“This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’–and I am the worst of them” (1 Timothy 1:15 HCSB).
For Paul the Apostle, the candid admission that “…I’m the biggest sinner of all” (CEB) was no display of sanctimony. Prior to his conversion, Paul aggressively confronted the first-century Christian community to such an extent that Jesus asked the following question of him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (see Acts 9:3-5).
While others have sinned greatly in their lives, the fact that Jesus appeared to Paul in this manner may help to illustrate the depth of his transgression. Therefore, when Paul says, “I am the foremost sinner” (GW), we should take him at his word. But even though Paul may be the most extreme example in this regard, he isn’t the only one.
For instance, we have the account of the Apostle Peter. Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus said to Peter, “‘I can guarantee this truth: Tonight, before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don’t know me.’ But Peter said very strongly, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never say that I don’t know you’…” (Mark 14:30-31 GW).
Later when Jesus’ prophetic statement came to pass, Mark 4:72 tells us, “Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And when he thought about it, he wept.” As someone who was personally discipled by Jesus, there are few who can match the gravity of Peter’s sin.
We also have the Old Testament example of King David. God promoted David from his position as an obscure shepherd and established him as a formidable military leader and King of Israel. Yet on one occasion when David encountered an attractive and desirable woman, he exercised his authority as king to engage in sexual relations with her even though she was married to another man. Later, he arranged to have her husband killed when she became pregnant as a result of their encounter.
Each of these men of God had something in common besides the severity of their transgressions: they each repented of their sins and found God’s forgiveness. Their examples thus serve as important reminders to those who may feel as if they are unusable by God in light of their past experiences. Therefore, we would do well to remember God’s promise to us in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).