Kevin D. Gardner

Salvation and Seeing Your Sin

Written by Kevin D. Gardner |
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Christ came to save sinners, and He has surely accomplished what He set out to do. That salvation is not hypothetical; it is not contingent. It will not be undone when God realizes what big sinners we are.

If you were to survey people about why Jesus came to earth, you’d probably get a variety of answers. I did this very thing a few years ago with some high school kids when I was on staff with Young Life. They gave answers they’d heard from people at various times.
You can probably guess the answers they gave. Some people thought Jesus came to show us a better way to live. He came as an example of love, and He wanted to call us to a higher, more loving way of life. Others said He came to shine a light on the plight of the less fortunate. He came as a sort of social activist, to right the wrongs in society. Some said He came as a liberator, to free slaves and women and downtrodden people from their oppressors.
There may be a grain of truth to each of these views, but they tend to miss the clear teaching of Scripture in passages such as 1 Timothy 1:12–17:
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.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Paul tells us in verse 15: to save sinners. In this series on 1 Timothy 1:12–17, we’re looking at Paul’s paradigm of salvation, how it gives us the what, the how, and the why of salvation. We’ve previously covered the what of salvation, and in this installment, we’re going to look at the how.
Paul introduces this statement by calling it “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” This statement summarizes the gospel in just a few words. And its applicability is immediately obvious. If you are a sinner, this statement has meaning for you. We need someone to save us. And Jesus came to do just that.
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Let the Wicked Return to the Lord

In the midst of the Book of Comfort is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Isaiah 55 begins with a plea from God: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v. 1). The invitation—echoed later in Jesus’ words in John 4 and 6—is almost too good to be true. Who would believe that someone would offer food for free? And if someone did, surely the food would not be worth eating.
But no. God goes on to plead with His hearers to forsake their practice of pursuing food that does not satisfy: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” He then reveals the goodness of the food that He offers: “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:2–3). The food is rich, and it is good. It is no earthly food; this food, the food that truly satisfies, is the Word of God. The one who listens to God will be filled.
This is not a call to abandon all other interests than the Lord but rather a call to recognize Him as the highest pursuit. Where are we ultimately finding satisfaction? In success, money, or power? Or in the One who made us, who knows us, and who calls us to Himself? The things of this world cannot ultimately satisfy, because they were not made to. We are called to forsake our empty, unfulfilling, self-focused endeavors and to come to God and be satisfied.
God offers this rich food to His people, the Israelites. The offer is in keeping with His promises to them in the past, as He notes by referencing His covenant with David in verses 3–4. The richness of the Word of God as revealed to Israel is so attractive that other nations will come to hear it (v. 5). For Israel, it is easy to hear this Word. But still, they are urged to “seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (v. 6).
But the call to seek the Lord, as hinted at in verse 5, does not go out only to Israel; it goes out to the nations as well. All nations and all peoples are called to seek the Lord. Moreover, “the wicked” are called to seek the Lord: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v. 7).
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One New Man in Place of Two

Why are you a Christian?
There are a few different ways you might answer that question. Depending on how you look at it, you might say that it’s because you accepted Christ or placed your faith in Him at some point. Or you might say that it’s because your parents nurtured you in the faith, so there’s never been a time that you did not believe in God and trust in Christ as your Savior. If you look at it from God’s perspective, you might say that it’s because He elected you to salvation before the foundation of the world and that you came to faith because of His sovereign work in your life.
But what if we ask the question differently: Why are you a Christian and not a Jew?
If you are like most Christians, you are a gentile, that is, not of Jewish descent or a convert from Judaism. Under the old covenant, gentiles had to become like Jews by marking themselves off from the surrounding nations—literally, in the case of circumcision, and figuratively, by abstaining from common pagan practices and worshiping the God of Israel alone.
In the Old Testament, it was expected that the nations would hear of the God of Israel and would come to worship Him. Israel was meant to be a blessing to the nations, who would then come to worship their God (Gen. 12:1–3). There are clear examples of gentiles converting or otherwise petitioning the God of Israel in Joshua 2, the book of Ruth, and 2 Kings 5; some other possible examples of gentile faith are found in Jonah 3 and Daniel 4 and 6.
The center of the old covenant religion was first the tabernacle and then the temple. At the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8, Solomon assumes that gentiles will come to worship the Lord there, and he asks that their prayers would be heard (vv. 41–43). Isaiah speaks of the nations’ coming to worship alongside Israel (Isa. 55), and the sons of Korah speak of the conversion of Israel’s enemies and their coming to the temple mount (Ps. 87). In the restoration after the Babylonian exile, the rebuilding of the temple meant that once again gentiles could come and entreat the God of heaven and earth (Hag. 2:7; Zech. 8:20–23).
In the early church, the relationship between the gentiles and the Jews was a bit of an open question. During His earthly ministry, Jesus spent most of His time among Jews, but He also interacted with gentiles and Samaritans (see Matt. 8:5–13; 15:21–28; John 4). There were many gentiles present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), but the early church wasn’t sure what to make of gentiles at first. It seems to have been a pleasant surprise in Acts 10–11 that gentiles were granted repentance unto life alongside Jews (11:18). At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, the leaders of the church had to decide what was required of gentiles who placed their faith in Christ, concluding that they were not required to be circumcised. By not requiring of gentiles the entrance rite into Judaism, the church leaders were affirming that it is not necessary to become a Jew into order to be a Christian.
So, what is a Christian? A Christian is something else. He is not a Jew or a gentile. Paul addresses this new reality in Ephesians 2:11–22. In this letter, he is addressing a group of gentile Christians (v. 11), and he explains their relationship to God, to Christ, and to the Jews by using two metaphors. The first is spatial, and the second is architectural.

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