The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
The Bible has been compared to “a pool in which a child may wade, and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound.” (NICNT, pp. 3) This is true of all the Bible, but it is especially true of the Gospel. The gospel is simple enough for a young child to understand and embrace. It is also profound enough to amaze believers for a lifetime. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul presents the gospel using only eight words. He says, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Much could be said about the kind of sinners Jesus came to save. Paul describes with great detail the type of sinner he was before Christ. He was unworthy!
However, this is true for everyone. Jesus came to save sinners who are unworthy and each person is unworthy in light of God’s holiness. Sometimes people wrongly think they are too unworthy to be saved. Statements like, “I know God wants to save people, but I doubt that he wants to save me,” or “I know Jesus died for bad people but does he want to save someone as bad as me,” indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and a heart filled with pride. While this kind of language seems humble, the opposite is true. It is not from a spirit of humility that a person makes these statements. It is from a heart of arrogance. Crazy right?
It’s scary to consider how deceptive our proud hearts can be. They masquerade behind a mask of lowliness. However, to think that a person could be too sinful for Jesus to save is to devalue the significance of his death. It is to look at the most magnificent display of love this world has ever seen and respond, “That’s not good enough.” Joseph Hart (1759) captured the peril of this well in the hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners Poor And Needy,” when he penned the following words.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
There is tension here. The times when we feel least worthy to come to God are the very moments we need to fall on our knees and turn to him. We typically don’t have a strong desire to go to God in prayer immediately after we’ve have sinned. And yet, that is precisely the response a person should have. The irony is that if you and I wait till we are worthy to come to God, we will never come at all. The implication is clear. God doesn’t want you and I to clean ourselves up and make ourselves look good before coming to him. He wants us to come as we are. When we come to him in humility, he is faithful to forgive, cleanse, and restore our lives.