The Struggles of the Believer (Part Eleven)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 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 immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Last time we wrote that to struggle about “that one sin” is the work of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil, and that they have too many willing human agents to assist them in creating hardships in people. The second, close companion to the first cause mentioned is that it is almost entirely due to an ignorance of doctrine.

The person with regrets about “that one sin” fails to understand and/or to apply to himself or herself the Biblical doctrine of salvation. There is a great dislike in our day for clear statements of truth. We are too afraid of alienating or offending anyone. And so truth has been abandoned in the name of false love. The result is that you lose both truth and love and are left with a selfish, manipulating, greedy lust. We must recover the truth of statements like Psalm 19:7-11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

This might surprise someone, but the wrong approach of the person with regrets about sin is to pray. In fact, you need to get up off your knees, sit down and begin to think Biblically! There are some problems in the Christian life that you will never solve by just “praying about” them. Instead, by faith you must act in the right, Biblical way. Continual prayer about your regrets only reminds you of your difficulty. If you worry about something, certainly pray about it, but then move forward with confidence in the God who hears and answers prayers. To pray constantly about your worry will only keep your heart stirred up. For example, pray and then serve others in their needs.

The right approach is the one Paul took in our text. If there was ever a Christian who should have been troubled about regrets concerning his sinful past, it was the apostle Paul. Notice what he says about himself. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” When Stephen was murdered, he consented to his death and began to destroy the church (Ac 8:1-3). Too make matters worse, he was all those things as a religious person! You can imagine how the words “murderer” and “hypocrite” could have troubled his conscience.

But Paul’s trust and hope was not in the law or religious works. It was in the mercy and grace of God. Reread carefully Paul’s words in the above text (1:12-17).

  • Paul says that his case serves as a model. How did Christ saving him make him a model? It is a model that no one’s sin exceeds the love and grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. What can you do that exceeds this?
  • While some sins are serious because of the disruption and heartache they cause, this also speaks against making divisions among sins in regard to guilt, making some little and of no importance and others big and destroyers of grace. (This is the so-called difference between mortal and venial sins.) No, all sins are against God, rightly guilty and deserving of wrath, but not beyond the power of Christ’s blood.

At this point, someone might raise two objections.

  • But doesn’t Paul say that he was the worst of sinners? Well, yes he does use those words, but not with the intent of setting up grades of sin. The closer a person comes to God, who is light, the more he or she will discern and feel their sinfulness (1 John 1:6-7). That was Paul’s experience and he expresses it in these words. But notice carefully that he is not saying that some sins are worse than others are because he resolves all that he did into the one sin of unbelief. Lists of sins mix what people consider “big sins” with what are deemed “little sins” (Galatians 5:19-21; etc.). Since God forgives unbelief, he forgives all (Mark 3:28).
  • But what about the believer who sins after salvation? Paul says that he did this ignorantly and in unbelief. But I wasn’t that ignorant and unbelieving! There are two ways to answer this. First, every sin is an expression of ignorance and unbelief. Becoming a Christian did not bestow upon you perfect knowledge and faith. You must grow in grace. Second, consider the cases of David and Peter, both of whom tragically sinned, but both were restored fully to God’s favor. Read Psalms 32, 51 and 130.

What matters is your relationship with God. Do not focus on your sin. God’s grace has forgiven all kinds of sinners. Concentrate on his love and grace. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Grace and peace, David

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