The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Sin. Is there a word which is more alien to the ears of a twenty-first century person? Is there a concept more offensive to a modern society? Better, surely, to simply go along with the view that it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
The problem is, though, that the seriousness of sin lies at the heart of the Christian faith. If you remove it, then the rest unravels. After all, as Paul says above it is because of sin that Christ came in the first place. Remove that and Christ would not have come.
And then there is this curious fact: Paul is happy to call himself the ‘foremost’ of sinners or, in older translations, the ‘chief’ of sinners. You would have thought he would be ashamed of his sin, but instead he is happy to proclaim it!
The reason is that Paul understands two things. Firstly, sin is simply a symptom of being human. None of us is perfect, our motives are mixed and at times we even seem to regret our actions as we do them. It is healthy to acknowledge this. Secondly, when we understand that we’ve done wrong, the forgiveness of Christ is an even richer experience. There is nothing more annoying that someone saying “I forgive you” when you’ve done nothing wrong! There is nothing more comforting that someone forgiving you when you know you were in the wrong.
Sin is not something which the church should be ashamed of. It is not a word or concept we should hide. Rather, to acknowledge sin is to be honest about yourself, and then to glory in God’s forgiveness. That’s why a loss of an understanding of sin is so costly.