Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:15 – “Sin in the Present Tense”

Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:15 – “Sin in the Present Tense”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, April 21, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[1Ti 1:12-17 ESV] 12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 16 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. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

We often speak of sin as something of the past. When we become Christians we are to push away sin. Our sins are forgiven. We are not to go back to them.

But it is a mistake to think that we are perfect, sinless, in this life. Yes, that is what is promised in Glory, in Heaven with God. There, we will be sinless, but HERE there is “Sin in the present tense.”

This is not to encourage sin. Or to discourage the mortification of sin.

This is to recognize that our enemy is still present. That we must keep fighting the good fight, and keep looking to Christ for salvation.

It is very dangerous to promote a “sinless perfectionism” as John Wesley and others did.

In the Scriptures, we find that there is “Sin in the present tense.”

Not only WAS Paul a sinner in his pre-conversion days when he was trying to kill the Christians,

He IS a sinner in his post-conversion days as well. And he says so himself.

Not only is he a sinner, he is the chief of sinner.

[1Ti 1:15 ESV] 15 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.

AM, not was.

Yes, Paul says he is NO LONGER a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ, yet he says I AM a sinner. “I am the foremost” or in the King James “the chief of sinners.”

He also says in Ephesians 3:8 “I am [present tense] the very least of all the saints.” And yet “to me this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

The least of the saints. The chief of sinners. Those are descriptions of him in the present tense. And that’s not just for Paul, but the same description could be made of any Christian. Christians yet sin. But Christ saves sinners.

The Christian will drive away sin. The Christian will kill sin, mortify it. The Christian will grow in sanctification. No doubt all these are true.

But, then we run into a problem. You are a Christian, you have been for some years, but you keep sinning. Are you to conclude that you are a not a Christian? Does your sin disqualify you? Did Christ die for your sins of the past, but now you must be perfect to continue in His good grace?

No, sin remains. Sadly, but truly, sin remains.

Don’t let your sin drive you away from Christ. It should convince of your need to hang on to Christ even tighter.

Don’t let your sin convince you that you are not a believer. That is the work of Satan, the deceiver.

Rather, know that if you believe in Jesus Christ, you WILL be saved.

When Paul says he is foremost, or the chief of sinners, he’s not bragging about his sin. He’s praising God that EVEN HE (Paul) can be saved. Even he, who persecuted the church, was saved by Jesus Christ. So ANYONE today regardless of their sin, can become a disciple of Christ, forgiven in Him.

This doctrine — that we too are sinners in the present tense —it is not only found in the present tense verb of 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul speaks similarly in other places.

The key passage is Romans 7.

[Rom 7:19-25 ESV] 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Here Paul laments that he KEEPS ON sinning. In the present tense. PAUL, the Apostle, sins! So don’t think that there are some who have risen to a greater level and do not sin. ALL have sinned and all do sin. And we should not idolize even the greatest saint of the church because they too are sinners. It has happened over and over again that a Christian leader, sometimes after their death and sometimes while they’re still alive, is found to be in grave sin. Ravi Zacharias, Tuli Tchividian (Billy Graham’s son), Greg Bahnsen, not to mention the televangelists and Catholic priests. The point is, trust in Christ, not man. Man is sinful, and in need of a savior.

We are not to idolize anyone, even the Apostle Paul.

Even with Paul we see there is a war waging within him. His greatest delight (and ours) is God, but yet we do things against God. Our actions don’t match our ultimate desire. We are all hypocrites, pulled in two directions. [Of course I grant, with the confession, that some sins are more heinous than others. But even the smallest sin separates us from God and can thus be said to be a “mortal sin.”]

Galatians 5:17 says “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the thing you want to do.”

Note that is also present tense. ARE. “ For the desires of the flesh ARE against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit ARE against the flesh.” It is not WERE. That wouldn’t even make sense. You see, before one becomes a Christian, there is no battle within. There is no desire of the Spirit, only “flesh” the Bible’s term here for sin. So the warfare is actually a sign of a believer. The unbeliever has no war within.

So, Who will deliver us?!

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! That is who will deliver us. Jesus Christ. He saves SINNERS, not the righteous. He is a doctor that comes to heal he sick, not the well.

If you are a sinner — and I know that you are, for all people are — know that you are not alone. You are in company even with the Apostle Paul.

But that is not comforting. What is comforting is that you, like Paul, are forgiven in Jesus Christ.

For while you sin in the present tense, you are saved in the present tense. Christ died not only for the sins you have committed, but the sins you are committing, and the sin you will commit. [REPEAT: Christ died not only for the sins you have committed, but the sins you are committing, and the sin you will commit,]

Does this mean that we SHOULD sin? Or that we are allowed to sin? Paul had that objection come up against him. And he said “by no means.”

[Rom 6:1-2 ESV] 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

We are NOT to continue in sin.

This is the difference between the normative case and the descriptive case.

The normative is what we SHOULD do and SHOULD NOT do.

The descriptive is the reality of wha we DO do and DO NOT do.

As Christians we know that we SHOULD NOT sin.

But also as Christians we know that we DO sin.

This is a hard tension to live in. Tormenting at times.

We want Christ. We want to be without sin, without separation from God, but our actions are always pushing Him away. But the good news is … God holds on tighter than we can push. [REPEAT: God holds on tighter than we can push.]

That is perhaps our second point in this sermon. God saves us from our saves.

But the first point is that we must recognize the continuing nature of sin; we sin in the present sense. Not just “before” when we were not yet Christians. We sin now, and need our savior now.

Here are some other verses that are in present tense:

From the Old Testament:

Ecclesiastes 7:20 – Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

And

2 Chronicles 6:36 – “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near,”

And if anyone thinks that that is only OT, and in the NT it is has changed, we’ve already seen that is not true. Some things indeed have changed in the New, but people are still sinners.

Philippians 3:12-14 – Not that I have already obtained this or am perfect already, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.

Paul has not attained perfection. Perfection is only possible, only promised, in Christ.

Another verse in the present tense is:

I John 1:8 – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Present tense. “Have,” not “had.”

And this, John is saying, is long after he became a Christian.

But, so as not to conclude on a negative thought, it must be pointed out that we are also SAVED IN THE PRESENT TENSE.

We are simultaneously sinners and saints, now.

It is not just “sinner” in the past/present and “saint” in the future, but God has, in the present, forgiven our sins and sees us as righteous in his sight, for the righteousness of Christ credited to us.

Number 14:18

Psalm 86:5

Forgiving, actively forgiving.

Not just once forgiving for past sins, but continually forgiven even for present sins.

This means we don’t just need God once, but we need Him all the time.

We don’t just say a “sinner’s prayer” and ignore God from there.

Rather, we pray to God each day, thanking him for that forgiveness so profound that it follows us wherever we go.

So the death of Christ on the cross was not just something in the distant past, but something that is vital to us an applicable to us here and now.

And that is the good news. Sins are forgiving. All your sins.

Done so freely in God’s grace.

Praise be to God.