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Total Forgiveness

Written by: Capoccia, Tony    Posted on: 02/22/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: Tony Capoccia

                             TOTAL FORGIVENESS

Many people are not aware how incredible it is that I proclaim the Word of God.  Eight years ago I would have been found as a divorced person driving around the streets of Kokomo, Indiana, in my brand new Corvette, frequenting the bars and night spots, becoming drunk on many occasions, making the "single scene" where I used women to satisfy my own lusts, and pursuing material happiness by buying those things the world said would bring me satisfaction.  You would have heard me cursing, slandering, complaining, arguing, and also boasting in all the "dirty stories" I could tell.   Now I ask you, how does a man who lived that life end up eight years later proclaiming the Word of God on a Christian Bulletin Board?

How does Moses, who committed the sin of murder, end up being used by God to become the Spiritual leader of the nation Israel, God's chosen people, to lead them out of Egypt into the Promised Land and to teach them about God?

How does David, one who was not only redeemed but also made king over Israel, (and thus responsible for the Spiritual Leadership and vitality of that nation), commit not only the sin of adultery with Bathsheba but also the murder of her husband, continue to rule as King and even be used by God to write many of the Psalms found in the Old Testament?

And lastly, how does the Apostle Paul, who was responsible for the deaths and persecutions of many Christians, end up becoming not only a Christian himself, but an Apostle of Christ picked by God to pen most of the New Testament Books?

Yes, how does all this happen?  It happens through the Grace of God and the Total Forgiveness granted through the Cross of Christ.

The text that teaches this is found in 1st Timothy, Chapter 1, verses 15 and 16.  This portion of Scripture addresses the subject of forgiveness with the conversion story of the Apostle Paul.  This Scripture has a special place in my heart because I can identify with Paul when he calls himself the worst of sinners: 

      "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:       Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am       the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that       in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His       unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe       on Him and receive eternal life."

In 1978, before I became a Christian, a man named Bob Hey came to work for me.  He was a Christian and as he beheld my life and saw the drunkenness, immorality, materialism, and the hardness of my heart toward true spiritual things, he and his wife Susan began to pray for me.  They said, "Lord, if you can save this man, then you can save anyone."  As a direct result of their prayers, on June 25, 1978, I got down on my knees and prayed that Christ would become my personal Savior.  God did save me that day, and totally forgave me of the wickedness of my life.                           

I don't know where you are spiritually.  Perhaps you have tasted the salvation of God and have experienced the forgiveness of Christ, but have not fully understood the extent of such grace; or, perhaps you are like I was, lost in sin.  Whatever spiritual state you are in the Bible has some Good News to tell you:  God offers Total Forgiveness for anyone, anytime, and for any sins.

In our text 1Tim 1:15-16, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is writing to Timothy, a young pastor who was leading a church in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  The date of the letter is somewhere between 62 and 67 AD.  Paul has just been released from his first imprisonment in Rome.  Soon he will be arrested and martyred, and as he writes this letter to his friend and disciple Timothy, he knows that soon he will die.  These are Paul's final words to Timothy, the Church, and to us.  He shares the concerns of his heart as he prepares to cease ministering, reminding Timothy of the fundamental truths of salvation that Timothy needs to believe and teach as Paul's successor.

Paul begins this section by stating in verse 15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. . ."  When he says it is a trustworthy saying, he is telling Timothy, and us, that what he is about to say is true.  Now we know that everything that Paul spoke, as recorded in the Bible, were true statements, but this one he knew would be doubted so he says beforehand, "It is true!"  And for added emphasis he adds the second part, that "it deserves full acceptance."  In other words you must believe it Timothy!  This phrase of introduction is used only three other times in the entire New Testament.  And only one of those three include the second part, which demands our belief of what is about to be said.

So the truth of 1Tim 1:15-16 is so unbelievable that the Holy Spirit through Paul had to warn us in advance that we would have a hard time believing it.  What truth?  The unbelievable truth of the extent of God's Total Forgiveness available through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are three elements involved in this almost unbelievable process of forgiveness--the Savior, the Sinner, and the Salvation.

I.  THE SAVIOR

Verse 15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . ."  The salvation plan begins first with Christ.  Total Forgiveness must begin with a Savior.  We must have someone available who can give complete total forgiveness and Paul says that Savior is Christ Jesus.

1.  "Christ Jesus"

His name, "Christ Jesus," gives us two important truths about Him.  First, He is called the "Christ," which is the New Testament word for Messiah.  It means the Anointed One, the one singled out for a specific task, the Chosen One.  In the Old Testament we find that the Messiah or Christ was the one that the Jewish nation was waiting for, the one chosen by God the Father for their deliverance.  But what was He chosen and anointed to do?  His name "Jesus" tells us the second truth.  Matthew declares to us in his book, chapter 1 verse 21, "that an angel appeared to Joseph and said that Mary his wife was pregnant with child through the Holy Spirit and that she was going, 'to give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.'"  The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means, "the Lord saves," or more literally, "Jehovah is salvation."  Jesus was anointed to save people from their sins.

2.  "Came into the world"

Jesus "came into the world," and He is the only man who "came into the world."  You and I and every other man and woman, "came not into the world but we came from the world!"  We did not exist in heaven before we were born and then were "beamed down" to the earth for our birth, as some cults teach.  No, the Bible tells us that, "the first man (Adam) was of the dust of the earth. . .but the second man (Jesus) was from heaven." (1Cor 15:47).  We were formed from the elements of the earth, and only began to exist as a person at the moment of conception.  But Jesus existed before He was born!  Jesus is the Eternal God.  John's gospel declares, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. . .The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us." (John 1:1-3,14).  He always was God and always will be!  He has existed from eternity past and will continue to exist in eternity future.  When He came into the world He was still 100% God and yet also became 100% man.

3.  "To Save"

Christ Jesus put on the flesh of man to save sinners.  Jesus came willingly, for in the Book of Philippians 2:5 it says, "Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."  What that means is that Jesus, who is God, did not consider being equal to God something to clutch to.  He willingly put on human flesh to be our redeemer.  Have you ever thought why Jesus had to become a man to save us?  Why couldn't He just have pronounced us "saved" from His heavenly throne?  The answer is that God was wronged when man sinned, and man had to pay the punishment for offending a Holy and Righteous God.  Since man sinned, then only man could pay the punishment to God.  Jesus had to become a man to pay our debt of sin to God. (Romans 5).

II.  THE SINNER

1.  Definition of Sin

The Bible says sin is lawlessness (1John 3:4)  Sin is disobeying or ignoring God's Law.  Sin is living as if there were no God and no Law.  It is not being bound by the standards of God; it is living on your own terms.  In our day we would best describe sin as, "Doing your own thing!"  Doing what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do.  God gives us the standard of the Law and if we don't obey or meet that command perfectly, then we are guilty of sin.  Does everyone sin?  Oh yes.  Paul told us in Romans that, "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God."  What is the punishment for sin?  Death!  Both physical and spiritual.  In other words, as a result of man's sin we all are dying physically.  Some of us are further along than others, but we are all dying.  But an even greater punishment comes after death, when all unredeemed sinners are thrown into Hell, where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth," according to Matthew 13:42.  For just one sin man is condemned to physical death and an endless eternity of torment and agony.  Each additional sin he commits simply adds to the amount of suffering and torment he will endure for all eternity.

But, Praise be to God for the Good News of the Gospel!  Christ Jesus came into the world the world to save sinners.

Now, all that has been stated so far Timothy would have known and praised God for.  It would not have been a truth that he would have doubted or have a hard time accepting.  Yet, Paul stated that Timothy would have a hard time believing what he was going to tell him.  What was so unbelievable?  I believe it was the very next statement of Paul, "Of whom I am the worst!" (verse 15).  That's it!  Paul said to Timothy what he knew Timothy would have a hard time accepting--that of all the sinners that Christ came to save, which by the way, is all sinners, Paul says that he is the chief one or the worst one!  The Worst One!  We can understand why this is hard to believe.  For Paul is an Apostle, a chosen workman of Christ.  At the time of the writing of this epistle, Timothy had probably known the redeemed Paul for about twenty years, had traveled with him, taught with him, learned from him, and had modeled himself after him to the point where Paul could call him his "true child in the faith."  Paul is the one most people would consider to be the greatest Apostle in the New Testament.  He certainly wrote more of the New Testament books than anyone else.  How could this same man also claim to be the worst sinner of all time?  Yet he says it two times, once in verse 15 and again in verse 16, when he says, "I was shown mercy so that in me," and here it is, "the worst of sinners. . ."

2.  Sinners  

Now when we think of great sinners, we tend to think of such people as Hitler, or King Herod, who gave orders to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were two years and under, in order to try to kill the baby Jesus, or we may think of our contemporaries who have committed great sins against our society.  Perhaps we think of all the rapists, murderers and abortionists.  We probably would not think of the Apostle Paul.  But Paul is saying that of all who have lived on this earth or will live here until the last day, he, Paul, was and is the worst sinner.  Is Paul really saying this or does he only think he is the worst?  Let's start in the 3rd chapter of the Book of Philippians, verses 5 and 6, where Paul speaks of himself as being, ". . .circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless."  In other words, Paul was from the right nation, of the right tribe, of the most religious order, a Pharisee, the elite of the Jewish religious community, and most of all, he kept all the law perfectly!  How can such a man be history's worst sinner?  Part of our answer lies in the claim that he was a Pharisee.  Look at what the Bible says concerning Pharisees:

Mat 3:7   John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers. Mat 9:34  The Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons by the  prince           of demons. Mat 12:2  The Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Mat 12:14 The Pharisees plotted how they might kill Jesus. Mat 12:38 Jesus referred to them as a wicked and adulterous generation. Mat 15:3  Jesus accused them of breaking the command of God for the sake of           their tradition. Mat 15:14 Jesus called them blind guides. Mat 22:15 The Pharisees laid plans to trap Jesus in His words. Mat 22:18 Jesus calls them hypocrites. Mat 23:27 Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones and           everything unclean. Mat 23:33 Jesus says to them, "You snakes! You brood of vipers!  How will           you escape being condemned to hell?"

In other words, the Pharisees of Paul's day were a group of outwardly religious Jews, but who were also actively opposing Jesus and were inwardly devoid of true spiritual life, sinners in every way.  Paul would probably have been involved in these types of activities, as he tells us in the book of Acts that he was advancing in Judaism ahead of his contemporaries because of his zeal.  Additional evidence of Paul's sinfulness is found in the book of Romans where Paul, recognizing his own sinfulness says, ". . .sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire." (Romans 7:8).

But the heart of Paul's claim to being the worst sinner seems to lie in his attitude and behavior towards Christ.  In 1st Timothy, chapter 1, Paul gives us further insight into his life of sin before salvation.  Verse 13, ". . .I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. . ."  Paul as a blasphemer spoke evil, injurious remarks against Jesus Christ and Christians.  Who did Paul persecute?  The answer is in Acts Chapter 8, Verse 3, which says, "But Saul (that was his name before conversion), began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."   In Acts 26:9-11 Paul says, "I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And that is just what I did in Jerusalem.  On the authority of the chief priest I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme.  In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them."  Paul mentions his persecution of the church in four separate accounts, twice in the book of Acts, once in Galatians, and once here in 1st Timothy, always in the context of being his most heinous crime against God.

So Paul's big sin was trying to destroy the "Bride of Christ" (the Church!).  He was bent on wiping Christianity from the face of the earth.  In Acts 26:14 Jesus said to Paul as he traveled that Damascus road, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"  In persecuting the Church Paul was directly attacking the person of Jesus Christ.

Most Bible scholars look at this passage as Timothy must have been tempted to, in that they don't believe that Paul really was the worst sinner of all time.  Most of them believe that Paul only "thought" he was the worst sinner, that he simply saw his past sins more clearly as he drew nearer to Christ in his Christian walk.  However, Paul's repetition here in Timothy of his status and his emphasis on his great sin in four separate testimonies refute this view.  Paul's wording here is emphatic that he was and is (present tense) the worst of sinners.

Note that even though Paul used the present tense it cannot mean that he is now committing the worst sins, because he was a holy and godly preacher of righteousness, whose own writing demand criteria of holiness for anyone who aspires to the ministry.  No, even Paul states that he was shown mercy (past tense), because of his sinfulness.  How do these two statements blend?  It is simple.  Suppose a young man ran a three minute mile.  Surely he would be the world's record holder for running the mile.  Now, 70 years later, when the man is now 90 years old, we find that the record is still unbroken.  Is he still the world's fastest man on record?  Does he (present tense) hold the world record for the mile run?  Of course, the answer is yes.  Even though he couldn't run very far, he is still the world's record holder for the mile.  So also Paul, even though he has been saved and made into a new person, still holds the world record for sins.  And therefore he could honestly state, "I am presently the worst sinner in the world!"  That is, "I presently hold the world's record for sin."

I believe that the error of the Bible Commentators has been caused by not looking closely at the rest of the verse.  Paul states that, "for the very reason (that he was the worst sinner) he was shown mercy, so that in him the worst of sinners.  Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life."  Do you see the clear evidence that Paul was, indeed, the worst sinner of all time?  Paul makes two important statements, one, that because he was the worst sinner, he was shown mercy.  In other words, Christ chose Paul to save because he was the worst sinner.  Jesus was looking for the worst sinner of all time and a person who only thought he was the worst would not suffice.  And second, Jesus wanted to save the worst sinner in history because He wanted to use him as an example to the unbelieving world of God's unlimited patience toward man!

There is no one too wicked for God to save.  This verse gives clear evidence that anyone can be saved because the worst sinner has been saved.  Anyone else is a lesser sinner than Paul.  Yes, Hitler or any other criminal could have been saved by Christ, if he would have called upon the name of the Lord.  Now note carefully, if Paul was not the worst sinner that ever lived, then the example of Christ's unlimited patience, would be imperfect.  How could Jesus hold up Paul to the unbelievers if Paul was not the worst sinner of all time?  Surely the one who was the worst sinner would despair of salvation, for he would doubt God's ability or desire to save him.  But praise be to God--His word is true and the Apostle Paul is and was the worst sinner in history.

We have so far seen the Savior who gives Total Forgiveness, and the Worst Sinner that received the Total Forgiveness.  Now let us look on the Salvation of Total Forgiveness.

III. THE SALVATION

1.  Mercy

Verse 16 tells us that Christ showed Paul mercy because he was the worst sinner that had ever lived.  "Mercy" is not giving us what we deserve.  What do sinners deserve for their sins?  The Bible says, "the wages of sin is death."  This is the same truth that was declared in the Garden of Eden, when God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the forbidden tree, then they would surely die.  The death mentioned here is really twofold, one is physical death and the other spiritual death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, their bodies began to die.  All of us, because we are humans, have shared in the sin of Adam and are also experiencing the death process in our bodies.  But an even greater consequence of sin is spiritual death, where both the bodies and the spirits will be cast into the eternal torment of the fires of Hell.  But praise be to God!  Paul is our example of the worst sinner receiving mercy, which means that he would not and did not experience the fires of eternal torment.  So, one aspect of salvation is     not going to Hell.  Paul did not receive what he deserved; rather, he received mercy.

2.  Eternal Life

Verse 16 also says that Paul is an example of those who would receive eternal life.  Salvation brings us eternal life.  It would be salvation if we only escaped the fires of Hell and were to become dust in the universe. I would rather cease to exist than suffer for all of eternity, but our God's great Salvation, not only saves us from the endless punishment due us, but also gives eternal bliss!  There is no way we can imagine the agony and torment of Hell.  Even the worst suffering on earth would not even register on the scale of Hell's torment.  Likewise, the pleasures of Heaven are not something we can imagine.  Think of the most beautiful scene you have seen in nature, or remember the greatest feeling of joy you have ever felt on earth.  Then remember that this world is under a curse from God because of man's sin and that Heaven is unbelievable bliss.  A bliss that will never, never end!  

3.  New Earthly Life

Salvation, as presented in these verses, includes something else.  It is something for this age and is to be experienced right now in our daily lives.  We read in Ephesians Chapter 2, Verse 10, that, "we (who are saved) are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Paul is also our example of a sinner who was saved unto good works.

In our text we see that Paul was cleansed of his sins at conversion, totally forgiven and made so spotlessly pure that God could use him mightily in the ministry of the Church!  He held the highest position in the Church, an Apostle!  He was an Evangelist, Church Planter, Pastor/Teacher, and Author of Scripture.  Paul, the worst of sinners!  What a powerful message about the Incredible Forgiveness of God.  The true definition of Divine Forgiveness is God treating the sinner as if he had never committed any wrong: we see that dynamic in Paul's life here.

IV.  APPLICATION

1.   For the Unbelievers

If you have never asked Jesus for forgiveness of your sins, then know that you stand guilty before God today.  If you are like Paul was, a religious person, a member of the right group or church, doing all the right things, but have never really yielded to God's control of your life, then know that you are clearly condemned to Hell, to be separated from God and His people for all eternity.  But also know that Jesus Christ is offering complete and total forgiveness for your sins.  It matters not what you have done.  There are no sins that you have committed that Jesus cannot or will not forgive.  Jesus says to you, "Look at Paul! Look at Paul!"  The worst sinner has been saved so you would have encouragement.  Come receive salvation from Christ, and let Him cleanse you on the inside.  Let Him restore you, make your life over, and use you without restriction in the ministry of His Church, to reach the lost world.

Perhaps you still think that you have committed too many sins, that God will turn away from you because you are too wicked.  Know that even if you are or were a murderer, a homosexual, a drug addict, guilty of the blood of an abortion, a thief, a liar, a prostitute, a slanderer, a hypocrite, a child molester, a drunkard, a wife beater, an arsonist, divorced many times, or whatever--you can still be saved and made pure and useful!  LOOK AT PAUL! HE IS OUR EXAMPLE OF CHRIST'S UNLIMITED PATIENCE AND TOTAL FORGIVENESS.  God promises that if you come to Him in repentance and faith that He will receive you, forgive you, and restore you to Himself to know Him and serve Him.  Won't you come?

2.  For the Believers

If you are a Christian, you might ask how does this apply to me since I am already saved?  Let me suggest four ways to apply this to your life:

          A.  BE THANKFUL TO GOD

          Thank God that He was willing to save all sinners, even the           worst.  Thank Him that Christ came into the world to save           sinners.  Thank Him for His unlimited patience with sinners.            Thank Him for your own salvation.  Glorify Him with your praise.

          B.  BE USEFUL TO GOD

          Realize that there are no limits for how God can use you in the           ministry of His Church.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have been           made clean and your sins have been "FORGOTTEN!"  God is treating           you as if you never committed them.  Make yourself available for           His use in whatever ways He sees fit.

          C.  BE IMITATORS OF GOD

          We as part of our own churches, must act towards redeemed sinners           as God does.  We can show no prejudice to anyone because of their           past sins.  There are many evangelical, fundamental churches in           our country that greatly restrict the ministry of certain           Christians because of some past sin.  This should never be           because God forgave and forgot all of our sins when we became           Christians.  Paul continues to be our example of Christ's           unlimited patience and of His willingness to use even the worst           sinner as one of the greatest leaders in the Church.  Jesus           closed the door on any future discussion about past sin having a           restrictive effect on Church service through Paul's example.

          Recently I talked with the Pastor of a large Baptist Church           about the spiritual qualifications for leadership as found in 1           Timothy, because his Church was looking for a Youth Pastor.  I           asked if they would consider a man who had a divorce in his past           before salvation.  He said they would not.  I asked if they would           consider a man who, before salvation, was guilty of the sin of           murder?  He again replied that they would never consider such a           person.  I asked if they would consider an application from a man           who, as a Christian, had committed the sin of adultery but had           repented of it and had walked in obedience to the Lord in his           current lifestyle.  Again the answer was no.  Under this type of           thinking the Apostle Paul would have been precluded from           ministry; King David would not have been allowed to interview           for the position because of his previous sin of adultery, not to           mention murder, as a Christian; Moses would also have been           disqualified to minister because of his sin of murder, also           committed as a Christian.  We must remember that when God           forgives a persons sin, it is gone and He never brings it up           again.

          D.  BE HERALDS OF GOD.

          Share these truths with your unsaved neighbors and loved ones.            We live in a society of great sinfulness.  As individuals we are           each guilty before God and as a nation we stand accused before           Him of many grave sins.  Each year over 2,000,000 little babies           are murdered under the legalized act of abortion.  Pornography           has continued to spread like a plague which is infecting the           minds of the people.  Wife and child abuse continues to deal           devastating blows to the lives of millions.  Alcoholism and           drunkenness take their toll not only on our highways, but in our           homes and families as well.  Homosexuality is presented as an           alternate lifestyle, when in fact it is detestable to God.  Drug           use continues to trap our people into addiction and deludes them           into a false reality.  Murder abounds in our land and the           murderer is often set free within a few years.  We are a nation           guilty before God.  But God has demonstrated through Paul that He           is a God of mercy toward sinners, even the worst of sinners.  God           offers Total Forgiveness for all sin.  This truth aligns with           those most often quoted verses on God's great capacity to           forgive and forget sin:

          Heb 8:12  "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember           their sins no more."

          Psalm 103:12  "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He           removed our transgression from us."

          Micah 7:19  ". . .You will tread all our sins underfoot and hurl           all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."

          Isaiah 38:17  ". . .You have put all my sins behind your back."

          Total Forgiveness from God means that He makes us into new           persons and He promises to treat us as if we never committed the           offense against Him.  Praise God for such abounding Love.

Tony Capoccia Bible Bulletin Board Box 115  Galveston, IN 46932 Modem (317) 452-1535 July 6, 1986

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