The Gospel Is For Sinners

1 Timothy

The Gospel Is For Sinners

June 22nd, 1958 @ 7:30 PM

1 Timothy 1:15

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Timothy 1:15

6-22-58    7:30 p.m.


Now we turn in our Bibles to [1] Timothy, [1] Timothy; the first chapter of [1] Timothy; we read from the twelfth through the seventeenth verses.  First Timothy, first chapter, 12 through 17 and our text is the fifteenth verse, reading 1Timothy, the first chapter, 12 through 17.  Now we have it.  Let us all read it together, 1Timothy 1: 12 to 17:

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;

Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

[1 Timothy 1:12-17]

And the text, 1 Timothy, 1:15: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  And this will be the third and the final sermon on that text.  It is entitled The Gospel is for Sinners.

There is far less need for laborious explanations of profound mysteries than for simple explanations of plain, simple truths, and this is one: that the gospel of the Son of God is for sinners.  “This is a faithful saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15].

The coming of our Lord into this world had its relationship to guilty men.  There must have been some reason for the descent of our Lord from heaven [Hebrews 10:5-14].  What is that reason?  It is found in a great evil from which man could be delivered only by a divine hand.  We are greatly guilty; and our pardon could not be procured by any deeds of righteousness on our own part [Titus 3:5].

The explanation of the death of our Lord is found in our sin [1 Corinthians 15:3].  Had there been no fall [Genesis 3:1-6], there had been no Savior.  Had there been no withering of Eden, there had been no agony in Gethsemane [Luke 22:42-44].  Had there been no partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:17, 3:6], there had been no bleeding and suffering on the cross [Matthew 27:26-50].  The explanation for the suffering and death of our Lord is found in our sins.  We are saved by His stripes [Isaiah 53:5]; “Upon Him is laid the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6].  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3].  “In due time Christ died for the ungodly” [Romans 5:6].

What justification could there be for the incarnation, save our sin? [Matthew 1:21].  What justification could there be for the cross, save our guilt? [Romans 4:25].  What explanation could one find for the sufferings and the death of our Lord [Matthew 27:26-50], except that we are a lost and undone people? [Romans 3:23, 6:23].

The burden that was placed upon our Savior was in nowise a fictitious burden.  He bowed under the load of our sins on the cross.  He bowed under the load of our sin in the grave [Matthew 27:57-60].  And that cry, Lama sabachthani [Mathew 27:46], was in no wise a reproach for the necessity of an unmitigated suffering.  He suffered, and He cried under an actual burden of all of the sins of the world [1 John 2:2].  And the life of our Lord and its meaning in earth and in heaven—all of it has its relation to sin, to guilty men.  He came and He lived that He might call men to repentance, to seek and to save the lost [Matthew 9:13, Luke 19:10].  He died for our sins when we were without strength [Romans 5:6].  He was raised for our justification to declare us righteous before God [Romans 4:25].  He ascended on high to lead captivity captive and to give gifts of salvation and life unto men [Ephesians 4:8].

He lives in heaven that He might make intercession for us whom He is able to save to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25].  And someday He is coming again for His redeemed, who are washed in the blood of the Lamb [Acts 1:11, Revelation 1:5, 5:9].  All of the life and ministry and meaning of our Lord has its relationship to sin, to our guilt, “This is a faithful saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1:15].  If I might quote in His own words, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” [Luke 5:32].

Now that second avowal: the gospel has its meaning in relationship to sin, to sinful men.  What is the gospel?  Like those Israelites in the wilderness when they saw the manna—manna “what is it?”  And they looked at it; like hoarfrost on the ground, a small round thing.  And they tasted it; like a wafer covered with honey [Exodus 16:31].  And they felt it in their hands, and they looked at it; and how happy they were when Moses said:  “It is bread to eat!” [Exodus 16:15].  And each man filled his omer and prepared it to his own liking [Exodus 16:16].

What is the gospel?  There are some who think it is a line of improved law: Moses and the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29].  There are some who think the gospel is an easier way for a man to be saved by works.  There are some who think of the gospel in terms of the reward of a virtuous, and meritorious, and excellent life.  It has nothing to do with any of that!  The gospel is turned always and inevitably toward sin and toward guilt.  The good news is not, “We have a great reward for the excellent, and the pure, and the innocent, and the virtuous.”  But the gospel is this, “We have good news for the ungodly, and the sinner, and the liar, and the thief, and the outcast—for the prodigal who has wandered away from home [Luke 15:11-32], for that the sheep that has gone astray” [Luke 15:4-7; 1 Peter 2:24-25].

The gospel turns toward the sinner, like the physician turns toward the sick; like the Community Chest turns toward those in need of charity, like a pension-fund turns toward old age [Romans 6:23].  The gospel, in all of its representations, turns toward sin and toward sinners.  If a king makes a great feast, he calls in—from the highways, and the hedges, and the streets and the lanes—he calls in the blind, and the halt, and the cripple, and the infirm, and the lost [Matthew 22:9-11].  If there is a fountain, it is for the cleansing of the soul [Zechariah 13:1, Revelation 21:6].  All of the great gospel invitations have to do with sin and sinners:

  • “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye… buy without money and without price…”  [Isaiah 55:1].
  • “Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts, let the wicked man forsake his way, let him come unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” [Isaiah 55:7]. 
  • Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” [Isaiah 1:18].
  • “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden…” [Matthew 11:28].


The invitations of the gospel are always for sinners, and the gifts of the gospel are for sinful men.

How else could it be that life should be for one, except he’s dead; that sight should be for one, except he’s blind; that hearing should be for one, except he’s deaf; that cleansing should be for one, except he’s unclean; that absolution should be for one, except he’s vile and wicked.  The gospel turns to sinful men, and the covenant of grace under which it is preached and written large here in the Bible is for sinful men.

The covenant of the Old Testament, the covenant of the law, is for good, and pure, and holy, and righteous men.  If a man could be saved by the law, salvation would have been by the law because the law speaks of goodness, and justice, and holiness, and purity, and righteousness.  And if a man could be saved by the law, he could stand justified in the presence of God without stain, without sin, without wrong, without mistake, without dereliction.  But the law concludes all of us under sin, because “all of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23].  “There is none that doeth good, no, not one!” [Psalm 53:3].

All men have sinned! [Romans 3:23].  And when God deals with us on the basis of the law, He shuts us in prison, all of us alike, guilty before God.  The blessings of the old covenant were only for those who were righteous, and holy, and pure, and without fault or stain or sin before God.  But the blessings of the new covenant never are toward those who think themselves excellent, and meritorious, and holy, and without need.  But the blessings of the new covenant speak of grace and of mercy for sinful men.

How beautifully and often does the Bible speak of that; “For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ?” [John 1:17].  He meant this!  Moses told how a holy man ought to behave; Jesus told us how an unclean man can be washed and made whole again.  “By grace are ye saved through faith; that not of yourself: it is the gift of God…” [Ephesians 2:8].  “According to His mercy He saved us” [Titus 3:5].  “For where sin did abound, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5:20].

The gospel covenant speaks of mercy and of grace.  Grace is for offenders.  No man would need the grace of God if he could stand in the presence of God and say, “I have won my salvation by my own merit!”  Then his salvation is not of grace, it is of debt, of reward—God owes it to you!  You could stand in the presence of God and say, “You owe me eternal life.  Look at this life of mine: without a stain, without a spot, without a sin; altogether holy and pure.  Give me my just desserts—eternal life!”

But when grace comes in, an altogether different principle is introduced—unworthy, not merited, just the unmerited favor of God, “saved by grace” [Ephesians 2:8]; and mercy is for those who have sinned [Titus 3:5].  Mercy doesn’t speak of a man who’s not guilty.  The mercy of God is for sinners!  If I were haled into court and arraigned before the court, and I was innocent, I wouldn’t plead for mercy.  I’d stand before the judge and say: “I demand justice!”  And justice would procure for me all that is good and fine and best—for I am innocent.  “I demand the court to declare me innocent.  I’m not guilty.”  But if I’m haled before the court and I’m guilty, then I cast myself upon the mercies of the court:  “Remember and be kind to me!”

I had a young fellow in one of my churches of a wonderful family.  He was the only boy with several girls, a wonderful Christian family.  And that young fellow was beloved by the president of the bank and was given a fine opportunity in the bank.  And to the amazement of everybody, and most of all to me, the boy who was a genius at figures, a young fellow, had been embezzling funds from the bank for months and months and months.  And when he and his mother came to me, I said, “When we go before that federal judge and you stand and he asks you: ‘Guilty?’ you answer ‘Guilty,’ and throw yourself upon the mercies of the court.”

He had a lawyer.  And I’ll never forget that day, when with his mother and the boy and his lawyer, we went—there’s no other of us in the court—we went before the federal judge, and he was a fine Christian man.  And the lawyer stood there, and the boy here and I right back of him.  And the judge looked briefly at the brief—the case written out before him, turned the pages, already acquainted with it—looked into the eyes of that boy that belonged to our church and whom I greatly loved, and he asked him a simple question, “Guilty or not guilty?”

And the boy replied humbly: “Guilty, Your Honor, guilty.  Guilty!”

Then it was up to the court.  And the court sentenced him for three years and probated it, suspended it.  And then he said to the boy, “We count on you to do good.  This is your first offense, and we’ll not send you prison.  We suspend the sentence.  But we count on your being true to our trust in you.”  That’s mercy!  That’s grace!

Law says, “Stone her to death!” [John 8:5].  Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn thee: Go, and sin no more” [John 8:11].  The law says to the boy, “Lock him up, blast his life, ruin his career, put a blot on his name!”  Mercy says, “Son, we count on your being true to our faith in you, go and sin no more.”  And may I say, I’ve seen that young fellow several times since then, and to this day—and that happened a long time ago—he’s been a wonderful boy ever since.

That’s the difference between grace and mercy—and law.  The rewards of the gospel are never, never, never for the man who thinks himself excellent.  “I shall stand on my own feet before God.  And I shall look God straight in the face, and I’ll say, ‘Lord, I never erred.  I never disobeyed a commandment.  I never sinned.  I never stumbled.  I never made a mistake.  I never fell.’”  For him, the gospel has no message.  It has no ministry.  It has no mediation.  It has no meaning.  It has no salvation.  But to the man who stands in the presence of God and says, “Lord, be mercy to me, the sinner!” [Luke 18:13].  The gospel has a message for you, my brother!  Listen to the good news of the Son of God: He died for our sins when we were without strength, helpless, defiled, undone, and dying! [Romans 5:6-8].

You know what?  I looked again at all of the doctrines of the gospel, and to my amazement I found that every one of them has to do with sinful men, every one of them: repentance, the doctrine of repentance, turning away and to God [Hebrews 6:1]; faith, faith with a great sublime trust in the ableness of Jesus to keep and to save us [2 Timothy 1:12]; regeneration, that a man should have a new heart and a new hope and a new life and a new love [2 Corinthians 5:17]; election, that God should choose us out of the world and take us out of Egypt [Colossians 1:13]; sanctification, that He might make ungodly men, kings and priests in the house of the Lord [1 Peter 2:9];  adoption, that we, who were strangers and aliens from the household of faith should be made fellow heirs with Jesus Christ in the family of God [Romans 8:17]; redemption, that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5], “And they sang a new song, ‘Worthy art Thou, for Thou hast died and redeemed us by Thy blood’” [Revelation 5:9].

All of the doctrines, all of them, have to do with sinful men.  And that’s the gospel for us.  Did He die for sinners?  Then He died for me!  I’m a sinner!  “This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15].  Is the message for guilty men?  Then it’s for me, for I’m a guilty man.

One of the finest Sunday school teachers I ever had never took the Lord’s Supper, never!  And I went to see him one day and sat down by his side, and I said to him, “In our little church, it is very noticeable that through the years you never take the Lord’s Supper.”

He said, “Pastor, I never take it because I’m a sinful man.  I am not worthy.  I’m not worthy!”

I said, “Brother, that’s the invitation.  That’s the invitation.  It’s for sinners.  This table, this cup, this bread, this death is for us!  The man who is worthy and doesn’t need it, who is excellent, who in all ways is above reproach and above sin, he couldn’t take it.  But for you and me, who are lost sinners, it’s for us!  For He said, ‘This is My blood of a new covenant, of a new promise of mercy and grace, shed for the remission of sins’ [Matthew 26:26-28].  And if I’m a sinner and I’ll look to Jesus, it’s for me.  Drink, my brother, drink!  Eat, my brother, eat!  This is the bread of life.  This is the blood of a new hope and a new covenant, the washing away of our sins.”

The gospel has to do with sins.  The gospel had to do with guilty men.  I sat down at a table one time where there was a sixteen year-old boy working on the farm.  As we sat around the table and talked, I said that to the young fellow, I said:  “Young fellow, are you a Christian?”  And he looked straight into my face, and he said, “No, sir!  I’m not any Christian.  I’m a lost sinner!”  I said, “Son, you are nigh the kingdom of heaven.  You will be saved in these days of revival appeal!”  And he was!  And he was!  The man who will acknowledge himself a sinner, the man who will say, “I’m not sufficient in myself.  I am conscious of a need.”  That man is not nigh to the kingdom of God.

Down the aisle one time came a Sunday school teacher so fine and so nice, with a little boy so sweet and so nice.  And they sat down together, and the preacher sat down by the side of the teacher.  And the preacher said to the little boy, “You’ve come to be saved?”

And the little fellow said, “Yes.”

And the preacher said, “Do you realize that you are a lost sinner?”

And the Sunday school teacher broke in and said, “Pastor, you don’t understand.  This is the finest little boy in my class.”

And the pastor ignored her, and he said, “Son, I say, do you realize you are a lost sinner?”

And the Sunday school teacher replied again, “Pastor, you do not realize.  This is the finest little boy in my class.”

And the pastor arose and said, “Do you mind if you sit here?”  And she moved over and the pastor sat down between them.  And he turned to the little fellow and said again, “Sonny, do you realize you are a lost sinner, and you need Jesus?”  And in just a little while, he had that boy into the kingdom of heaven.

Why, listen friend, if you don’t have any need, how could you ever come to God?  You’re sufficient in yourself.  If you don’t feel lost, how could you ever feel saved?  If we’re not sinful, guilty men, why should Jesus seek us out, die for us to save us?  The gospel has to do with sinners.  And that’s why such songs, and hymns, and love, and adoration well up in our souls to the Lord God our Savior.  That’s the good news!  That’s the good news!

Tell me, could you be thrilled over a cold lecture on morality and virtue and goodness?  But tell me, can’t your heart overflow when somebody tells you what Jesus has done to wash our sins away?  Where it has been proscribed, people have gathered in dens and in the caves of the earth, and at midnight hours to hear this old story of how “Jesus died for us sinners according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3].  And men have listened unwearyingly to the story.  Bless your heart, I could stand anywhere in this earth and talk about politics, and talk about book reviews, and talk about economics, and talk about war and peace, and talk about government, and somebody might come to listen to me one time.  And that would be all.

Bless your heart.  I have been standing in this pulpit fourteen years, and I’ve been preaching the same gospel message every Sunday of the world—and in these last two and a half years, three times a day!  And bless your heart again, it never loses its interest.  “Just say it again, preacher.  Tell it to us again, just like it is in the Book!”  When I get down to old age, it will be the sweetest story still.  When you stand over my fallen and silent form, tell the people again of dying love and saving grace.  That’s the gospel!  That’s the gospel!  For us, for me: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1:15]—you my brother, me my friend; we who are chief.

O Lord, what a Savior, what a hope, what a gospel!  And it is ours.  It’s ours!

And while we sing this appeal, somebody tonight to give his heart to the Lord, would you come?  Somebody tonight to put his life in the church, would you come?  A family you, one somebody you, while we make appeal, would you come?  Somebody tonight to consecrate his life in a new way to the Lord; somebody to answer a call in the soul and in the heart from Jesus; as the Spirit shall say the word and lead the way, would you come?  “Pastor, tonight I give you my hand.  I give my heart to Jesus.”  Or, “Into the fellowship of the church we come.”  Or, “Committing my life in a new way to Christ, here I am.”  As God shall say the word and lead the way, would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

1 Timothy


I.          Introduction

A.  There
is less need for laborious explanations of profound mysteries than for simple
explanations of plain truths

B.  This
text a plain truth – that Christ Jesus came for sinners

II.         The mission of our Lord related to

His descent into the world

1.  Men
needed to be delivered from a great evil by a divine hand

B.  Explanation
of His death on the cross is found in our sin(Isaiah
53:4-6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Romans 5:6)

1.  The
burden of our Lord was in no wise a fictitious burden

a. He bowed under the
load of our sins(Mark 15:34)

All that He is, does, and means to the world has to do with sin and sinners(Luke 5:32)

III.        The gospel message is for sinners

A.  What
is it?

1.  Manna
for the Israelites – bread to eat (Exodus 16:15)

Some think it is a line of improved law, an easier system of salvation by works

B.  Gospel
is good news for the ungodly, the sinner, the outcast, the prodigal

1.  Turns
its face toward sinners like the physician turns towards the sick

2.  The
gospel invitations(Isaiah 1:18, 55:1-2, 6-7,
Matthew 11:28-30)

The gifts of the gospel

C.  The
new covenant of grace has its bearing toward guilty men

1.  Covenant
of the law is for good, holy, righteous men – but all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23, Psalm 53:3)

Blessings of new covenant speak of grace and mercy for sinful men(John 1:17, Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5, Romans 5:20,
John 8:11)

All the doctrines of the gospel have to do with sinners(Revelation 5:9)

IV.       The gospel is for us

A.  One
of my finest Sunday school teachers never took the Lord’s Supper – “I’m not
worthy…”(Matthew 26:28)

B.  Working
boy – “I’m a lost sinner…”

C.  Sunday
school teacher about little boy coming forward – “He’s the finest boy in my