Ivan Milat is currently serving seven life sentences for murdering seven backpackers, with many other murders attributed to him. He is one of Australia’s most prolific serial killers. Now suppose Milat actually repented and trusted in Christ to forgive him. Then pretend he was miraculously released on parole. How safe would you feel this Sunday, if Milat walked in and sat next to you in church? You might think: Is this for real? Can we trust him? It would seem like a million-to-one possibility.
Paul was that person. While not a lawless serial killer like Milat, Paul’s reputation before conversion was similarly monstrous. He admitted he was a “persecutor” and “violent man” (I Timothy 1:13), responsible for slaughtering Christians. Acts 9 records he wreaked havoc in the church. When Paul eventually turned to Christ, the church were reluctant to accept him, such was their fear of him.
Post-conversion, Paul saw himself as the foremost or worst of sinners. Paul was not being dramatic or exaggerating. He really believed it.
“When he writes to the Corinthians—in…about 55 A.D.—he calls himself “the least of the apostles.” When he writes to the Ephesians about five years later, he calls himself “the least of the saints.” But when he writes to Timothy, about another five years again, he calls himself “the chief of sinners.” …It looks as though the Apostle Paul, as he grew in grace, also simultaneously grew down in his estimation of himself.” (Derek Thomas)
Paul was confident his past was fully forgiven and he thanked God for the grace and faith and love he had received in Christ. Yet humanly speaking, Paul was the last person you would choose to be saved and forgiven. He was a one-in-a-million.
Do you know somebody like that? Is there a family member or co-worker you cannot imagine becoming a Christian? Can you envision him or her sitting next to you in church?
More to the point: is this how you see yourself? If you have repented and believed, your regeneration is no less miraculous. You are the one-in-a-million! So when you are burdened by your sin and failures, you cannot say “I am too far gone. It’s hopeless.” Paul’s life teaches us that God can save and transform anyone. We have a great Gospel for great sinners.