by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 3 Study # 4 Lincolnton, NC May 2, 2004
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
1901 ASV Translation:
15 Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief:
16 howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life.
The only variation between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in these verses is the reversal of the order of the name "Jesus Christ". The Nestle/Aland 26 has "Christ Jesus".
I. In these two verses Paul goes to the very fundamental issue of his "word": Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
A. As the "core" truth, this is the most crucial issue in the message. Everything, apparently, rests upon how one perceives Christ Jesus in respect to His coming into the world.
B. This does not directly address the issues of methodology.
1. On the one hand, clearly, one must "believe" this "word" since it is "worthy of complete acceptance".
2. But, on the other hand, is there more than "faith" in this "word" required? Paul's adamant response in many other texts is an absolute "No", but this "No" does not eliminate some serious consideration regarding the nature of the "faith" that "saves".
a. The origins of the debate about "faith": there is a desire on the part of most involved in the debate to put some "responsibility" upon those who would be saved. Those who argue for "faith alone" tend to want people to only "have" to "believe" as though they can do that much, but not more than that. Those who argue for "faith plus" want people to "have" to enter into an iron-clad performance loyalty that implies that people "can" determine their performance. What was the point of "law" if not to reveal that man cannot survive under any kind of "performance" requirements?
b. So, if, on the one hand, "faith" is reduced to a "momentary plausibility that evokes a positive volitional response", there is the serious question as to whether, in Paul's own words, "Christ has been formed in" the "believer".
c. But, if, on the other hand, "faith" is forced beyond "belief" to specific "works" that naturally arise from faith, there is the question of whether it is "faith" that saves at all.
1) It must be acknowledged that "whatever" is involved in bringing the forgiveness of sins to an accomplished reality is an aspect of "salvation" so that we may legitimately say either "Jesus saves" or/and "faith saves" or/and "repentance brings life".
a) The vicarious death of Jesus is absolutely essential to salvation, but all are not saved just because Jesus died for "all".
b) The entrance of the Spirit of Jesus into the heart is absolutely essential to salvation for "if any man have not the Spirit, he is none of His".
c) The human reception of the "salvation package" is absolutely essential to salvation because this is what makes a distinction between those for whom Christ died who are yet lost and those who are saved.
2) But, it must also be acknowledged that if one adds any "work" to faith, even as the natural outworking of the inner belief, it is no longer "faith" that saves, but the "work of faith" that saves. And, since there are an innumerable host of "works" that naturally flow out of faith, why would this particular one, or that particular one, be the one which God acknowledges as the one that "saves"?
d. Thus we argue that the objective basis for salvation is the death of Christ for our sins and the subjective basis for salvation is the "faith" that comes into existence in the human heart. These two "save" us and they do so without anything further lest we get enmeshed in the deadly tangle of basing our salvation upon our relative "obedience of faith". To the degree that we bring our "obedience" into the picture, to that degree we reject the saving grace of God. And any degree of rejection of the grace of God moves us beyond the pale of "salvation by grace".
C. However, the "worthy of all acceptance" does address the issue of methodology.
1. The word translated "acceptation" derives from a verb that means "to heartily embrace" or "to receive without hesitation". It is used by Luke in the record of the response to Peter's message on Pentecost to indicate "saving faith".
2. Clearly there can be no reluctance on the part of the person hearing of God's willingness to clear the slate that has barred any legitimate relationship if there is to be a clearing of that slate. Either a person wishes to be reconciled to God, or he does not so wish. If there is no desire for reconciliation, there will be no reconciliation. If there is a desire for reconciliation, what "reluctance" can there be from hearing a message that all has been done to satisfy the angry justice of God? The only "reluctance" that could arise in the face of "desire" would be if the "requirement(s)" for reconciliation went beyond the "desire" [as in, "I want that car, but it costs more than I want to pay"]. It is conceivable that someone might want the benefit(s) of reconciliation without wishing to really be reconciled [as in "I want to go to heaven when I die, but I really don't want God to be involved in the details of my daily life"], but the offer of "benefits" is tied to the fundamental issue of reconciliation with the God of life.
3. "Acceptance", then, addresses what is involved in the required response to the message.
II. Then Paul addresses the application of the "word" to himself.
A. He calls himself the "chief of sinners".
1. What does this mean?
a. His "I received mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" seems to mark out a kind of "sinner" that is beyond him...the person who "did it knowingly with a high hand".
b. Is Paul here simply exercising a kind of personal hyperbole that means "I see myself as completely unworthy of salvation", or is he to be taken quite literally?
c. Doubtlessly, the insolence of attitude that produced both blasphemy and persecutions is a crime of great magnitude, but is it the "chiefest of crimes"?
2. His self-description is an indication of his sense of complete unworthiness. Beyond this, is there an indication that there are "degrees" of unworthiness?
a. The subsequent verse, that indicates that Jesus saved Paul so that others who were of the mindset that they were "beyond hope" would be able to come to faith also, seems to indicate a kind of "relative unworthiness", but it clearly has to do with the thinking of men and not the thinking of God.
b. It is man, after all, who tends to "magnify" or "denigrate" the nature of his sin(s). Thus, I conclude that Paul's "chief of sinners" description is more an accommodation of man than a strict "truth from God".
1) Without doubt, Paul's words indicate a deep sense of personal unworthiness.
2) Without doubt, Paul's words are to minister to those who share that deep sense of unworthiness.
3) But there is some doubt that Paul's "chief of sinners" expression is, in fact, anywhere near "truth" as it exists objectively in God.