It was the Apostle Paul who said both, “of sinners I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15) and “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Put together we can say this quite pithily and powerfully, “The chief of sinners and least of saints.” I love word play, and so recently I reversed these in order to make a point on humility, and I said, “I am the least of sinners and the chief of saints…What? Somebody’s gotta have those titles.” It made for some interesting conversations and hopefully caused some introspection into each of our own perceived wonderfulness (Compare Proverbs 20:6).
In my own life it is evident that the Apostle Paul had not considered me when claiming the title, “chief of sinners." Had he done so he would have substituted my name in First Timothy, which would have made for a strangely confusing prophecy for roughly 1940 years, and claimed himself to be lieutenant of sinners.
Todd Friel recently made an amazing point on his television show, Wretched (Episode 663), where he showed two clips of human depravity on display. The first was a woman who proved Romans 1:31, which says the reprobate mind will be astorge, or lacking familial love (a-without storge-familial love), who left her husband and two boys, aged 3 and 5, because she decided she didn’t want to be a mother and they were keeping her back from being the person she wanted to be. The second video was a man who spoke plainly about his pro-abortion beliefs with utter disregard for the babies he was condemning. Friel afterwards asked the question (paraphrased for lack of a direct quote), “If, and I hope this isn’t being blasphemous, if it were up to you to judge, would you save either of those two?” His point was to emphasize the grace of God that even while we were worse in our minds (Colossians 1:21), still sinning (Romans 5:8), and unrepentant (1 John 4:10), God saved us anyways. It was a powerful point, because while all of mankind is patently wicked (Romans 3:10-18), these two were manifestly wicked, and much easier to judge than just looking at the thoughts and intents of men (Compare Genesis 6:5).
It was to this effect that I remembered that I am certainly the least of saints, because though I was never as outwardly sinful as these two, I know that the depravity of my rebellion was deeper than I can even fathom, and I can fathom quite deeply, and it reminded me of the amazing grace that the statement doesn’t end at, “chief of sinners,” but continues into the most glorious of statements, “least of saints” or an alternate translation, “least of those who are sanctified.”
Now how did this happen? How did God the Just pass over our sins so that we can be counted saints, sanctified, declared innocent and spotless from sin, in his sight? It was because the one who truly is the least of sinners, whom was so much the least of sinners that he never committed even a single one; he was always spot on in his righteousness, totally obedient, and totally faithful. It was because of the one who is truly chief of saints, for he prayed such a beautiful prayer, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:1,18). This title belongs to the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Faithful and True Witness, the Saviour of mankind. He did, for the joy that was set before him and for the sake of his Father’s name, endure the cross.
He did so in order to sanctify his greatest enemies, he despised the shame, absorbed their taunts, was afflicted by their violence; and in all of this he would turn them from enemies to friends, sinners to saints, so that while we stand in the knowledge that we are the chief of sinners and least of saints, he grants us to sit with him on this throne, more than conquerors, full heirs of the kingdom. He has proven in the power of his marvelous resurrection that our sins are paid for, his righteousness is ours, and that we are raised with him in the newness of eternal life.
When we look at our sins, knowing that we are completely devoid of any merit, woefully lacking of deserving any favor from God, he gives such a promise, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19-20). For in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation; while we were the chief of sinners, we have been totally sanctified, each partaking in the perfect sainthood purchased for us by the Nazarene.
In my eyes I am the chiefest of chief sinners, and the very lowest of saints, but in the eyes of God, seen through the righteousness of the Saviour, I am participating in his sinlessness and sanctified even to the heavens. Oh what grace.