Summary: Whether our story of starting our life with God is dramatic or ordinary, what truly counts is finishing.
[Note: This sermon was preceded by a testimony of a person who had been an atheist and substance abuser who came to Christ through our church].
Isn’t it exciting to hear how God has changed Kevin’s life? But even as we rejoice, I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you are thinking, "I don’t have a story like that, a dramatic story about how Christ got a hold of my life." Even as we rejoice in hearing stories like Kevin’s, sometimes we can feel inferior if our story isn’t a dramatic one like we just heard.
Well I’m here today to tell you that it’s not just how you start out in the Christian life, but it’s also about how you finish. Last weekend we started a new series through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy in the Bible called Deepening Your Life With God. Today we talk about how people start out in this life with God. Every journey has to begin somewhere, and the spiritual journey begins with conversion, with a decision to turn to God and trust in Jesus Christ. Although everyone’s story of conversion is unique, there are three basic kinds of stories we hear about conversion. There are dramatic stories like Kevin’s, there are "ordinary stories," and there are tragic stories. We’re going to look at each kind of story today, and we’re going to see that it’s not just how you start, but it’s also how you finish.
1. Dramatic Stories (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
We start by looking at one of the most dramatic conversion stories of all in vv. 12-17. The apostle Paul who wrote this letter to Timothy had experienced a dramatic conversion. As he looks back on his story, Paul marvels in this section at how God could have confidence in Paul in light of his former way of life. His life before Jesus was characterized by blasphemy of Jesus, by persecution of Christians, and by violence. We know from the book of Acts that Paul participated in the execution of the first Christian to die for his faith. This led Paul on a rampage of hatred and violence, as he went from town to town stalking Christians. He used whatever means possible to imprison and hurt as many Christians as possible.
Yet despite all this, God got a hold of Paul’s life. While Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus to hunt down more Christians, suddenly Jesus Christ himself appeared to Paul. Paul was knocked off his horse and struck blind, as he heard those unforgettable words from Jesus, "Why are you persecuting me?" Paul’s life was never the same, as he came to trust in Jesus as his own Savior that day and also received his calling to become an apostle of Jesus Christ.
In v. 15 Paul quotes a trustworthy saying. Paul mentions these trustworthy statements four times in 1 and 2 Timothy, and each time it refers to a saying that was common knowledge to the church in Ephesus. These trustworthy sayings were like proverbs or slogans that everyone in the church knew, perhaps a bit like our slogans "helping people love God and others" or "Every member a minister." Well one of the slogans at the church in Ephesus was, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Some Bible teachers believe this slogan might be based on a saying of Jesus himself, perhaps Luke 19:10, where Jesus said, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
After quoting this well known slogan, Paul adds the words "of whom I am the worst." Paul viewed himself as the worst of sinners, or as some translations put it, "the chief of sinners." One paraphrase of the Bible puts it, "Public sinner number one" (The Message). Now I don’t think this means that Paul was the most wicked, immoral, hateful person who existed on the face of the earth at this time. I think Paul is speaking from the perspective of his own experience. Bible teacher John Stott suggests, "Paul was so vividly aware of his own sins that he could not conceive that anybody could be worse" (Guard The Truth, p. 53). I think Paul was also struck by the fact that his sins had been committed in God’s name, which made his sins even worse.
Paul views his own conversion as a kind of prototype, an example of how God can get a hold of a person who seems far beyond the reach of God’s love. This leads Paul to break into praise in v. 17, as he gives the credit to God alone for his conversion. He recognizes that it’s the one true God, the creator of the universe, who has laid hold of his life and put him into service of Jesus Christ.