I Am the Worst Sinner I Know
In last week’s sermon, while we were looking at the reasons behind the reality that new covenant people still sin, I said that I am the worst sinner I know. I just dropped that statement like a landmine and left it sitting there. While no one mentioned it, I can imagine someone pondering what is behind such a statement. Is there a landmine of sin in Pastor Jay’s life that, if explored, would explode in the revelation of massive sin of the most reprehensible kind? Isn’t that what it means to be the “worst sinner I know?”
Not exactly. I was using the phrase as the Apostle Paul used it when the ever increasing awareness of his own sin overtook him. The three key statements are found in three different books, each one written later in his life.
1 Corinthians 15:9 (NASB95) — 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Ephesians 3:8 (NASB95) — 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,
1 Timothy 1:15 (NASB95) — 15 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.
In that last statement, Paul is saying he is the worst sinner he knows. Now, please understand, you could make a compelling case that Paul was the godliest person to ever live. If we can understand how Paul could say such a thing, then we will know how we can say the same thing about ourselves.
How could Paul say he is worse than every unbeliever? While there were and are sinners who are worse, there is a reason Paul can still say he was foremost. Because it was impossible for Paul to know who they are. When talking about “knowing” I am not talking about textbook knowledge of the existence of evil people. Paul was fully aware of any number of Hitler-type people, many of which predate our recorded history or who simply weren’t able to carry out their evil plans on a massive scale. The knowledge we are talking about is the knowledge of people regarding their sin at the heart-level.
The reality is, the only person anyone really knows is our self, and even that knowledge is sketchy (Prov. 20:5). If you set me next to a convicted serial killer, I can get to know him and I can read about his deeds and motives detailed through the courts. I could even live with him and get to know him to some degree on a heart level. However, there is no way I will ever know more about his heart-level sin than my own. While I factually know that a certain person has killed thousands of people and some of the motive behind it, when we are talking about sin against God on a heart level, I may have killed tens upon tens of thousands. On the heart level you can kill people multiple times and in multiple ways. On this level, my sin skyrockets into heights I can’t even see. And it goes way beyond just anger and murder. Just try to think about every idle word, every lust, every deed shirked, every opportunity not seized, every person ignored, or even not loved well, every Bible lesson I taught but did not live out, every impulse of greed. There is just no way to calculate the immensity of heart sin. So that serial killer has nothing on me. All I know is that he killed and raped lots of people. That is bad, but it is just a drop in the bucket compared to me. I can’t know his heart level sin. It might be really bad, but I will never know. What I do know, or at least what I know with guilt-searing accuracy, is all the sin that has happened in my heart.
Additionally, my guilt will be compounded by all the resources I have been given, the stable upbringing I had, the truth I have been exposed to, the godly examples all around me, the Spirit of God living within, and countless other ways God’s grace abounded to me. The serial killer probably had little of that. That does affect the depth of a person’s guilt. My sin was committed while I had immense resources to deal with it, even the Spirit of God within. In light of this, my guilt deepens all the more.
You can see why I have no problem saying I am the worst sinner I know. While I know about Hitler and serial killers and various other hardened sinners, the one sinner that I know with greater depth and precision is me. What I know about me surpasses anything I will ever know about anyone else.
How amazing is grace, really? It doesn’t become amazing because you sing Amazing Grace really loudly. The gospel grows glorious beyond expression when your vision grows to see God’s holiness and your wretchedness clearly.
For this reason, I say with Paul in Romans 7:24-25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!