Paul’s Got You Beat

Paul’s Got You Beat

From time to time, I encounter people who say, “God doesn’t want me in Heaven. I have done too many horrible things to be saved. God would never be willing to forgive me.”

I am convinced this is never accurate. God is forgiving beyond our wildest imagination.

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity, And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love (Micah. 7:18).   

He loves every person individually, and shed His Son’s priceless blood to take away sin (John 3:16). His love includes good people and evil people (Matt. 5:45). It includes you and me.

But, I understand how people can feel unworthy when burdened by the sheer weight and number of their sins. So, I am thankful to be able to introduce them to an individual who definitely has sinned worse than they have, and who nevertheless found salvation.

Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious… I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:9-16).    

Paul points out that law is for the lawless—the Bible is addressed to a world of sinful people. As he says another place, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Since the beginning of time, God has extended all of His efforts toward sinners. There’s no sense grading yourself on a spectrum of badness to figure out whether or not you pass some imaginary threshold of worthiness. You don’t; you’re in the same boat as everyone else who has ever lived. But because you are a human being, you are an object of God’s love, who wants you to be saved (2 Pet 3:9).

Paul is an extreme example of evil. Look at the words he uses to describe himself: “Blasphemer”–one who speaks evil of the Divine. “Violent aggressor”–one who is insolent and involved in outrageous acts. “Persecutor”–one who is not content to speak ill of Christians, but one who zealously hunts them down to arrest, injure, and kill. In Acts 7, Paul presided over the execution of Stephen. In Acts 8:3, he was “ravaging the church,” a word used outside the Bible to describe wild hogs tilling up a field. In Acts 9:1 he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples.” He directed his fury at men and women, and traveled far and wide to track them down.

You think that you feel shame and remorse for your sins? Imagine what Paul must have felt every time he met the family of someone who suffered at his hands (1 Cor. 15:9)!

Paul was certainly qualified to compare himself to others. He knew violent Roman soldiers. He spent time in the halls of decadent princes and kings. He witnessed sexual debauchery on the city streets and liquor-soaked idolatry in the marketplaces. He argued with the most depraved philosophers. He concluded that he was still “foremost” of all sinners.

Yet, Paul was saved. He was saved specifically so that he might serve as an example, that “in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience.” The grace of Jesus was “more than abundant,” a Greek word that literally means “super-abundant.”

In other words, if God saved Paul, God can save you. If Christ forgave Paul, Christ wants to forgive you. God forgave Paul, the worst sinner in history, to take that excuse out of your mouth.

Paul demonstrated his confidence in that same “trustworthy statement” by traveling to the worst dens of immorality—the Las Vegas and New Orleans of his day—to preach the gospel to the lost. And many involved in the worst sins turned to Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

So, don’t say “God doesn’t want to forgive me.” Instead,

Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts, And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord (Isa. 55:6-8).

As long as you have breath left, God wants you to go to Heaven, too!    —John Guzzetta