“Hi, my name is Tiffany and I’m a wicked sinner.”
I’ve heard over the years that when you go to Alcoholics Anonymous, you’re encouraged to introduce yourself by saying your name and declaring that you’re an alcoholic.
I too was joining a new group yesterday – a women’s Bible study.
As I was blow-drying my hair before going to my first meeting, I was thinking about how I should introduce myself to the group. What should I say to accurately describe myself? I was mulling over the fact that I should mention my husband, my kids, our ministry, my passions, my hobbies. But what would I say to someone who really wanted to know me?
The line that kept coming back to me: “I am a wicked sinner.”
Sure, I’m dressed nicely and my hair is blow-dried but “really ladies, I am a wicked sinner.”
I could imagine in my head how that would go over at a suburban mom’s Bible study – not well, I’m guessing. Like silence and crickets chirping.
It’s just too extreme – too bold – too uncomfortable – too true!
To me, that’s one of the biggest surprises of the Christian faith – the ever-increasing reality of my own sin.
I think that as a new Christian (at the age of 18), I saw the Christian life as rainbows and unicorns. The hard decision was over. I’d accepted Jesus as my Savior. I thought to myself, “My salvation is secure – let’s get this party started!”
I could not even fathom the ugly reality that I’ve learned in increasing measure over the last 24 years – my heart is wicked.
Jeremiah 17:9 states it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The NASB version of this verse calls our hearts “desperately sick.”
In other words, my heart is so much more deceitful than even I know.
What is the heart?
It is God’s way of describing our motivation center – our WANTER.
We live our lives out of our heart.
Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
So over the years, everyone has looked at me and maybe thought to themselves, “Tiffany, she’s got it all together.” In other words, she doesn’t usually engage in those socially-unacceptable sins. She’s pretty good as people go.
Other people don’t see our hearts clearly – they see how we act on the outside and make judgments. We don’t even see our hearts clearly. God is the only One who truly sees and understands my heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
As a teenager, my most obvious sin was pride. It was all about me. I wanted to be the best student and athlete so people would like me. Really – it was about my glory. All boiled down – I wanted to be God. As a forty-something wife and mom, my sin still revolves around my selfishness. I want my house to be neat because I like it that way. I want my kids to obey because it brings ease to my life. I want my husband to serve me. Some of these things aren’t bad goals but when they become more important than pleasing and honoring God, they are sinful.
That to me has been my most savored growth as a follower of Jesus – God revealing to me my sinful heart.
Some may say, “That’s so depressing. Why would I want to be reminded every day of how much of a screw-up I am?”
Because that is the gospel – the good news. Jesus came to die for screw-ups of which will I stand up and take my place at the front of the line. When we more clearly see our sin, the glory of Christ’s sacrificial death for a rebel like me becomes so much richer – so much more amazing to us. Let me show you this in Paul’s life.
The apostle Paul is seen by many as one of the rock stars of Christianity. He has a well-known thug to hero conversion story. He went on to write a good deal of the New Testament.
Then why does Paul, this hero of the faith, tell us that he’s the foremost, the chief, the worst of all sinners? Listen to this…
1 Timothy 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
Read that verse again. Paul not only says that he’s the worst of sinners, he says that this statement deserves full acceptance. He’s saying, “Don’t argue this point with me. I know (and you should know too) that I’m the worst of sinners.”
Pay attention also to what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “I was the worst of sinners.” He doesn’t say that he was messed up before Jesus appeared to Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.) Paul is saying that at the writing of 1 Timothy, he stills sees himself as the worst.
It’s interesting to note that this declaration as the “foremost of all” sinners comes toward the end of Paul’s earthly life (1 Timothy 1:15 NASB). Scholars believe that 1 Timothy was written around 62-64 A.D. Paul died for his faith in Jesus around 66 A.D.
Remember earlier that I mentioned that when we understand the gravity of our sin, we can better grasp Christ’s immense sacrifice for enemies like us. Paul says it this way…
1 Timothy 1:15-16 “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.”
Paul tells us again in verse 16 that he’s the “worst of sinners.” He also tells us what God was up to in sending Jesus. Jesus came to earth to save sinners. Why? Because God’s plan has always been to rescue us. And the crazy thing is that we still need rescuing every day. We still daily, even hourly, turn away from following Him and run toward shiny things that catch our eye. Really, these lesser things get a hold of our hearts and we think that they are the answer to life.
That’s where God steps in. He has “immense patience” with us – patience that we cannot fully comprehend. He never leaves us or forsakes even when we keep turning away from Him.
My ever-increasing understanding of the depth of my own sin has driven me to more clearly grasp God’s patience with me over the years. More and more every day, I see what lengths He went to 24 years ago to save me and what lengths He goes to everyday to rescue my heart and draw me back to Him. In response, how can I not fall on my face before Him and worship Him?
Paul says it best in 1 Timothy 1:17…
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”