The Chief of Sinners :: By Sean Gooding

1 Timothy 1:15

“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.”

I pray you will bear with me a bit today. There will not be any deep ‘doctrine,’ so to speak, but a tribute to my mom. Norma Gooding-Mascoll lived to the ripe old age of 90, 1933-2024. She passed away peacefully after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and the ravages of that disease on her body. What, you may ask, does this have to do with being the ‘chief of sinners’? Come with me and find out.

Most of us know about the Apostle Paul; he wrote about 50% of the New Testament, and many churches teach from his writings week after week. But when we meet Paul, then call Saul of Tarsus, he is overseeing the murder of Stephen in Acts 7:57-60;

“Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Saul thought he was more righteous than most other men; he was not just a Pharisee but a Pharisee of the Pharisees. You can get an idea of how Paul saw himself from a story that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Publican going up to the temple to pray, Luke 18:9-14:

“Also, He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Notice the Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men, and then he listed the sins that other men commit. He also talked of all his ‘good deeds’ just to remind God how good he actually was. Paul was like this; Paul, before he met Jesus, would have spoken this very way. In Philippians 3:2-6, Paul lays out his credentials about his life as a Pharisee:

“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

Paul said he was blameless in his life as a Pharisee and that he had all these credentials in his life to make him feel superior to all other men. By the way, he would have felt superior to Jesus, for Jesus was not a Pharisee. The Pharisees, in general, hated Jesus; they hated His liberal, loving ways. Paul persecuted the Lord’s churches, and this was one of the things that made him famous as a Pharisee.

Then, one day, not long after Jesus had died and resurrected, he met Jesus, recorded for us in Acts 9. Maybe this was the first time Paul saw Jesus ‘face to face,’ but he sure knew who Jesus was, and he was never the same after meeting Jesus. Paul understood that day that his own righteousness was nothing. In fact, instead of being super righteous like most of the Pharisees saw themselves, he was, in fact, ‘the chief of sinners.’ What a change! This is the definition of repentance; he made a complete 180% turn in his view of himself and his view of Jesus.

My mom was saved in 1957 under the ministry of Billy Graham as he was preaching in Barbados. Sometime in that crusade, my mom realized that she was the ‘chief of sinners,’ and like Paul, she submitted to the risen Jesus and became His own. She served Him willingly until the disease began to take her mind. But even after the ravages began to take root, she could sing with you and quote scripture with you; it had become a part of all that she was even when parts of who she was were fading away.

Last Saturday, my mom’s memory was completely fixed, and she stopped suffering. She went home to be with the Lord, and she did so because one day, a long time ago, she understood that she was the ‘chief of sinners,’ and she humbled herself and trusted in the person of Jesus, including His death, burial, and resurrection. Now she is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, has entered heaven, and one day I will get to see her again. You see, in 1981, I, too, was at a Billy Graham-style crusade at the National Stadium in Barbados, and I understood that I was the ‘chief of sinners,’ and that night, I asked Jesus to forgive me and be my Savior. My brother Mark followed the next night, along with a cousin of ours.

Have you come to understand that you are ‘the chief of sinners’? Sean, this is a Bible-teaching website; surely you are wasting your breath. I remind you that Paul was religious and thought he was righteous, but he was doing so in his own power. The only people who get to heaven are those who come to understand that they, and not just Paul, are the ‘chief of sinners’ and call on Jesus to save them. When we call on Him, Jesus completely removes our sins and gives us His righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21. When this realization happens, Jesus then completely removes our sins from us, Micah 7:18-19, Isaiah 38:17, 43:25, 44:22.

I encourage you to read these for yourself. One day, you will meet my mom – she is awesome – if you come to understand that you too are the ‘chief of sinners’ and simply put your total faith and trust in all that Jesus did for you on the cross and His resurrection.

Today, we will mourn the loss of Norma – the wife, the mom, the grandma, the great grandma, the friend, the church sister, the sister, the neighbor, and the aunt, BUT we will not mourn as those who have no hope, for she hoped in Jesus as do we, and we shall see her again. Will you?

See you soon, Mom.

God bless you,

Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church

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