“And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15–17

Salvation is all of grace. It could not be otherwise. Even the sinner under conviction is aware that salvation is far distant, beyond his reach, and the originator must be God. It is God who extends His hand to touch the sinner’s stony heart, infusing eternal life, and lifting the lifeless one up causing him to stand, quickened in righteousness.

The stirring of conviction by realization of the awful penalty for his sin is what makes a sinner question whether God can actually save him, or even wants to save him. A man’s painful awareness of his own unworthiness, of the shackles of sin, and of his soul-tainting, total depravity buries him in despair. God must convincingly transform his thinking from incredulity to acceptance, because sin conviction brings a powerful sense of unworthiness. This soul conversion is nothing short of a miracle. It really is raising the dead.

This moment of unbelief is a crucial time for a sinner coming to Christ. For the evangelizing Christian, detecting this soul-awakening in a sinner is a particularly humbling opportunity to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the seed of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit will use the Word to illumine the eyes of the blinded heart. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

The basic objection that the awakening sinner voices is that God could not possibly accept him. He may even express the mistaken fear that he thinks he may have committed the unpardonable sin. It is good for the evangelistic saint to be prepared with verses and biblical answers that the Holy Spirit will open his ears to hear. Perhaps one of the best passages is the one quoted above.

Paul’s words are tailor-made to fill the yawning void of unbelief, proving God is really a God of grace. Verse 14 says that the grace of our Lord was “super abounding” in the salvation which God supplied by Himself. There is no merit of our own that has any truck with God. Salvation is solely by grace (Ephesians 2:8f). Paul proceeds to state that “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” was the effect of this great grace upon him. These imparted responses to God were of such wonder, such exceeding trustworthiness, that they superseded all of his doubt. In the place of his doubt he found faith and love in full bloom, all because of God’s grace.

Why would he, the Apostle Paul, have any doubt? Verse 15 lays bare his reasoning and his satisfaction of his doubt. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” He had been pridefully smug in his own pharisaical self-righteousness, and spiritual pedigree (Philippians 3:3–6). He had harried the saints, blatantly ignored the convictions of conscience, and had traveled many miles to do so. The tears and trials of the saints that he was responsible for persecuting must have continued to echo in his mind, especially while he was under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. No wonder he called himself the chief of sinners! No one else’s violations of God’s holiness can compare to the personal sense of deep debt for sin of a sinner being awakened to his lostness.

As Paul writes these words he is still moved and impressed with this grace that abolished his doubt and filled him with faith and love, despite his sin. So he says, “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.” God’s offered salvation “super abounds,” overwhelming our own unworthiness. This is the gem of promise for the sinner struggling to trust that God really is able.

Other verses to share in this moment occur throughout the Scriptures. Our Lord Himself says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31ff, 19:10; Matthew 19:13). Romans 5:7ff declares that God’s grace is wholly different than we have seen among men: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” This is God-sized love demonstrated through the sacrificial death of His precious Son!

Even in the Old Testament there are verses that explain this grace further. Isaiah 1:18 declares, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” In Isaiah 43:25 God explains how He does this, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” And in Isaiah 44:22 God further declares, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” Isaiah 53:4–6 and 11 are logically the next passages to place before the repenting sinner. They explain the great length to which the Father and Jesus Christ went, not to provide a doubtful salvation, but to provide a sure work of grace! Trust and obey.