It seems that every few weeks we discuss faith. This is important, because something that seems so simple is actually very deep and complex. We have discussed how faith isn't believing IN God but believing God, his promises, that he is truthful. A few weeks ago we went deeper and discussed how faith in Christ involves not only believing in Christ, believing Christ, but also believing that he is our savior, and that we NEED a savior, because we are guilty of crimes against God and humanity. If we don't believe in the whole package, we aren't truly believing in Christ.
1 Timothy 1:12-17 is a short passage from Paul that explains how we get this faith. We have faith in things all the time: faith in people, in things, in ideas. But faith in Christ is something that we naturally reject. This sort of faith--that involves our guilt and Jesus' salvation--comes to us from Christ himself, through his Holy Spirit. We tend to have faith in things we can see, not the immortal, invisible God. Let's take this passage one sentence at a time:
1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service,
1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
Jesus has done something incredible here. He has judged Paul to be faithful EVEN THOUGH he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. Saul was a scoffer, a sinner's sinner, who not only sinned but encouraged others to sin and applauded them. Jesus judging him faithful would be like Hitler getting a Nobel peace prize. We are not even talking about Jesus giving Saul of Tarsus faith. That comes later. This is about Jesus JUDGING him faithful even though he is still a scoffer. As it says in Romans 5, while we were still sinners, Jesus came and died for the ungodly. He is judging Saul as faithful, because it is actually Jesus who is faithful. He was faithful to the point of death on the cross. Now he is imputing that righteousness to Saul, without Saul having done anything to deserve it.
You would think that Saul would now respond to Jesus' judging him faithful by having faith. No, Saul doesn't even do that. We are still incapable of building up our own faith in Jesus, even though he judges us faithful. Here is the next sentence:
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
1:14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Through grace, the Lord imparts upon Saul the faith and love that is required to be saved. So, while he was a sinner, Jesus judged him faithful, and now while he is still completely ignorant of who God is, he is given the faith and love of a Christian. Everlasting life is knowledge of God, and in order for Saul to be a scoffer, he has to be completely ignorant of who God is and how he is opposition to him. This is no excuse. Saul is still guilty of crimes against God and humanity, but the point here is that Saul did not wake up when he was judged faithful. He was still as lost as he could be, and yet God gave him the faith and love he needed to be called a child of God.
1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the foremost.
1:16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
There are two sentences this time. The first is the gospel. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. It is also a confession that Paul is the worst of sinners. This is important to say, because it reveals that he is no longer ignorant of the gospel, and it reveals that there is nothing special about Paul that merited his receiving this faith and knowledge. Everything is under God's sovereign will, even who is judged as faithful and who is not, because we are all unfaithful sinners at the time, like Saul. God wills who is given faith and love and who is not, because we are all ignorant in unbelief, like Saul.
But the second sentence now gives us the "why." Why are we given faith at all? If Jesus is just going to judge us faithful, why are we then given faith? So that Jesus might display the utmost patience, making us examples to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. We know the story of Paul. He was blinded by Christ, Ananias came and prayed over him, he received the Holy Spirit, the scales came off his eyes, he visited with the disciples in Damascus, and then he was immediately preaching in the synagogues. He was no longer ignorant.
Does this mean that our service to the Lord as Christians is to merely educate the ungodly? We know we have an epidemic in this world where people are completely ignorant of the gospel, even if they have heard it before, but does that mean that we are to argue our point until they "get it?" We are to make disciples, so is this the case? C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity brought me to Christ, but does that mean that all we have to do is get everyone to read that book and we will have a world full of Christians? No. In fact, there are many who have read Lewis' book and found it unconvincing.
What did Paul do that convinced the people to follow Christ? Was it his well-reasoned argument? No, it was the fact that he was NOTORIOUS for being anti-Christ, and now here he was preaching in the synagogues FOR Christ. All he had to do was show up, because everyone knew who he was. We don't have the same luxury, because none of us were notorious anti-Christians, but neither are we commanding large audiences, either.
So, our service to the Lord, the way that Christ can display the utmost patience and use us as examples is on a one-to-one or small-group level. No one knows who we are, so we have to tell our stories, and we have to tell them in such a way that people can identify themselves with us. "I used to be just like you," is the phrase we need to use. We need to be able to show people who we used to be and who we are now, so they can see that Pauline transformation in us. We need to know our testimonies backward and forward. We need to be examples for those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
And those are the ones who Jesus judges as faithful. They are the ones to whom he gives faith and love through the grace of God.