I, Patrick, a sinner, am a most uncultivated man, and the least of all the faithful, and I am greatly despised by many.
- Patrick, Confession, Irish, 5th century
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.
- 1 Timothy 1.15
The honesty of these two men is refreshing. Here are two of the greatest servants of God who ever lived: “a sinner”, “most uncultivated”, “least of all the faithful”, “chief” of sinners. This is not false humility; they meant every word.
Both Paul and Patrick had been faithful in their labors, as each argued passionately; and each had accomplished much for the Lord. We look to their example to guide us in our own walk with and work for the Lord, because we recognize them as great servants in the Kingdom of God.
But deep inside the reality remained: apart from grace and the mercy of God, Paul and Patrick were without hope. They were sinners, and in many ways, fell short of the glory of God.
Such honesty is rare in our day. We live in a culture that encourages us to put up a good front, do our best to impress others, not let them see our weaknesses, and make sure someone else gets the blame. It’s all about appearances, and we are encouraged to put our best foot forward at all times.
But we are sinners and uncultivated wretches nonetheless. In us, that is, in our flesh, there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7.18). God has set His love on us, and that’s the only thing separating us from the most despicable people we know. We are His chosen vessels, redeemed by grace, renewed in His Spirit and Word, yet stained and impeded by the remnants of sin lingering in us still.
So why should we deny or be defensive about it? If we sin against a brother and are confronted by it, that shouldn’t surprise us. If we fail to keep some promise, well, it won’t be the last time. If we disappoint a loved one or mindlessly hurt an innocent friend, it’s simply who we are.
This is not to encourage complacency, however; we all need to keep pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul and Patrick never ceased growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and neither should we.
Rather, I want to encourage us to take down our natural defensiveness, hear the rebukes and complaints of those we have wronged, let the Spirit convict us in the depths of our souls and lead us to repentance, and then renew the bonds of love with those we’ve injured. This is what the greatest of saints have always done.
If you don’t know yourself as a sinner, you don’t know yourself. If you think you’re incapable of making a mess of things and ruining someone’s day, you don’t know yourself. We must be at all times circumspect against temptation and sin; but we must also be honest, and ready to admit our shortcomings whenever it’s clear that who we are inside, and striving to overcome, has found his way to the surface yet again.
And when someone has wronged us, let us not fail to remember that they, like us, are fallible, frail sinners, prone to wander from the Lord and to let their guards down against mere self-interest. We want to be forgiven when we transgress; let us be quick to forgive when others transgress against us.
We’re sinners, but forgiven sinners and works-in-progress toward a greater likeness to Jesus. Let us be neither surprised nor dismayed by our frequent failures; rather, let us see them as challenges to grow in specific ways toward becoming more like Jesus Christ.
1. Why is it important to start each day with the Lord, waiting on Him as He searches our soul?
2. How do you know when the Spirit is convicting you of something contrary to God’s Word?
Psalm 141.5, 8-10 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
Lord, let a righteous man rebuke – a kindness this shall surely be.
Like healing oil upon my head, Your sweet rebuke shall be to me.
We lift our eyes to You, O Lord, and refuge seek; Lord, save our soul!
From every trap and snare redeem; deliver us and make us whole.
Help me to hear You, Lord, when You convict me of sin, so that I…
Patrick in his own words
The latest installment in Celtic Flame: The Burden of Patrick is available through the InVerse Theology Project by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Da Paor, p. 96.