If Christ came to save sinners, then other forms of salvation are futile.
JANUARY 19, 2022
Justin Holcomb: If Christ came to save sinners, then other forms of salvation are futile. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.
This is Key Life. We’re here to communicate the freeing truth that God’s not mad at his children. Steve invited our friend, Justin Holcomb to teach us all this week. Justin is a priest, seminary professor and he’s written, co-authored or edited more than 20 books.
Justin Holcomb: Thank you Matthew. My name is Justin Holcomb. And I have the honor of teaching this week and we are going through the four comfortable words in the Anglican tradition. And there are four Bible verses that are supposed to be read after the confession of sin by the minister to the congregation. So, the congregation confesses their sin together, they hear the declaration of forgiveness or absolution, and then the minister is supposed to read these four comfortable words. And if you haven’t been with us, previously this week, I’m going to kind of encapsulate where we are because we are uncomfortable word three, which is I Timothy 1:15, but since there’s a logic and flow to these four comfortable words, doing an overview sounds important. So, the first one is Matthew 11:28, which is God’s invitation, inviting people who feel weary. The second comfortable word is John 3:16, which is God’s disposition to those who have come to him because they feel weary, that he loves us. Now, the third comfortable word is I Timothy 1:15, which is diagnosing objectively our problem. And I John 2:1-2 are the fourth comfortable. And again, in a confession of sin, just to be clear cause different churches do it in different ways, but a confession of sin, you’re confessing your sins against God and other people, sins in thought, word and deed, and things that have been done and left undone. In my tradition, where I’m a minister, there’s actually a prayer that we begin the entire service with. And I’d like to read you that prayer and get your impressions, as I read it.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthy magnify your Holy Name through Christ our Lord.
That sounds intense to me, every time I pray that I can, I feel it, I can see people in the congregation. Know all hearts are open, all desires known, no secrets are hid. Like, what are we saying? But that’s the reality, it is intense. And when you pray prayers like this, when you confess sin, this can drive your mind in one of two directions. One, and frequently many people feel this. And I have felt this before, to a God who is ready to crush you and is looking forward to it, as if Jesus would be sitting on his throne, happily only letting a few really good people into heaven. While, most people are being ushered into hell with the devils from hell and joyful about it. That’s one image, or there’s a second image, a patient savior who is depicted in these comfortable words, who is merciful and gracious abounding in love and faithfulness, happy to forgive sins because he is the price that was paid for the forgiveness of those sins. And this savior is presented to us in the comfortable words that we’re studying this week. And again, just for some context, some background on this, these comfortable words were organized by Thomas Cranmer, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1500’s and the leader of the English reformation. And he architected the worship service in which these four words would be read and in that order. And he did it because he wanted people in that service to know that Christ was the Good Shepherd, alluring back his lost sheep by the power of his self-sacrificing love. And if you want to study more about this, a scholar and one of my friends, his name is Ashley Null, he’s a scholar on Thomas Cranmer and he wrote a small, very small little book called Divine Allurement: Cranmer’s Comfortable Words. So, let’s look at this third one, but to look at the third one, let me read the other two verses so we can kind of capture the flow of where we’re going. So, the first one is
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son to whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16. And now the passage of the third comfortable word, which is God’s diagnosis, I Timothy 1:15.
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Now, so far, we’ve seen two things in the previous comfortable words, the longing of humanity for relief in the first, the longing of God to rescue in the second. And now in our third comfortable word is a diagnosis of the human condition. It shows us that humanity’s situation is not just the subjective feeling of burden, but also the objective consequence of violating God’s law. Our first comfortable word is about how we feel spiritual fatigue. This one from I Timothy shows that humans are also rebels against divine order cut off from God’s peace and under threat of divine wrath to come. Humanity’s refreshment can only come by addressing humanity’s sin. In dealing with our sin problem is clearly beyond our capability. Having been so weakened by sin’s power humanity cannot cooperate with grace to achieve our salvation. I Timothy makes plain that this is the reason Christ came into the world, to rescue, to save sinners. And if Christ came to save sinners, then other forms of salvation or futile. This is the gift of the third comfortable word. It tells us the truth about our situation. It diagnoses our sickness with accuracy. And this is actually very important. Let me tell you a story about fast money, the fast money segment in the game show Family Feud. There’s this fascinating episode and you have two families feuding. And finally, if one family wins, they get to go to the fast money, where two members, it’s the very end of the show. Two members of the winning family are each asked to guess the responses to five questions, posed to a hundred surveyed people. And in this episode, I’m telling you about the very first question was, how many of the Ten Commandments have you broken this month? When the first contestant Lindsey replies three, the host Steve Harvey and the audience chuckle. Then when the second contestant Lauren answers seven, the host is shocked into silence, rolling his eyes just can’t believe it, while the audience begins to laugh. And then later on, they reveal the number of responses for seven and how many points go for that? And, you know, the host lets out a huge laughter, 7 out of 10, who does that? And of course the implied answer, well nobody, of course. And then they reveal how many people, what’s the number one answer by a hundred surveyed people. How many of the Ten Commandments have you broken this month? The most frequent response to the question, is one. That’s telling, people are okay admitting that they sin, but just a little. We’re sinners, but not huge sinners. Or some people may not see themselves as sinners, at all. What I’m curious about is how many of those 100 would have answered zero. But regardless, this view of the self is far removed from the understanding of sin expressed in James 2:10.
Whoever breaks the commandment is guilty of breaking them all.
Imagine the shock if either of the contestants answered 10. And then the host responds shocked and they recite James 2:10. I Timothy 1:15 is telling us about the breadth and depth of our feud with God. And as Martin Luther explains, the recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation. The apostle Paul, who wrote I Timothy said in the verse, right before this comfortable word, that he was a blasphemer and a persecutor of the church, an insolent opponent, but that he had received mercy. The grace of God overflowed toward him, he said in verse 14, and this leads him to cite the faithful saying of I Timothy 1:15. His testimony shows the truth of the saying, Christ Jesus came to save sinners, and then he goes on to personalize it. And he says, I am the chief of these sinners, the foremost of these sinners. What’s amazing is that early in the apostle’s ministry, he referred to himself as the least of the apostles in I Corinthians 15:9. That’s pretty humble, I mean, there’s at least 11 or 12 other people, you know, he’s the least of 12. Then in the middle of his ministry, he calls himself the least of the saints in Ephesians 3:8. It’s like he’s growing in humility, the more mercy he receives, the more humble he gets. And now at the end of his ministry, he calls himself the chief of sinners. The more he grows and being a recipient of mercy, the deeper the reality goes of his awareness of his sin. In the face of such honesty about sinful guilt before God and humanity’s powerlessness to counter its corrupting influence, the only answer is in divine action. The comfortable word focuses not so much on us, in our sin, but on Christ who came to save, he delights in us. It is this love and adoration that drives him to rescue us. Jesus willingly paid the ransom with his own life. He’s willing to free you from the prison you created. His self sacrifice was done for you. And this is what the Bible says. Christ died for you, for me to pay for the penalty of sin. And that is substitution Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, the Cross is substitution and sacrifice. The Cross is God’s love for you. Let’s pray. Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our soul, so that we may be defended from all the diversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. Amen.
Thanks Justin. That’s our friend Justin Holcomb, continuing to teach us about comfortable words. And our text today was I Timothy 1:15 and I John 2:1-2. And Justin will conclude this week of teaching tomorrow. So, be sure to join us for that. By the way, if you missed any of this week’s broadcast from Justin, this is a great time to catch up on those episodes at www.keylife.org We have transcripts for Key Life. Each one is meticulously edited by hand to assist you in your study of the Bible. Also at www.keylife.org you’ll find encouraging life-giving articles from Steve and all of your favorite Key Life voices. Plus links to our weekly e-mail, which we call Key Life Connection and even a link to our brand new Key Life app. And all of it is still free, thanks to the generous support of listeners, just like you. If you’d like to donate, call us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE. That’s 1-800-539-5433. Or you can mail your donation to
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