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Edward O’Hara Sat 7/11/2020 10:13 PM…
The apostle Paul said of himself “that Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief”. And he also said that “touching the righteousness that is in the law(he was) blameless”(1Tim.1:15, Phil.3:6). Does that seem like a contradiction to you? How is it that Paul could say of himself that he had been both “chief” among sinners, and at the same time “touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless”? Is it possible that both of these could be true at the same time? Is it possible that Paul kept the law blamelessly as he said he did and was chief of sinners too?
I remember hearing the pastor of a church I once attended, after reading this passage in Phil.3, say that he could not understand how Paul could say he was blameless according to the righteousness that comes through the law. I knew he was having trouble with this because he had accepted the false sin nature and original sin doctrines he learned while in seminary. And could only think in terms of a naughty/nice system of salvation by works. But, these are antithetical to Paul’s teaching. So much so that when Paul made statements like this one they find it impossible to reconcile it with these false doctrines. The beauty of it was that this pastor could see the problem between his theology and what Paul taught. While so many others do not. Even though he could not come to grips with the right answer to fix it. But, if they would simply believe what Paul plainly taught instead of these false doctrines they are indoctrinated with in their seminaries then they would have no trouble with what Paul said. Let me show you what I mean.
One important thing to note is that when Paul says “of whom I am chief” regarding his being a sinner he is referring to his life before he came to faith in Jesus. And not his life in Christ. The righteous are not sinners. And sinners are not righteous. In this passage he is contrasting his life when he was under the law saying he “was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” With his life after he came to a personal faith in Jesus saying “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” And he declares in Phil.3:8 that any righteousness gained from keeping the law was “dung” and “loss” in contrast with the righteousness of faith that resulted in his relationship with Jesus and receiving eternal life. He made this distinction because the former was based on works(dung and loss) while the latter is based on relationship. Love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Love for God because He first loved us.
So Paul shows us that it was in the context of his “persecution of the church” that he understood himself to be chief among sinners. And not some sin nature that he had by inheritance from Adam as so many believe. Something we see Paul saying of himself in the same verse where he says he kept the law “blamelessly”.
His perception of himself is much the same as David’s was after he came to terms with his sin with Bathsheba. David despised himself for what he had done so much that he said “surely I was born in sin” and “shapen in iniquity”. But, Paul was no more chief of sinners than David was born in sin or shapen in iniquity. These were just expressions they used to show how disgusted with themselves they were for the things they had done. And in all of this we see that both Paul and David sinned by choice. Not by nature. Paul out of ignorance. And David out of lust, covetousness, and the fear of being found out. So anyone who tries to create a doctrine like sin nature or original sin based on these kinds of statements is doing so because they have an antichrist agenda. And not because it is what God teaches in His word.
So the answer then to why Paul believed himself to be both of these at the same time before he knew Jesus is because of his persecution of the church. Also found in Acts8:3 & 9:1. And his rejection of Jesus because he considered Him a blasphemer according to the law. He says it was his zeal for keeping the law that compelled him to persecute the church in Phil.3:6. Paul’s reasoning here is based on the fact that the law demands capital punishment for the sin of blasphemy. And since his perception of what was happening during Jesus’ ministry and His torturous execution made Jesus a blasphemer to him, all who followed Him therefore were also worthy of death because of blasphemy. So Paul was actually keeping the law by doing what the law demanded when he persecuted the church. Not having yet realized that Jesus was indeed who He said He was. Which is why Paul said God had mercy on him because he did these things in ignorance in unbelief(1Tim.1:13).
This also shows us that Paul was as one of those Israelites that Isaiah53 speaks of who looked upon Jesus as He was being tortured and crucified saying, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not… we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” And because of this he not only despised Jesus, but he also persecuted the church that followed Him. Which after he came to faith in Jesus made him see himself as chief among sinners. But, because he did these things in ignorance not knowing that Jesus is God. Paul really was keeping the law “blamelessly”, and at the same time could consider himself to be “chief” of sinners.
Have you believed in this Jesus that Paul preached that puts these things in the past that you may think makes you the chief among sinners? It is only this Jesus that can make this happen for you because He does not condemn you any more than He condemned Paul or David. Rather He has mercy for you just as He does all mankind. John3:17 says He did not come into the world to condemn the world. But that the world might be saved through Him. He loves you and wants you to know His love. Because only Jesus’ love saves from death to life. This Jesus Paul preached came in the same flesh all men have just to join with us in our death. He did this so that He could He conquer man’s death by His resurrection. And now if you will trust in Him you can join with Him in His eternal life. If you do believe in Him and want to have this eternal life that only Jesus can give then pray this prayer with me now.
Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for me. Thank you for joining with me in my death so that I could join with you in your eternal life by trusting in you and your resurrection. I believe you are my Lord. And that you rose from the dead. Thank you for saving me from death to life. Thank you for giving me a spirit born of God so that as His child I am now heir to my Father’s kingdom. And will live eternally with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
God bless you in your new life in Christ. If you prayed that prayer please leave a comment in the section below so that we can rejoice with you.
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