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Intro: If I asked you to give a testimony of how God has changed your life, what would you tell me? If you are a Christian, you have a story to tell. The scriptures are full of before and after stories.
As the apostle Paul writes his first letter to his young protégé, Timothy, he pauses to give his own testimony.
- 1 Tim 1:12-17 – And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
To understand God’s grace is to see it at work. Grace is not just a theological concept or Bible catchword. Grace is what God has done, and what He continues to do, in response to the sinful choices of men. God’s grace changes everything. Has it changed you?
I. Before Grace (1:12-13) – Paul is often found expressing thanksgiving to God in his letters. It is not hard to understand why Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, was appreciative of God’s grace. He knew what He was before Christ, and before God extended His grace. He is indebted to Christ alone. He is not a self-made man, or the product of good fortune and hard work.
A. “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man…” The scriptures trace some of Paul’s past for us. The testimony of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, occurs 6 times in the NT. Who was he?
1. Paul told Agrippa that he lived as a Pharisee, the strictest sect of the Jews, and “was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth… On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time 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. (Acts 26:9-11)
2. He describes his former self to Timothy:
a. In His relationship to God – He was a blasphemer – a blasphemer is one who slanders God, who overtly speaks evil of Him. Not only had Paul been a blasphemer, he had compelled others to blaspheme. Acts 26:11– 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
b. In his relationship to Christians – He was a persecutor – He tried to destroy the church by putting Christians in prison and facilitating their murder. Gal 1:13 – 13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
c. In his relationship to others – He was an insolent man – (some translations have “injurious” here). He was one who was unwilling to show kindness and insulted others. Given Paul’s violent past, it is no wonder that Ananias (Acts 9:13) and the disciples (Acts 9:26) were slow to accept him.
d. Acts 8:3 says that Paul “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
e. Acts 9:1 says Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Paul consented to the stoning of Stephen. Nowhere does Paul attempt to justify his actions. He fully admits his guilt and, no doubt, always regretted his life before grace.
B. What is your “before grace” story? Those of us who grew up in the pew, so to speak, and have known about Jesus all our lives can have a false concept of our own goodness, as though we never had sinful or rebellious hearts. Just as Paul was brutally honest about his sinfulness, we need to be honest about where we were before Christ. What did your life truly look like before you met Christ? Those who grow up with Christian parents sometimes have a false concept of their goodness as if they never had sinful hearts. We must see ourselves as we truly were – as God describes us – dead in our sin, without hope.
1. In v. 15 Paul describes himself as a “chief sinner” – NIV says “worst sinner of all” Have you ever thought of yourself as the worst one? Paul’s appreciation of God’s grace rested upon his honest and accurate assessment of his sinfulness. “He who is forgiven much loves much” (Luke 7)
II. After Grace (1:14-16) – We know the story of Paul’s conversion. The Lord appeared to him and everything changed. Christ ripped the murderous persecutor from his path of death and put him on a path towards life and redemption. In verse 12, Paul thanks Christ for strength, for counting him as trustworthy with the gospel, and appointing him to the service of Christ. A persecutor was entrusted with the gospel. The one who was trying to destroy Christianity is now its mouthpiece. How could this be?
A. 1 Tim 1:14 – “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly” – In v. 16 he says, I received mercy. Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle through the mercy of God. He did nothing to deserve the forgiveness or the appointment. This was all of God. 1 Cor 15:9-10 – For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
1. Why would Jesus provide grace for Saul of Tarsus? The answer is in v. 15 – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Saul’s conversion is an example of Jesus’ mission to the whole world. He came to save sinners, and Saul was a sinner. So was I. I needed as much grace as Saul did. Christ did not leave his throne in heaven to give aid to some good people who needed a little help. Grace (mercy) was the catalyst for the great change in Saul’s life.
B. What is your after grace story? How has the mercy of God changed your life? How has Christ’s loving grace changed your desires? How has his love eradicated old sins from your life? What fruit has been produced in your life? Do you pursue different goals, make different choices, love more, give more, sacrifice more, sin less? How has Christ’s love and faithfulness rescued you from those dark days? How is he continuing to redeem you? Answering these questions in a specific nature causes us to see and appreciate how much Christ has changed our life. We will have confidence that Christ’s grace will take us through our current battles with trials and temptations.
C. Grace for a purpose. The purpose of God’s extended grace to Paul went beyond his forgiveness. He was cleansed and changed for a particular work. Notice Paul’s testimony to Agrippa in Acts 26:15–18, “And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” Paul was chosen for the specific and unique work of apostleship. But we have also received grace for a purpose. We have a work to do. For what work have you been redeemed? Ephesians 4:1 speaks of evangelists, teachers, and shepherds who feed the flock. Romans 12:6-8 speaks of servants, teachers, encouragers, leaders, those who are generous, and those who show abundant mercy. All of these works and gifts are essential for the body of Christ to function. What work are you doing that displays God’s grace in your life? Are you a teacher, an encourager of others, a generous giver, a leader, a servant to the needy? Did God provide His grace so that you could join a church and attend a couple assemblies a week. Or is there more?
1. Are you a Christian? You need to find the role that God’s grace has provided for you. You have been redeemed from the guilt of your past sins in order to do a work. Grow in this direction God has given you. His grace must not be stagnant. Study and pray for clarity. Consider your strengths. Do something you have never attempted before. Grace is a story of where we have been, and also of where we are going.
III. Grace on Display. Notice how verse 16 exposes another purpose to this story of grace.1 Tim 1:16 – However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. God grace to Paul was a “pattern”. The NIV says… Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (NIV)Paul tells us that Jesus sowed him mercy so that He could put his perfect patience on display to the entire world.
A. The availability of God’s grace is on display. If Christ showed mercy and patience to Saul of Tarsus, the great opponent of Christianity and chief of all sinners, then who cannot receive the grace of Christ? No one can sin so much that God’s grace is insufficient. This is not true because my sin is not that bad, but because the blood of Jesus is more than enough. Hebrews 9:13-14 – For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
B. The power of God’s grace is on display. If Christ’s grace is powerful enough to change the heart of the worst of sinners, it is powerful enough to change you and any who would come to Christ. Paul’s testimony is proof to the world of the gospel’s power to save sinners and change the hearts of men. “Grace that is greater than all my sin” – 1 Cor 6:9-11 – Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
• Ezek 11:19-20 – And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God. (HCB)
Conclusion: We need to have a grasp on our story of grace. As Paul advanced the gospel message by retelling his story of grace, so we too can tell others what God has done for us.
Our testimony must come from a true sense of our former sinfulness and hopelessness before grace. We must therefore tell our story with great humility, and not use it as a means of self-glorification. Grace is about what God has done, not me.
We must display to others the changes God’s grace has made, and is making, in our lives. If we are not changed by God’s mercy then our story has not meaning.
We need to tell others our story with passion. We were lost, but we are found. We were dead but now we are alive. We celebrate physical birthdays, but rarely acknowledge spiritual ones. All three parables of Luke 15 – lost coin; the lost sheep; and the lost son; end in a celebration – “– come rejoice with me” – “they began to make merry”.
Those who are saved by grace tell their story in the holiness of their new life. Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! – We have died to sin; resurrected to righteousness.
Every Christian, saved by grace, is a beacon to the lost world that Jesus loves and Jesus saves. We must show God to them, as lights in the world of darkness. This is what Isaiah was speaking of in Isaiah 55:13, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” We are signs and monuments to the world of the Lord’s grace and mercy.
My story of grace is a part of a continuing story of changed lives. I know about Jesus because of those who lived before me who were changed by the gospel message of grace. God has been changing lives for 2000 years with the same message of grace that saved Saul of Tarsus.
Notice how this great work of Christ’s grace affected Paul in verse 17. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Knowing our story of Christ’s grace will cause us to erupt in praise, and tell others about this grace.