T4G 4: Thabiti Anyabwile, “Will Your Gospel Transform a Terrorist?” (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
The greatest hindrance to the gospel is the Christian’s lack of confidence in the gospel itself.
Is there any obvious, compelling marks in your life revealing a deep and unshakeable confidence in the power of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ?
More specifically, do you have confidence that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is enough to transform the people who seem to you the farthest away, with the hardest heart toward the Lord?
Do we underestimate the gospel’s ability to change what we think are the worst or sinners, the hardest hearts?
The title of my sermon refers to “terrorists.” Many of us have particular images that flash to mind when we hear or read that word. But don’t just think of the dominant stereotype. Try to get in mind the person(s) that provoke fear in your heart, the person you’re tempted to view as unreachable. It could be the imagined Muslim terrorist detonating bombs in civilian marketplaces or the radical Hindu burning down churches. Or, it could be the prostitute down the street, the drug dealer in that neighborhood, or uncle Clint the violent alcoholic. It could be Mrs. Hatcher, your third grade teacher, or Granny Jones who used to kiss you with that hairy mustache. Fix that person in your mind and ask: Am I confident—down in my bones with Romans 1:16 styled unashamedness—that the gospel of Jesus Christ will transform this person?
Is Romans 1:16 really our boast? Is that boast obvious in our lives and ministries? If not, what do we need to do? How do we need to repent of our unbelief?
1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV
“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. 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. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
1. The Great Change in One Terrorist’s Life (1 Tim. 1:12-13)
Paul begins his instruction by calling Timothy to deal with false teaching and false teachers (vv. 3-4).
This falsehood is destroying faith and Christian witness (vv. 5-7).
This turn from the truth to the Law is contrary to the intended audience of the Law (vv. 9-10), contrary “to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which [God] entrusted to [Paul]” (vv. 10-11).
When Paul mentions “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” entrusted to him, the mention of the gospel has a certain effect on him. We’ve all had the experience of driving along in our cares when “our song” comes on the radio. No matter what we’re doing, we’re instantly transported back to the time and the frame of mind when the song first became “our song.” The glorious gospel of the blessed God is Paul’s song and it takes him back.
Verses 12-13 give us a dramatic “before and after” testimony-portrait of the apostle.
The After Picture
Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service.”
The Before Picture
Verse 13—”once. . . “ “Even though I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man. . . ”
When first meet Paul as Saul. See Acts 7:54-8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4; 26:9-11.
1.1. Why do you suppose Paul remembers these things he once was so vividly?
Sin had left its crimson stain. Sometime the deeper the sin the deeper the remembrance.
1.2. Why do you suppose Paul threw himself so fully into what appears as such a demonic and destructive course to us?
In a word, Paul was lost.
We can define “lostness” as convinced blindness and misdirected love resulting in eternal damnation.
We don’t tend to use this word that much anymore. What happens when Christians lose certain words key for gospel understanding? When we lose words we also lose the ideas and meanings for which the words were containers.
- We lose the necessity of repentance (because no one is seen as going in the wrong direction).
- We lose the necessity of substitution (because man only needs to reform himself).
- We lose the love-worthy majesty of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (because other loves are seen as more satisfying—especially in this right now, gotta have it, materialistic and worldly life).
- We lose wrath and hell (because man isn’t at enmity with God if man is not lost; he’s simply on a journey, a seeker, and it would be cruel of God to be angry with or to eternally judge people doing their best to make their way).
- We lose missions and evangelism (because no one really needs to be saved from anything if they’re not willfully blind with misdirected affections).
Lose “lostness” and you lose the whole shootin’ match.
1.3. What caused Paul’s great change?
2. The Great Cause of Paul’s Change (1 Tim. 1:14-16)
2.1. Paul Tells Us the Gospel Supplied His Need.
Verse 13: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
Verse 14: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
All that he lacked was now supplied in Christ. All that had ruined him was renewed in Christ.
2.2. Paul Tells Us the Gospel Is Trustworthy.
Verse 15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The cookies are on the button shelf; this is a neon sign. “Put your confidence HERE!” It’s trustworthy, and it’s all here in one sentence:
- Christ—a chosen Messiah, an anointed one from God
- Jesus—the historical and eternal Son of God
- Came into the world—from where? (glory) How? (the Incarnation)
- To Save—Salvation, and implied damnation and wrath
- Sinners—all of Adam’s posterity need this
3.3. Paul Tells Us the Gospel Reaches the Worst and He Is Simply an Example.
The gospel comes to the worst of sinners. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” Paul is just an example meant to inspire others to believe. Verse 16: “For this 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.”
What Would Confidence in the Gospel Look Like?
(1) We would be around the worst of sinners looking for gospel opportunities. We would strategically place ourselves in locations and times conducive to gospel conversation.
(2) We would share the gospel slowly and clearly. If the gospel does the work, then we only need to release it. Are we trying to release the gospel or are we trying to help it out?
(3) We would redirect our fears from man to God. We would fear being unfaithful more than we would fear being unfruitful. Fruitfulness lies in God’s hands; faithfulness lies in ours. It is required of stewards that we be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
(4) We would endeavor to preach the gospel in every sermon. On what Sunday do expect there will be no lost people in your congregation? On what Sunday do you think Christians can go without hearing the gospel? If the Good News is our confidence then we will show that by legitimately working from every text of Scripture to Christ and to the gospel. Our manner of preaching should say every Sunday, “My confidence is in the Good News.” Our lack of confidence will likely show itself in a desire to say a lot of things other than the gospel.
(5) We would be careful with new converts and with our evangelistic methods. It’s tempting to see Paul’s sudden and dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road as paradigmatic for all conversions. Many, if not most, of the conversions in the NT appear to us like gradual dawnings of truth on the minds and hearts of the lost. Richard Peace, Conversion in the New Testament, p. 5:
The implications of this insight became quickly apparent. In its evangelistic work the church has sought to replicate in others what happened to St. Paul: a sudden, point-in-time transformation based on an encounter with Jesus. Thus evangelism has focused on a single issue: accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior now, at this moment in time. It was assumed that all people at every moment in time were able to answer the question: “Will you accept Jesus?” There was little room for those still on the way in understanding who Jesus is. Evangelistic methods were geared around producing instantaneous “decisions for Christ.” Mass rallies ended with a call to come forward and make a decision for Jesus. Visitation evangelism dialogues were designed to confront people with the need to accept Jesus at this moment in time, lest they die and not go to heaven. Tracts were written that always ended with a prayer of commitment. Certainly the impulse behind such efforts was and is positive. Concerned Christian men and women long for others to enter into the kind of life-changing experience of Jesus they themselves have had. But these evangelistic methodologies are derived from an understanding that the model for conversion is what happened to St. Paul. To confront people with the need to decide in a moment for Jesus is derived from a punctiliar understanding of conversion.
Ask, “Do I need to see something happen in order to bolster my confidence that the gospel worked?”
(6) Study the gospel in deeper and more varied ways. Take one aspect of the gospel per month—justice, wrath, substitution, joy, forgiveness, etc. Search the scriptures for the entirety of that month peering into the gospel indicatives and imperatives regarding that theme.
(7) We would preach in order to open eyes, not just transfer information (Acts 26:18). We need to bring insight that leads to turning and forgiveness of sins and eternal lives.
(8) Ask, “Is my confidence in myself (e.g., my preparation, delivery, eloquence, wisdom ) or in the power of the gospel itself?”
(9) Preach in a way that relies on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:5, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
3. The Great Celebration that Results from the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:17)
Verse 17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever, amen.”