Sin stinks. Sin separates us from God. Sin destroys us. Sin leads to death. Sin is darkness, ruin, and damnation. And sin cannot be fixed. Thus, Paul’s despairing cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
We cannot fix sin, but God can, and has. So, Paul’s dismay turns to joy. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:25-8:1). He knows that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). We can, and should, share in Paul’s joy; a joy more intense than was his despair.
But notice this. See how Paul continued to see his spiritual condition. While Jesus came to save sinners, Paul counts himself as the “foremost” of all (or “chief,” as the King James reads). So what is Paul saying? Is he really the worst, most wicked, evil, awful person to have ever lived? He does confess to having been a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (v. 13; or “violent aggressor”, NASB). His treachery against God’s people cannot be denied or downplayed. But, it doesn’t take us long to recall people who have been responsible for millions of deaths (think Hitler, Stalin, Polpot, etc.) and guilty of unspeakable, debauched horrors against fellow human beings (think Jeffery Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, etc.). Did Paul mean that he was worse than all of these?
Paul isn’t speaking in those terms. We tend to think of some sins being much more grave than others. A natural outgrowth of that thought would be that some people have greater need for God’s grace than do others. That is not true. There is no “more” or “less” when it comes to the urgency of our sin. We all stand in desperate need. So, Paul claims to be the chief sinner because he sees no one as in greater need for salvation than himself. Paul continued to see himself as the foremost sinner saved by the gift of God’s grace.
The same is true for all of us. I’m desperate for God’s grace. Even as one saved by Christ’s blood, we never forget how marvelous is His grace. So (if we may quote Paul once again), “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).