Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. 

When you hear St. Paul calling himself the “foremost” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), you might think, “Oh, come on, Paul! Surely, you’re exaggerating.” Granted, in the past Paul was a formidable enemy of Christ and his Church, but everything changed on the road to Damascus. From that day on, he was a tireless proclaimer of the gospel. So how could he continue to identify himself as a great sinner? Wasn’t that entirely in the past?

Paul understood that he would always struggle with sinful drives, even after he had been baptized. He knew that Jesus came to save sinners—and that included not only criminals but “upstanding” citizens like himself. Paul’s conversion didn’t stop on that road; it was just beginning! Salvation was an ongoing process for him, as it is for all of us. Perhaps Pope Francis expressed it best when he once described himself by saying, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon with mercy.”

Which brings us to the other part of this verse: Christ Jesus came to save us from sin, not to condemn us for it. He didn’t come to lord it over us or to make us stew in guilt over how sinful we are. Paul understood this too. He knew that in spite of the depth of his sinfulness, God had poured out his heavenly grace to cleanse him and lift him up. That’s why acknowledging that he was a sinner didn’t lead Paul to discouragement or despair.

Throughout his whole life, Paul managed to keep holding on to these two profound truths at the same time. Yes, he was a sinner. And yes, he was a beloved child of God. These are the truths he urged Timothy to hold on to. They are the truths he urges us to hold on to as well. So let’s rejoice with Paul in the seeming paradox of our “dual” identity: sinners who have received God’s mercy!

“Lord, help me to be grateful that even though I am a sinner, I am your child!”

Psalm 113:1-7
Luke 6:43-49
1 Timothy 1:15-17


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