This sermon was preached at Niddrie Community Church on February 11, 2018.
You can listen to it here (24 min.), or read the manuscript below.
As a man in the later years of my life, I’ve listened to many Christians tell their testimonies.
Here’s how most of them have basically sounded:
“I used to be a raj, but then I stopped being a raj and got my life sorted. My life used to be as pleasant as rancid milk, but I turned it around with common sense and hard work. Oh, and Jesus had something to do with it.”
The issue with these testimonies is a big one: you don’t actually have to be a Christian to tell them.
In fact, you could be “married” to yourself and think hot dogs have feelings and still tell that kind of testimony!
To say what most Christians I’ve listened to say in their testimonies, you don’t need Jesus to die and rise from the grave. You don’t need to be born again. You don’t need repentance and faith.
The only thing required is to think self-improvement is a good thing.
Well la-dee-da. Isn’t that unique?
These self-obsessed testimonies reveal a misunderstanding of Christianity. True Christianity, and therefore true Christian testimonies, are ALL ABOUT JESUS. In Christianity, we are nobodies. Jesus is everything. It is all his work. We are the sinners. He is the Savior. We are the slaves and soldiers. He is the Master and King.
This is what Paul makes very plain as he tells us his testimony in 1 Timothy 1:12-14. Paul was saved, and serves the Lord, only by the grace of God. And all he can do is give thanks.
This is what he writes in 1 Timothy 1:12-14.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s testimony is a thankful boast in King Jesus. In 3 verses, he brags on Christ by making 3 basic points, the same points that should structure all our bragging-on-God testimonies.
- Paul was an enemy of King Jesus.
- Paul was saved by King Jesus.
- Paul was brought into service to King Jesus.
1. PAUL WAS AN ENEMY OF KING JESUS
Look with me at verse 13.
Paul confesses that he “was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
Paul, now a chief ambassador of Jesus, used to be a chief enemy of Jesus.
- He helped murder Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
- He helped kick off a persecution that chased Christians right out of the country.
- And he then became an international Christian hunter, arresting them, seeking to force them to renounce Christianity, and seeking their executions.
Paul was an evil man—an enemy of Christ Jesus.
For us Christians, we all own this as our past. It wasn’t just that we did stuff that was bad for our health, or not all that nice to other folks. We were all enemies of Jesus.
If you’re not a Christian, it’s easy to look at a guy like Paul and feel pretty good about yourself. “Hey, I can see you saying Paul is an enemy of Jesus. But I’m not Jesus’ enemy. I actually don’t particularly care about him. You want to be a Christian, good for you. Just not my cup of tea.”
What does Jesus say to you in Luke 11:23? “He who is not with Me is against Me.”
If you do not swear joyful allegiance to Jesus, if you are not bowing before his feet in worship, you are his enemy, deserving nothing but to be crushed under the weight of his judgement.
When your eulogy is read at your funeral, no matter what else you did in life, that will be the most important thing about you.
Here lies Bill, enemy of King Jesus. He has faced the King. He has been judged. He is in torment.
With Paul, all mankind has thrown itself into war against King Jesus.
In verse 13, Paul also confesses that he “had acted ignorantly in unbelief”.
All of Paul’s warring against Jesus flowed from this one source, unbelief.
There can be no sin where there is no unbelief, for unbelief births all other sins. It is sin’s foundation and core.
This is why Paul writes in Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Man was made to trust and so obey God. And in the Garden of Eden, Satan the Deceiver assaulted this very core of our purpose in life. Adam and Eve agreed with Satan and called God a liar, and disbelieved his Word.
All mankind has been doing so ever since, to his destruction.
The implication of this is startling, very much against how we’re taught to think. Everyone who does not trust Jesus lacks the ability to do anything good.
They certainly may do things that have good effects. Think of the number of non-Christians who worked to build the Forth Road Bridge. Their work had good effect—it produced a bridge for us.
But no matter the good effects of man’s actions, unbelieving man does no good, because he does no thing from faith in Jesus. Those men didn’t build the bridge in order to honor Christ. They built it as a monument to themselves.
Done faithlessly, all of man’s efforts are done rebelliously.
Christian, before you were saved, you had no good to your name. If you’re here and you’re not a Christian, you have never done anything good.
Will you spend your whole life never having done anything good?
Paul was an unbelieving enemy of Jesus Christ. And so are we all, apart from the gracious work of Jesus.
We are wicked nobodies. Jesus is the Hero. He is the Savior.
2. PAUL WAS SAVED BY KING JESUS
We read in verse 13, “But I received mercy.”
And in verse 14, “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul deserved the judgement of God to fall upon him, but he received mercy instead. God’s judgement was withheld.
Paul deserved to get nothing but wrath from God forever, but he received grace instead. God’s favor was generously poured out upon him.
The King against whom he had rebelled was the same King who had died in his place for his sin.
Traitors to the rightful king deserve to die.
Israel’s second-best king, King David, was betrayed by his own son, Absalom. When fleeing from battle against King David, Absalom got caught in the branches of a tree with his own hair. While stuck, he had three spears run straight through his heart. He deserved to die.
King Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss. Judas died like Absalom, hung from a tree, his innards emptied on the ground beneath him. He deserved to die.
But in Paul’s case, though his sin against the King was great, the mercy and grace given by Jesus was greater still.
The King looked upon this treacherous man, this man who knew only rebellion, and said, “I will die for him. His death I will take.”
And in dying for Paul, Jesus supplied overflowing grace for him, securing his transfer out of the armies of Satan and into Christ’s own kingdom.
Dead men in Niddrie don’t need the likes of Joel Osteen telling them how to make every day like a happy Friday. They don’t need YouTube videos motivating them to dig deep and find inspiration within.
Rebels against Jesus don’t need to just get sober and just get a job and just stop beating their wives.
They certainly don’t need to love themselves more.
Sinners like Paul, sinners like us, need a Savior. And Jesus is the Savior of sinners. He is the hero who dies in the place of the villains to rescue them from hell.
The mercy and grace Jesus gave to Paul brought with it faith in Christ and love for Christ, as we see in verse 14.
Whereas before, Paul was Christ’s enemy, now, because of mercy and grace, Paul loves Jesus.
Tell me, do you sit there tonight loving Jesus? Is he the one you love most? That love you have for him is a gift to you from him. Paul didn’t create it in himself, nor have you. It is from Jesus. Thanks be to Christ!
Whereas before, Paul did all in unbelief; now he, by grace, has faith in Jesus.
Do you sit here tonight with your faith resting on Christ? Do you believe he is the Son of God who died and rose again? Are you relying wholly on him for salvation and for leadership through life?
If so, know that the faith you have in Jesus is faith given to you by Jesus. Paul didn’t find his faith on his own. You haven’t come to faith because you have more horse sense than a mule. The faith necessary for salvation, the faith necessary to be right with God forever, has been given to you by the Savior himself, King Jesus. Thanks be to Christ!
If you are not a Christian, know that you need more than anything else what you can’t earn or make or capture. To escape the wrath of King Jesus, you need mercy, grace, faith, and love from King Jesus. Do not leave tonight without begging the Great Giver for it. Beg him as the needy sinner you are and be saved.
All that Paul and all that we bring to the table is sin and need.
We are wicked nobodies. Jesus brings all of salvation.
He is the Hero. He is the Savior.
3. PAUL WAS BROUGHT INTO SERVICE TO KING JESUS
In verse 12, we read, “he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.”
Not only did Christ graciously save Paul. He also graciously appointed Paul to be his apostle, his chief ambassador bringing Christ’s Word to Christ’s people.
In 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Once a persecutor of the church, Jesus has now employed Paul to lay the foundation for the church.
That’s like if Queen Elizabeth was having a new palace built, and a man who got caught trying to bust up the job right at the beginning was then hired to make sure the foundation was set right.
How could a man like Paul be fit for such a task? He couldn’t be…apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 12 says that Jesus gave Paul the strength needed and counted him faithful.
Do y’all know who Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is? He’s the ISIS head honcho. Some have told me that he’s taken up his current employment because of Western imperialism and economic hardship. But I heard a rumor that he is actually just evil.
What Jesus has done for Paul is like if he were to change Mr. Bad Daddy’s heart completely, make him a Christian, and then make him a pastor of a Baptist church in Mosul, Iraq. That would be nuts.
Jesus has given his former enemy salvation, and he has given him fitness for service as a minister of the gospel. It is all from Jesus.
Now, none of us are ministers of the gospel as apostles. But Jesus has given each of us a job, to live every day for him as members of this church. We used to be unbelievers and enemies of the true Crown. But now he has made us his slaves and soldiers, commissioned by him to guard and proclaim and obey his gospel here in Niddrie.
Who among us can say that we are of ourselves fit for the task?
We shouldn’t have this job. We know what we are. We know how weak we are. We know how easily our hearts are tempted.
But God is at work in each of us Christians, both to will and work for his good pleasure. He’s giving us strength for the job. Even now, Jesus is transforming us and keeping us by his Word and Spirit. He is giving us faithfulness to persevere and work well for him.
As long as we exist as a church, our job, to represent our King in this place, is too big for us. But the King we represent will keep and strengthen us by his power. He will count us faithful.
Paul has been brought into service to King Jesus, and so have we. But don’t get confused.
We are wicked nobodies. Jesus is the Hero. He is the Savior.
This is Paul’s testimony.
He was a sinner against Jesus. He was saved by Jesus. And he was brought into service to Jesus.
All he deserved from God was wrath, and all he got from God was grace. Paul’s Christianity, true Christianity, is all the work of God. It is given as a gift to wicked nobodies.
And so, Paul does the only thing appropriate. He doesn’t take credit. He doesn’t celebrate or focus on himself. He boasts in the Lord. He points the finger at another and gives credit where credit is due. “Thank you, Jesus.”
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Christianity is a boastful religion. But it leaves no room for boasting in ourselves. We are wicked nobodies who get to gratefully boast in the Lord all our days.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 reads,
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”