekend deal, you know. This was the all-consuming focus of his existence: that he denied any veracity to these crazy Christian claims, and he was determined to stamp them out.

And his blasphemy was marked by his persecution. He refers to it there, and a couple of chapters back, in Acts chapter 22, he explains what had happened to him, in verse 4: “I persecuted the followers of this Way”—that is, the Christian way—“I persecuted [them] to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” When we see those dreadful Auschwitz scenes on the television, in those grainy black-and-white pictures, and our minds recoil, and our hearts stand back, our breath and hearts almost stop simultaneously at the sight of such a dreadful circumstance, that is the kind of thing that Saul of Tarsus, as a freedom fighter, was involved in prior to his appointment to Christian service. This isn’t some Sunday-school kid who wanted to grow up and be an apostle. This is somebody who was vehemently committed to monotheism and therefore passionately committed to do away, once and for all, with these Christian professors.

And he says, “My blasphemy and my persecution were exercised within the framework of violence.” If you have a King James Version in front of you, I think it says, “I was an insolent man.”[2] And you look at that, and you say, “How much is the word insolent used in our day?” And you’d have to get a dictionary, and you look it up, and even then, it wouldn’t convey adequately what he is referring to. Because the word that is used here is a word for an individual who was capable of the most insulting, violent, and humiliating treatment of those with whom they disagreed.

In the horrible events of recent weeks down in Mississippi, where that young boy took a gun, shot his girlfriend, shot up a number of other people—in the unfolding story which has emerged, if you have followed it at all (and I have, in the New York Times), then you would have read the reports concerning what was going on in these kids’ lives and the most horrendous statements from this young ringleader’s journal: how he describes—he says, “I made my first kill this week—something precious to me. It was my dog.” And then he gives the dog’s name. And he recounts how he took his dog, with a friend, put it in a bag, took a sledgehammer, and beat the dog to the point where the fur came off the dog’s back. They then ignited the bag, and they threw it in a pond. And his journal entry read: “It was a beautiful sight.”

Now, that is the kind of violence that Paul is paying testimony to here, and he is not proud of it. And when we think about the basis for his appointment here, we say to ourselves, “There is no basis.” All that we can find in this background is legitimacy for saying, “Get behind me. There is no place for you.” And you can imagine the search committee wrapping the interview up fairly quickly and saying, “We’ll get back to you—sometime.”

Well then, what then is the basis of his appointment? How do you take a man like this and use him in this way? How do you take such an individual? How does a guy like that become the foremost preacher of the gospel in the then-known world? Well, the answer is right in front you there, as Paul refers to it in verse 14. He says, “I’ll tell you what the basis is: the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.” The word in Greek has the prefix hūper, which is a statement of sort of unquenchable outpouring. And he says, “Although I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man, God, in his grace, poured it out over me. He just overwhelmed me with his grace! He just met me along the journey of my life! And if you want to know how it worked out,” he says, “he has shown me mercy.”

“Shown me mercy.” He says this a couple of times. In verse 13: “I was shown mercy.” In verse 16: “I was shown mercy.” What is mercy? It is the capacity by which God does not give to an individual what they deserve. What is grace? It’s the flip side. It is the capacity whereby God gives to an individual what they do not deserve. And the children’s memorization of grace is “Gods Riches At Christ’s Expense.” What is grace? It’s the riches of God at the expense of Christ. And Saul says, “I was committed to persecuting Christ and all who followed Christ, and the very Christ that I was persecuting woke me up on the Damascus Road and poured out in abundance his grace upon me. And when he found me, I should have deserved what others did not deserve to receive at my hands. But instead of that, he showered his mercy upon me. And he did this although I was acting in ignorance and in unbelief.”

Now, if you get the feeling when you read that that he’s trying to kind of weasel out of it a little bit, then it’s not that at all. He’s simply acknowledging, as a Jew, the way things worked. Do you remember when we studied Hebrews? It said that the high priest went in, in Hebrews [9], to offer atonement for the sins of the people, which they “had committed in [their] ignorance.”[3] And Saul says, “I’m guilty. There’s no question of me being guilty. But I didn’t have a clear-eyed awareness of the truth and then just blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. I’m not suggesting,” he says, “that I am without guilt. My ignorance, my unbelief, is culpable. But it’s not unpardonable.”

Now, interestingly, when Jesus was preparing his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse for his departure, in John chapter 16, he actually mentions that this kind of thing is going to happen. And in John 16:1, he says to his disciples, “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” Now here it is; look at this: “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” That’s exactly what Saul of Tarsus thought he was doing. He thought he was upholding God’s cause. Jesus says, “They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” Now, remember the event on the Damascus Road: “And a light shone from heaven that was brighter than the noonday sun, and a voice from heaven said, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” What was his answer? “Who are you? Lord? Is this really Jesus?”[4] See?

So he says, “I was a persecutor. I was a blasphemer. I was a violent man. God showered his grace abundantly on me because I acted in my ignorance and in my unbelief.” In other words, what you have here is a wonderful fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus from the cross. When Jesus is on the cross and he makes the various statements from there, there is none more telling than as the crowd gathers around him and as people abuse him and spit on him and mock him, what does he say from the cross? “Father, forgive them; for they [know not] what they are doing.”[5] It didn’t remove the guilt. They were culpable. But it was not unpardonable. And the response of Jesus to his murderers was a prayer for mercy, and it was that very prayer for mercy, fulfilled on the Damascus Road, that took this guy called Saul of Tarsus and brought him to his knees. He had a zeal for God, but it was without knowledge.[6] That’s what he’s saying to Agrippa. And he’s not pleading his innocence; he’s explaining. Acts chapter 26 again, and verse 9: “I … was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem.”

Small wonder, then, that when Paul writes his theological treatise in Romans and gets to the section where his heart breaks for his own Jewish people, he says in Romans chapter 10, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and [my] prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” Now listen to this: “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” A third of my class growing up in Glasgow was Jewish—both girls and boys. Some of my best friends were Jewish, and some of my best friends today are Jewish. And I can remember being in their homes on that Friday afternoon and being sent away as the time for the Sabbath preparations began, and as the mother laid out the table and put out the candles and did everything in order, and as some of my friends, Orthodox as they were, kept kosher and wanted me out of the house. They want me and everything like me out of the house, because of their zeal for God. But it was ultimately without knowledge.

“Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” That’s why they have their hair that way. That’s why they wear their hat that way. That’s why they carry the scrolls that way. That’s why they put us to shame at many points of religious zeal and commitment. They have a zeal for God, but they don’t understand grace. They don’t understand that grace is God’s riches transferred to our paltry account at the expense of his Son Jesus. And when the lights go on in Judaism for individuals and they begin to grab hold of that, then the transformation will be the akin to the change that was brought about in Saul of Tarsus himself.

It is a wonderful story. “He’s given me strength,” says Paul. And so he did give him strength. What a picture he must have been to those who were his traveling companions when, on the Damascus Road, he found himself flattened out on the dust and suddenly unable to see. And I don’t know why children play that game, but every so often we play “What would it be like?” God forbid that we would ever have to experience it, but you know that you’ve done that in a room, and you close your eyes, and you try and find people, and the only mercy in it is that you know you can open them again. But what is it like to have your eyes closed for you with no prospect of opening them again? And suddenly this freedom fighter, this first-century Mu‘ammar Gaddhafi, this Che Guevara figure, who has got his letters and his stuff, and he’s going for another persecution and another garnering up of these Christians—suddenly he’s groveling around in the dust, and he’s forced to shout, “Are you still here? Are you there? Is anybody here? Don’t leave me! What was that light?”

You see, suddenly, he’s hopeless. He’s helpless. He’s going nowhere unless someone comes and takes him by the hand. And God sends Ananias. And in all of his weakness, and in his blindness, and with the dust on his front of his clothes and under his fingernails, he finds himself in the home of Ananias. And Ananias says, “Listen, I’m as freaked out by this as you are”—that’s a loose translation—“but the word of God to you is—and believe me, man, I don’t understand this at all, and I’m only saying it because I’m trying to be obedient. But the word of God is that you are the chosen instrument of God.”[7] Can you imagine him trying to get that out of his mouth? “You are the ch… The ch… The chosen instrument of God to bear his name before the gentiles.” You’ve got to be crazy! He was standing there going, “Put your coats here,” when they threw the stones into the bonny face of Stephen![8] He had the letters and the stuff, and he was on his way: “Stamp this out.” And now he says, “You’re my chosen instrument to bear my name before the gentiles.”

Without grace, love and faith would be impossible. Without love and faith, there is no evidence of a work of grace.

I love this story! I love this story! Barring the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is the greatest single argument in the New Testament for the veracity of all of the gospel—this most unlikely character. We’re not supposed to be trying to find people just like us, with double-breasted suits and ties and stuff like that. We’re supposed to be finding the most unlikely people! Well, I know that there are very unlikely people wearing double-breasted suits, so don’t write me a letter on that. But I’m talking about the smug ones, the smart ones that have no need of anything. Don’t cast your pearls before swine![9] I didn’t make that up. Jesus said it. Go for the unlikely.

How odd of God not just to forgive him but to appoint him! It’d be one thing for him to say, “Saul of Tarsus, you’ve been a bad guy! And I’m forgiving you, and I want you to live under a tree for the rest of your life and just keep quiet. That’ll be enough. And when you finally die, you’ll remember that I forgave you.” That would have been okay. He says, “I’m not just going to forgive you. I want to make you the greatest preacher that the world has ever seen. And I’m going to make all of your fearfulness and all your diffidence and all your awareness of the fact that you’re small, you have a thorn in the flesh,[10] whatever that means, and all these different things—I’m going to take all of that, Saul, and I’m going to use it so that men and women will be unmistakably confronted by the fact that when we think about the basis of your appointment to Christian ministry, there is no explanation save the amazing grace of God.” For “the grace of [the] Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with … faith”—verse 14—which would replace his ignorant unbelief, “and love,” which would replace his violent aggression. Without grace, love and faith would be impossible. Without love and faith, there is no evidence of a work of grace.

The Impact of Paul’s Conversion

Now, I’ve spent a long time on that, but let me go to verse 15 and from the basis of his appointment to the impact of his conversion. What we have here in verse 15 is the first of five “trustworthy statements” that are found in the Pastoral Epistles. We’ll come to them in turn. But what the wonderful thing to note is, is this: that by this point in the development of the church, certain credal statements were already going around which were apt summaries of the truth. And here is one of them. He says, “Listen, let me just mention at this point, it is a trustworthy saying and it’s worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Now, you see, for those of us who are familiar with that kind of terminology, it doesn’t really strike us. But remember whose lips it was coming from. It was coming from the lips of a Pharisee—of a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians chapter 3) who had been circumcised on the eighth day, was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, had been under the tutelage of Gamaliel, went to all the right schools, did all the right stuff, kept all the right things, kept kosher, did the whole business, and, as a Pharisee, knew that there was one thing that a Pharisee didn’t do, and that was ever talk to sinners.[11]

Just read the Gospels, and you’ll find that out. Pharisees knew that it was scandalous to eat with sinners. You can find that in Luke 5:30. Pharisees knew that a prophet was not supposed to have any dealings with a sinner—Luke 7:39. When the Pharisees wanted to insult Jesus, what did they call him? They called him “a friend of … ‘sinners.’”[12] And it was therefore obvious to them that he could not be the Messiah, because they figured that the Messiah would be just like them and therefore would stay away from all these bad, ugly, horrible people—blasphemers and persecutors and violent men and women. And so the very fact that this man was hanging around with tax collectors, going for tea in places like Zacchaeus’s house,[13] getting caught at the well with a lady who had had five husbands and had a live-in lover[14]—they said, “There is no possible way that this guy is anything other than a fraud.” ’Cause they missed the point! Pharisees always miss the point. Twentieth-century pharisees who are at church this morning miss the point. And we will always miss the point until God’s grace is poured out on us in abundance.

See, ’cause I can’t change your point of view. I don’t have the ability to say enough sentences clearly enough to do anything that would alter your heart or mind. Therefore, this can be like—my words to you Sunday by Sunday—can be like rain dripping on a tin roof, until God in his grace just tips the canister and pours it out on you a wee bit.

And that can happen in remarkable ways. I had a lady come to me last week, says, “I don’t know what has happened to me. For all my life, I hated church. Now I like church. For all my life, I never had an interest in the Bible. Now I like the Bible. I used to dread doing this and dread doing that, and now I do it, and I don’t even know why I do it.” I think this lady got converted, and she doesn’t even know she’s converted. You know what I mean? That God just turned the lights on in her heart, and somebody’s going to have to explain now to her, “If you believe in your heart that God is raised from the dead and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you’re saved.”[15] She will go, “I’m saved?” Say, “Yeah, I think you are.” Who did that? God did it! He turned the lights on. That’s what he does. He does that for sinners. Why would he ever come for righteous people? ’Cause righteous people don’t need a Savior.[16]

It’s an amazing truth. He says, “Listen: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the chief of sinners. I’m the worst one of them all. When I went through that list in verses 9 and 10,” he says, “you could put my name right at the top of that. You can put—if you look up that list, you’ll find a picture of me on the internet right beside it. Lawbreaker, rebel, ungodly, sinful, irreligious, killed fathers, murderers, adulterers, perverts, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and everything else.” Paul says, “You maybe were taking offense at that, but let me tell you: when I wrote that list, I was describing Saul of Tarsus. I am the chief of sinners.”

Jesus did not come to help people to save themselves, nor did he come to induce people to save themselves. He came to save them. And it was the dawning awareness of this as it gripped the heart of Saul, now Paul—as he became more and more aware of the wonder of God’s redeeming love—that he became more and more aware of his own naturally sinful state. And that’s why it’s in the present tense, not the past tense. He doesn’t say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I was the worst.” He says, “Of whom I am the worst.” What is this? Morbid introspection? False humility? Absolutely not. It is Saul recognizing the facts of the matter. He doesn’t think of himself more highly than he ought.[17] He says, “As I know my own heart, I’ve got to be right at the top of the list when it comes to sin.”

That’s why, incidentally, in Romans chapter 7, he says, “The good I want to do I don’t do, and the bad I don’t want to do I do.”[18] And every so often, people come to me and tell me, “Ah, but you’ve got to understand, that was before Paul became a Christian. Because after you become a Christian, that doesn’t happen.” Pardon? After you became a Christian, there was never good things you wanted to do that you didn’t do and bad things that you didn’t want to do that you did? “Oh Lord,” said the man in prayer, “so far today, it has been very good. I have not been jealous, spiteful, resentful, critical. But I am about to get out of my bed.”

John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” who pastored in the South of England, was, as you know, a slave trader, a violent man, a blasphemer, and a persecutor. And it’s recorded that he put above his mantel in his house a verse from the Old Testament to enable him never to forget. And the verse that he put—and it’s in the King James Version: “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bond[s]man in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.”[19] He says, “Every morning, when I come for my breakfast, I want to see that. Every day, when I have my lunch, I want to see that. Every night, before I go to sleep and put the candles out, I want to see that. I want to remember the amazing grace of God.” And so he wrote his own epitaph. It went like this: “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the … mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had [so] long laboured to destroy.”

Small wonder that Paul would do the same—that he would gush with this: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord.” “The grace …was poured out on me abundantly.” “This is a trustworthy saying: Jesus came to save sinners. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m the worst of the whole gang. Why did he do this? Well, he did this in order that he might provide in me a kind of architectural sketch.” That’s the word here for “display”: “Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience.” In other words, “He might just take a pencil and draw in outline form the amazing transformation in my life so that that then, in turn, may be used for others and say, ‘Since God was able to do this in the life of Saul of Tarsus, don’t you think that he can make you into something beautiful for his glory?’”

Jesus did not come to help people to save themselves, nor did he come to induce people to save themselves. He came to save them.

In contemporary terms, it would be that God had chosen to put up a big display on 480 or on 271, and there on a big, big board it just said, “Remember the change in Saul of Tarsus,” and in the bottom corner it said, “And you may be changed too,” so that those who knew themselves to be sinners and felt that they had blotted their copy books so badly that God could never look upon them; felt that their sins were of such a deep dye that they could never be eradicated; felt that if they went into church, the roof would fall on their heads; felt that they couldn’t get amongst those people—so that those people might look at the life of a blaspheming, persecuting, violent man and say, “If God would do that for Saul, surely I can know his grace.” And that, you see, is the message. Because his conversion was to have that kind of impact on others. If Saul of Tarsus can be saved, then surely there is hope for anyone.

It is, loved ones, the awareness of our sin that will keep us humble and keep our hearts aflame with gratitude. I was struck this week, in reading along these lines, the words of Thomas Goodwin, one of the Puritan writers, to his son. And Goodwin was a minister, a pastor, and he wrote these words to his son. He said,

When I was threatening to become cold in my ministry, and when I felt [the] Sabbath morning coming [around] and my heart [was] not filled with amazement at the grace of God … I used to take a turn up and down among the sins of my past …, and I always came down again with a broken and [a] contrite heart, ready to preach, as it was preached in the beginning, the forgiveness of sins.[20]

It’s interesting. He doesn’t say, “When I found my heart was cold, you know, I had a group of singers come in” or “play the harp to me” or something like that. He said, “When I found my heart was cold and dead, I walked back up the avenue of my sins.” And that in turn causes us to magnify the grace of God, who takes us just as we are, without any plea in our defense, and bids us come[21] in that messed-up condition so that he may make us brand-new from the inside out. It’s a really wonderful story. I’d like to stand up on the roof of the Terminal Tower and shout it to the whole city.

Meanwhile, people are told, “Well, you just need a little more education. That’s why you’re sleeping with your girlfriend. You just need a little more education. That’s why you’re not, you know, playing the game. You just need to pull your socks up, get a little religion, try seven years in Tibet, listen to Richard Gere on Larry King Live, tune into Buddhism,” whatever else it is. I don’t question the zeal, but it’s without knowledge.

I think we’ll stop here. The next section kind of takes us off the point, because it’s about throwing a couple of guys out of the church, and… Kind of takes the edge off it, you know? We’ll deal with that tonight. “That’ll bring them back. We’ll be throwing a couple of people out of the church tonight.”

Let me just finish here and just say this: the real issues of life and the real issues of time and eternity are these issues. If you’ve been coming to Parkside Church, and you’ve been getting the impression that the message is “Just try and do a little better; if you would just pick it up a little, I’m sure you can make it, and you’ll be fine,” then I and others have really made a hash of articulating what the Bible says. The message is “All have sinned and [come] short of the glory of God.”[22] We’re all in the same predicament. And the grace of God reaches to the furthest extent to those who are prepared to acknowledge their need. So I say to you again: if God would make you aware of your need of a Savior, then come just as you are.

[1] 1 Timothy 1:15 (KJV).

[2] 1 Timothy 1:13 (paraphrased from the KJV).

[3] Hebrews 9:7 (NIV 1984).

[4] Acts 9:3–5 (paraphrased).

[5] Luke 23:34 (NIV 1984).

[6] See Romans 10:2.

[7] Acts 9:13–15, 17 (paraphrased).

[8] See Acts 7:58.

[9] See Matthew 7:6.

[10] See 2 Corinthians 12:7.

[11] Philippians 3:4–6 (paraphrased).

[12] Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34 (NIV 1984).

[13] See Luke 19:7.

[14] See John 4:1–26.

[15] See Romans 10:9.

[16] See Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32.

[17] See Romans 12:3.

[18] Romans 7:19 (paraphrased).

[19] Deuteronomy 15:15 (KJV). See Frank Boreham, “John Newton’s Text,” in A Bunch of Everlasting; or Texts That Made History: A Volume of Sermons (New York: Abingdon, 1920), 222–23.

[20] Thomas Goodwin, quoted in Boreham, 223.

[21] Charlotte Elliot, “Just as I Am” (1835).

[22] Romans 3:23 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.