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. — 1 Timothy 1.16
The grace of God, Søren Kierkegaard explains, “is applied in such a way that one sinks deeper and deeper so as to require continually more and more grace.” This progression from sin to grace, to more grace, is the message of 1 Timothy 1.
Yesterday we read, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Today our minds focus on, “mercy for this reason,” and “perfect patience.” Kierkegaard explains:
Consider a person who is conscious of his guilt and offense. For a long time he goes about in quiet despair and remorsefully broods over it. Then he learns to flee to grace, and he is forgiven everything; everything is infinitely forgiven.
But, the moment he shuts the door of grace, as it were, and goes out full of holy resolve to begin a new life, alas, blissfully stirred by the thought that now all is forgiven and he will never get into that situation again, that very same minute, that very same second, he is on the way to new guilt—in the form of “the best he can do.”
In that same moment he must return again and knock on the door of grace. He must say: Oh, infinite grace, have mercy on me for being here again so soon and having to plead for grace. Now I understand that in order to have peace and rest, in order not to perish in hopeless despair, in order to be able to breathe, and in order to be able to exist at all, I need grace not only for the past but grace for the future.
God’s grace isn’t the light switch that activates independence, but the very power that lights the house. His grace is made perfect in weakness—his mercy shines brightest in the dark. Christians have seen what lies on the inside, and instead of becoming lost in despair, we find our rest in future grace. Kierkegaard concludes:
The difference between an unbeliever and a Christian is not that the latter is without sin. The difference is how he regards his sin and how he is kept in the striving…. The Christian has a Savior…. Bold confidence is not necessarily irresponsibility, but a trusting in grace.