People believe that since Paul called himself the chief of sinners, Christians are also sinners. People ask all the time, “are we sinners saved by grace?” But, if we take a closer look at the Bible, we can see that Paul was not the chief of sinners after salvation. Imagine if I call my friend Steve, “the king of coffee.” For years he drank coffee every day. Starbucks was his favorite place, but while he enjoyed coffee, he decides to quit because it’s unhealthy. He has stopped drinking coffee for 10 years now. Is he really the king of coffee, today, since he hasn’t touched coffee in decades? I don’t think so.
After Paul’s life changed on the road to Damascus, he no longer lived like the chief. I say this to say that when Paul quoted himself as the chief of sinners, he was speaking of his life before salvation and not after salvation. So what is the big difference? The difference is between Saul and Paul’s Beliefs.
• Saul: Jesus was not the Son of God (Wrong Belief)
o Killed Christians (Wrong Actions)
• Paul: Jesus was the Son of God (Right Belief)
o Wrote 2/3rds of the New Testament (Right Actions)
Let’s ask ourselves a question, when was Paul the chief of sinners? Was He the chief of sinners when he was killing Christians or when he was preaching the gospel? I suspect that the reason he called himself the chief is because he heavily persecuted Christians.
Think about what Paul said before he said he was the chief of sinners. Was he talking about his current life or past life?
13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
People tend to only quote verse 15, but this passage of scripture is talking about his past life. Right after he said he was the chief of sinners he said,
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy… – 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Paul, “obtained,” (past tense) mercy for his sins. Before Paul’s life transformation at Damascus, he “was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). Can we really call him a chief of sinners if he is now preaching the gospel? When was he the chief of sinners? Was he the chief of sinners while his name was Saul or Paul?
It was while his name was Saul. Now I want to clarify that Saul was his Jewish name and Paul was his Gentile name. God was calling him to a new life and to a people who would hear the gospel, the Gentiles, the non-Jews.
When Paul said he was the chief of sinners, he was speaking of his old man (Saul). Anyone who thinks Paul was the chief of sinners, after salvation, is crazy. The reason is because Paul’s life drastically changed.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
Look at the way God looks at us, “While we were (past tense) still sinners, Christ died for us.” God has forgotten all of you sins. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Do you get that? While you were (past tense) still a sinner, that’s when Christ paid it all.
You and I are like Paul; yes we were sinners before Christ, but praise God, we are sinners no more. Wouldn’t it be awesome if our slate would be wiped clean? What if all of our mistakes would be forgotten? Well, that truth is our reality. Yes people may remember our old life and sins but God will not.
God does not see us as a sinner. In Hebrews 8 God promises us that He will never remember our sins!
I will make a new covenant… It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors… I will be their God… I will forgive their wickedness
and I will remember their sins no more. – (God) Hebrews 8:8-12
Even if people see you as a sinner, God will not. Can you see how we have been hoodwinked? People go around calling themselves sinners, but God doesn’t see us as sinners. It’s time to grow up and see ourselves how God sees us. For those who ask, “Are we sinners saved by grace?” I ask a new question, “Did grace change anything?” Because how can God see you as a sinner if He remembers your sins no more? Saul was the chief of sinner, and Paul was the chief of Christians.