Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
1st Timothy 1:16
In this verse, Paul tells us that there was a cause for the mercy he received. Was it something he did? Was is something he believed? Did he ask for mercy? Did Paul invite Jesus Christ into his heart so that Jesus could then have mercy on him? Was there anything that Paul did that caused mercy and salvation to come upon him?
The cause that brought mercy to Paul was the fact that Jesus Christ came to save sinners.
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of who I am chief.
1st Timothy 1:15
This is the only reason.
The cause certainly was not that Paul sought out salvation for he had nothing but threatenings and slaughter in his heart and on his mind when Jesus met him on the Damascus road (Acts 9). We see no evidence recorded in Acts, or elsewhere, where Paul moved first toward Jesus so that Jesus could have mercy on him.
Paul didn’t receive mercy because he confessed that Jesus was Lord. In fact, Paul’s first words in the experience was a question, “Who art thou Lord?” If confession must precede new birth, then Paul’s experience does not fit.
Further, he didn’t achieve it by study. All of the years of study in the schools of the Pharisees did not equip him to understand Who Jesus was.
Moreover, he didn’t acquire mercy by belief. For he was ignorant and unbelieving. In fact, it is because he was ignorant and unbelieving that mercy was necessary!
Now if Paul had to be saved by mercy because he was ignorant and did not believe, then why do some teach that you need to know Jesus and believe in order to get mercy?
The fact is, God moves in salvation based solely on his will with mercy and grace and not anything we do first or in conjunction with His work (Romans 9:15-16). After, we obtain mercy, then we can respond and seek to do the things of God.
Further, Paul is the premier example. His experience is that pattern or example of how it is with every child of God. His experience is the extreme anti-christian experience, so that we can clearly see what grace means. That is the same grace to all of the elect. If any one is eternally saved it is because God had mercy on him. And the cause of that mercy in EVERY child of God begins with God.
But some will say, “Paul is telling us that we have to believe in order to get everlasting life.” If a person is a believer, his believe did not cause his eternal salvation anymore than Paul’s. No, the belief is a description, not a cause.
Paul describes salvation that same way to Titus:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”
Belief, baptism, confession – all these would certainly fall under the heading of works of righteousness. But these are the effects of mercy, not the cause.
If you believe, do not glory in your personal confession. Thank God He had mercy on you so that you could believe!
God is the only cause of salvation. Therefore, God deserves all the glory for salvation.