Ephesians 2: 11-12
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
1 Timothy 1: 12-17
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The longer we have been following Jesus, the greater is the likelihood that we will forget just how incredibly and indelibly His love, grace and mercy have impacted our lives. We can take for granted all He has done for us and in us. Your story may be one of radical transformation like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9) or it could be a more gradual awakening like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24). Either way, the inner work of the Holy Spirit is exactly the same. Your eyes have been opened. Your heart awakened. You are a brand new person. Earlier in Ephesians 2 Paul has already described it in terms of moving from death to life and from relying on works to depending solely on grace and faith in Jesus.
In this next section of his letter, Paul develops this 'before and after' even further. He says that without Jesus we were separated from God, excluded from His promises and devoid of any hope in our daily lives. It wasn't a pretty picture.
Paul never got over the grace and goodness of God because he often reminded himself of who and what He was before Jesus radically invaded and upturned his life. He doesn't dwell on his past in a self-condemning way - but rather in a grace-exalting way. He realised that when we forget what we were without Jesus we fail to fully appreciate who we are 'in Christ'. While we may not yet be all we would hope to be - thank God we're not what we used to be! In 1 Timothy he says that he was a 'blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man', even going so far as to describe himself as 'the worst of sinners'. However the darkness of His sinful past only serves to make the love of God shine brighter. Jesus has made him a trophy of grace - a demonstration to the world that no one is beyond the reach and mercy of the Father.
What would your life be like today without Jesus? Where would you be apart from His grace? You may have lived a fairly uneventful life before you became a Christian or, like Paul, you might consider yourself to have been a notorious sinner. Either way, the saving work of Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit have been, and are still, effective in your life in exactly the same way.
You were dead - now you are alive.
You were separated from Christ - now you are reconciled.
You were without God - now God lives within you.
You had no hope - now you are hope-filled.
It would be good for us today to read and echo the simple words of this song by Martin Smith:
Thank you for saving me, what can I say?
You are my everything, I will sing your praise.
You shed your blood for me, what can I say?
You took my sin and shame,
a sinner called by name.
Great is the Lord,
Great is the Lord,
For we know your truth has set us free,
You've set your hope in me.
Mercy and grace are mine, forgiven is my sin,
Jesus my only hope, the Saviour of the world.
"Great is the Lord" we cry,
God let your kingdom come,
Your word has let me see,
thank you for saving me!