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. (verses 13-16)
Sin. Mercy. Grace. Faith. Love. All of these are seen within the Petri dish of Paul’s own life.
Unabashedly he calls himself “the worst of sinners.” Yes, he acted “in ignorance and unbelief,” but this doesn’t minimize his guilt – it simply describes it, setting the context in which he desperately needed God’s own intervention to rescue him. Indeed, in his opposition to Jesus he became a blasphemer, denying the very identity of God’s own Son; he became a persecutor, pursuing God’s people with hostility and death; and he became a violent man, his smiling approval of Stephen’s execution being a case in point. As a Pharisee, he had prided himself on being a law-keeper, a God-follower, a righteous one – but now he had come to realize the depth of his own sin. “The worst of sinners”: it’s a far cry from his previous self-image, but the blinders have been lifted and he now sees clearly.
And what about us? Have we seen ourselves with Paul’s clarity of vision? Do we know the depth of our own need?
It was, of course, on the Damascus Road that this sinner met his Saviour. The blinding light of Jesus’ presence arrested Paul,drawing him up short. The Saviour spoke, and Paul instinctively used the title “Lord,” when he asked him, “Who are you?” With the ringing reply, “Jesus,” all blasphemy was set aside, and Paul started a new journey – the journey of a lifetime – unreservedly committed to the lordship of the very one whose followers he had previously persecuted.
That was the crossroads where Paul discovered mercy and grace. He deserved condemnation, punishment, and God’s wrath, yet all of that was set aside. “I was shown mercy,” he said. But more. Beyond all expectation, he received forgiveness, redemption, favour from God, the gift of true righteousness in Christ (rather than the self-inflated variety he’d previously known), together with the empowering presence of the Spirit and the commissioning to serve as Christ’s ambassador. “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly,” he said. So true.
In that encounter, faith itself was birthed. Mercy and grace were extended, but it was by faith in Christ that Paul received them. That, too, was a gift. Ever after, he lived in that faith, trusting Jesus to hold him, keep him, empower him, and use him.
And, oh, the love that enveloped him. The breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ himself – a love surpassing knowledge but grasped by Paul through the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit at work in his inner being.
No wonder he prayed the same for us (Ephesians 3:16-21).
Paul’s story, then, is a case study that gives hope to the rest of us. Yes, he may have been “the worst of sinners.” But mercy, grace, faith, and love were abundantly poured out in Christ Jesus, making all the difference – and likewise for all who find themselves rescued by Christ Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Pour out your grace. Strengthen faith. Help me grasp the immensity of your love. Beyond anything I could ask or imagine, continue your work within me. For the sake of your glory. Amen.
Reflect: In response to your own sin, take one of these four words to soak in today: Mercy, Grace, Faith, Love. Explore its dimensions. Think about the difference it makes. Grasp it more firmly. Take a 5-minute pause, several times during the day, to reflect further.