Sinner’s Contest

8. Are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

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Finding sinners among Old Testament Bible characters is a pretty easy thing to do. These people are revealed to us as fallible human beings. There’s no attempt to clean up their act for us. Indeed, the writers of these Old Testament stories don’t seem to care about how these people are represented. They just tell the stories, and some of them are pretty horrific.

Now, someone could say the Old Testament characters were different from us in that they weren’t “Christians,” as it were. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling them like we do. But the same kind of thing can be found in the New Testament, even among the early believers. There was a running disagreement between Peter and Paul about Jewish traditions, especially circumcision. Peter had to have God address his prejudice against Gentiles in a dream. There was a fight over whether John Mark was ready for service, and an apparent run-in between Paul and Barnabas because of it, who parted ways later on in Paul’s ministry. There were disagreements and personality conflicts just like we experience all the time among Christians. These people were not perfect.

But by far the strongest statement made about being sinners in the New Testament is found when Paul writes to Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Two things about this are important. First, he says it is a saying that deserves full acceptance, meaning it should be a saying we all accept. And if it’s a saying we all adopt, then we will all be saying we are the worst of sinners. It’s not that Paul wants us all to agree that Paul is the worst of sinners — that if we had a contest for the worst sinner, Paul would win hands down. No. He means he wants us all to adopt the saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst,” obviously making each of us the worst sinner in our own eyes. He wants us to adopt the saying, not to crown him Worst Sinner on the Planet. He wants us all to believe that if we did have a contest, we would have a huge disagreement, because each one of us would argue we were the worst.

It’s the way he wants us to walk among people, no matter who we are walking with, that we are worse sinners than that person. Put yourself next to the worst despicable scoundrel you can think of, and you would still win the sin contest in your own mind. This is because you know yourself better than you know anybody else. You cannot be a judge of that other person; you are not in their skin. But you don’t have to know about anybody else. You only need to know one thing: no matter who it is you are with, you are worse. That’s why it’s a saying worthy of full acceptance.

The second thing about this saying that is remarkable is that it is in present tense: “I am the worst.” Believe me, if you or I were coming up with this, we would have put it in past tense, for sure. That is, in fact, the way all the testimonies I ever heard in church went: “I was the worst sinner before I got saved. You wouldn’t believe how bad I was. I was so bad that …” you can almost complete the sentence can’t you? And the rest of it is implied: “… but look at me now. Look at how righteous and holy I am. I got fixed.” And right here is what is wrong with many churches: you have congregations full of fixed people — no one is able to admit their current struggle with sin because they are all supposed to be over that.
But an alcoholic going to A.A. is still an alcoholic. A sinner going to church is still a sinner. We must always be aware of our propensity to sin, or we will become Pharisees faster than you can say “Nicodemus.”

This is truly good news because it levels the playing field, it stops all judgment, and it makes us all humble, and eternally grateful for the grace of God. And, as recovering Pharisees go, this is where we want to be all the time.

  1.  In what ways was your early understanding of Bible characters different than what is described in this article? How did you feel when you found out the truth about the biblical characters?
  2. Are there any human figures in the Bible whose sin it seems should disqualify them from the place they were given? Why? What is your reaction to the sin of that person or those people? Does he or she resemble you in any way?
  3. Has anything in your life led you to think that God cannot use you? If so, why? Is anything too sinful or too ugly or too shameful to be used by God for his glory?
  4. Whom would you have a hard time saying you were worse than?
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2 Responses to Sinner’s Contest

  1. Colleen says:

    I’m not sure you really want an answer from us on this topic or not. I can not speak for anyone else. I agree we all believe we are the worse sinners and I am no exception. In Paul’s circumstance, in his eyes he was the worst sinner, because #1 he was Saul a pharisee that killed Christians for their belief in Christ, however, on the road to Damascus he learned the truth. To my knowledge God does not hold you accountable for things you do not know, wish I knew how to apply that to my own life, anyways he was forgiven and became a great tool for the Lord in awakening the gentiles in God’s grace. If I was to compare myself to any biblical person it wouldn’t be just one, it would be several of his servants. The only person I would think of to disqualify would be Judas the betrayer, but should he really be? After all it was written that he was chosen to betray Jesus, and God had full knowledge beforehand. Maybe a subject to broach on suicide and the guilt of the person contemplating on doing so. Hopefully you can filter through this, because I did not number my answers,lol! As far as the last question, Oh yes and has hindered me for a long time the condemnation, oppression that I endured. Actually I find it was quite a cruel thing to do to another person. What is worse the person was a proclaimed Christian. This person befriended me right after I divorced my 1st husband. She was a Christian and I was looking for a closer relationship with God. I think I may have mentioned this in a few posts of yours, because she didn’t even know me well. I was accused by her stating I wasn’t living my life for God, I was not in His Will, I was reading the wrong bible (had to be authorized KJV), so I am not saved, I need to be re-baptized, blah, blah, blah. If you actually spoke to me and heard the whole story you would be amazed what I went through; during a really rough patch in my life. What is that? Satan kicks a dog while he is down. (If this person had taken the time to know me, would have learned I had been sober for 7 years, was a certified phlebotomist working in a cancer hospital, was struggling from my recent divorce), however when I made mention of a patient who was Catholic and died after I spoke to him, see the select hearing; she told me I missed my chance to tell the patient about salvation!!!! I will not go into my tangent about it, because it truly angered me. I always believed regardless of denomination if we all believed in Him we were on the same page, oh how wrong did I learn I was! I never realized gaining numbers for a church was far more important! Like I said, you wouldn’t believe the whole story if I told you in person, but yeah I did some shameless things during this emancipation, that I am so terrible, God would probably embrace satan back!!!

    • jwfisch says:

      Too bad you had to receive counseling” from a Pharisee so early on in your faith. SO that’s forced you to have to re-learn a lot and hopefully you will be the stronger for it.

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