Hold Fast to Faith

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

The law was never intended as a means of achieving righteousness. Paul made that point quite clear when he wrote to the believers in Galatia.

…no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. – Galatians 3:11 NLT

And Paul went on to tell them that the law was given “to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). God provided the Israelites with the law so that they might “see how terrible sin really is” (Romans 7:13 NLT). And Paul confessed that the law had proven to be effective at revealing sin in his own life.

…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NLT

The command prohibiting coveteousness actually caused Paul to covet. His sinful nature rebelled against the law and aroused all kinds of covetous desires within him (Romans 7:8). If there had been no law against coveting, Paul’s battle with covetousness would not have existed. But that doesn’t mean he would have been free from sin. The presence of the law simply exposed the sinful nature within him.

But Paul never reached the conclusion that the law was somehow flawed or responsible for his sin. No, he confidently asserted “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). And this was the point he was trying to make with Timothy. The self-professed teachers of the law who had infiltrated the church in Ephesus were promoting the law as a tool for measuring righteousness. They were demanding adherence to the law as a litmus test for determining saving faith, and Paul demanded that Timothy deal decisively with this error.

…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners. – 1 Timothy 1:9 ESV

He was not suggesting that the just are exempt from living according to God’s holy standards. He was simply stating that the law was not a requirement for achieving righteousness. The law had played no part in the conversion of the Ephesian believers. What was true for the believers in Galatia was true for them.

Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? – Galatians 3:2-3 NLT

As Paul reminded Timothy, the law was intended “for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Timothy 1:9 NLT). And he provided Timothy with a virtual rogue’s gallery of lawless behaviors, including murderers, the unholy and profane, the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and even those who fail to honor their fathers and mothers. It is those kinds of people for whom the law was given, not the righteous. They live their lives in opposition to sound doctrine. And Paul was concerned that the teachers of the law were promoting false doctrine concerning the law that was confusing the Christians in Ephesus. They were turning the freedom found in Christ into just another form of legalism and religious rule-keeping. 

Paul was well aware of his dark past and referred to it regularly. He used to be among “the ungodly and sinners.” He even told Timothy, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). But Paul rejoiced in the amazing grace shown to him by God.

I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

Paul had not been saved by keeping the law. And now that he was in Christ, he would not remain saved by keeping the law. Paul was a free man. He had been released from his slavery to the law and he wanted every believer to experience that same feeling of joyous liberation.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 NLT

As Timothy’s mentor, Paul had been careful to share all of these truths with his young protégé. It is likely that Timothy had read every letter that Paul had written to the various congregations under his care. He was well-schooled in Paul’s views on the law and the gospel, so he was probably not surprised when he read Paul’s words: “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them!” (1 Timothy 1:15 NT). He was familiar with Paul’s backstory. He had heard about Paul’s miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. And even though Timothy looked up to Paul as an icon of the faith, he also knew that his mentor had a humble and self-effacing view of himself. So, when Paul described himself as the worst of all sinners, Timothy was not surprised. And Paul’s explanation of his divine calling was not a new revelation to Timothy.

…here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul gave all the glory to God because his salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. He had played no role in his own redemption story. That is why Paul inserts a short but powerful doxology into the middle of his letter.

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

God deserves all the credit. No one can claim responsibility for their own salvation. That is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Ephesus in an earlier letter.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

But now, in Paul’s absence, others were proclaiming a contradictory message. They were encouraging legalism and promoting self-effort. And Paul was placing the mantle of pastoral responsibility on Timothy, assigning him the vital task of affirming and defending the integrity of the gospel message. Paul wanted Timothy to remain committed to the simplicity of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But it was going to be a fight and would require diligence and determination.

To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith. – 1 Timothy 1:19 NLT

Timothy would need to keep himself grounded in the faith of the gospel. Otherwise, he might succumb to the lies of the enemy and find himself adopting and promoting a modified version of the gospel that was not only false but destructive. And Paul reminded Timothy that there were two individuals who had already taken that path.

Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:20 NLT

Paul provides little explanation concerning the actions of these two men. So it would seem that Timothy was very familiar with what they had done and why Paul “handed them over to Satan.” This phrase most likely means that Paul had removed them from leadership and from fellowship in the local congregation until they repented. In other words, he de-fellowshipped them, effectively placing them outside the local body of Christ and at the mercy of the enemy. Paul’s ultimate goal was their repentance and restoration, but he had cast them from the fellowship to prevent them from having any further impact on the rest of the community.

According to 2 Timothy 2:16-16, Hymenaeus had been guilty of promoting godless behavior through “worthless, foolish talk.” Paul compared his actions to an infectious disease that had spread throughout the local congregation. It seems that Alexander had decided to stand up to Paul and publically contradict his teachings. Paul declared that “ Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” and “he fought against everything we said” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15 NLT).

These men had done great damage to the cause of Christ and Paul wanted Timothy to learn from their mistakes. Anyone was capable of veering from the path of truth and wandering into the high weeds of false doctrine. That is why Paul urged Timothy to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). The key to his survival and success would be an unwavering commitment to the gospel message and his own faith in it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.