Reflecting on December's Memory Verse
In a year that has been anything but certain, it is refreshing to reflect on the certainty and unshakable truth that God's desire is to save sinners. By the time Paul wrote these words to Timothy (mid AD 60's), this saying had probably already taken deep root in the lives of early Christians. It has continued for generations, steeling those who would face persecution and fueling missionary endeavors around the world. It is a truth that ignites those who have experienced the gospel's transforming power: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!
Paul was a living testimony to the transformative nature of the gospel. I can't help but think about Paul on the road to Damascus, dead set on destroying Christ's church, only to be met by the risen Christ Himself. Acts 8 describes Paul's life shortly before that pivotal day:
"And Saul (Paul) approved of his (Stephen) execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, expect the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." (Acts 8:1-3)
Paul went from "ravaging the church" to loving, protecting, and building up the church in little more than an instant. The only way to explain this change is God's grace poured out in the person and work of Christ. The salvation Jesus came into the world to accomplish brings about transformation.
Timothy needed to be reminded of Paul's former life, the life Paul never forgot. But why? Paul was living proof that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Timothy was knee-deep in a battle against false teachers who, among other things, taught obedience to the law was the way of salvation. They were teaching moral reformation motivated by guilt, whereas Paul exemplified gospel transformation fueled by grace.
Though this little saying, "…that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…" exposes each of us for the sinners we are, it also teaches me about a loving and selfless Savior. We can, with John Newton say, “Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Meditating on this truth should renew and strengthen our appreciation for God's gracious and merciful forgiveness. It's subtle, but if you look at 1 Timothy 1 as a whole, you can see this is precisely what Paul is doing to correct the false teaching: he is merely rehearsing the gospel of grace as it was poured out in his life!
Reflecting on this verse, the great preacher Charles Simeon says this about Christ:
"His own creatures had ruined themselves; and he came to save them. Though it was his law that they transgressed, and his authority that they despised, and his yoke that they cast off; yea, though he was the one great object of their contempt and abhorrence, he came to save them. Though he knew that they would murder him as soon as ever he should put himself into their power, yet he came to save them; to save the vilest of them, not excepting those who unrighteously condemned him, or insultingly mocked him, or cruelly pierced him with the nails and spear. When there was no alternative but either that they must perish, or he come down from heaven to suffer in their stead, down he came upon the wings of love, and 'saved them from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for them.' He suffered that they might go free; and died, that they might live for ever."
I want to encourage you this week, as we celebrate Christmas, to remember anew the grace poured out in your life through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While your testimony may not be as "dramatic" as the apostle Paul's, the salvation we have because of what Christ has done is no less extraordinary.