The question on my mind is what is Spiritual Death and when does it occur?
I have been studying Romans as of late and Paul talks a lot about DEATH in Romans 5 for example.
18 – summary of 12 -17 – “So then through one transgression resulted in condemnation to all men, so also through one righteous act resulted in justification of life to all men.”
Adam sinned -> many died
Christ died -> many lived
Jesus is the reverse of the curse. Adam gave us our sin nature, causing us to sin and receive the punishment of death. Jesus died causing us to receive eternal life and skip out on death.
Again, are we distinguishing between physical death and spiritual death ? Context is physical death.
“Death reigned from Adam until Moses.”
Death comes to all men. But Jesus came to give us escape from death. Those who have put their faith in Jesus skip death. Yes, it appears they die just like the rest, but they merely fall asleep and wake up in paradise. The fear of death has no hold on believers.
This virus causes fear among men. The world fears death. The world attempts to elongate life and escape the clutch of death. The world fights to keep people alive. That is a natural impulse. We hate death and the suffering associated with dying. We, by and large, are concerned with the welfare of others. We don’t want to be the guy that causes others to die by our selfishness. So, by and large, we obey the shelter-in-place orders because our actions could cause others to die. The virus brings death. The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Therefore the virus is here because of sin.
Physical death – separation of the soul from the body
Spiritual death – separation of the spirit (or soul) from God
“In the day you eat of the fruit of tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, you will surely die.” Hebrew is very difficult to interpret. “in the day” can be understood as an idiom, as “when you eat”. Then “surely die” literally is “dying you will die”. The best understanding is not to suppose spiritual death occurred first and then physical death later. Rather, Adam began dying the day he ate of it. And dying culminates in death.
If you take spiritual death to mean separation from God, then yes, Adam experienced a spiritual death of sorts. But, it wasn’t a complete death. God still communicated with Adam and God communicated with Cain after he killed Abel. So, separated from God in the sense of walking together face to face. That, to me, is not death. It’s like a partial death. We can still hear God, but can’t see Him. So, let’s not call God kicking Adam out of the garden a spiritual death unless the Bible says it was. The Bible states that our sins DO cause a separation from God, but not entirely. The Bible says Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith, which seems to result in his restoral of relationship with God. God visited him and shared with him what He was going to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses had a very intimate relationship with God, which because of Christ, we can also experience.
But, the physical gives view to the spiritual. The physical is a picture of the spiritual. Death is a separation. Your body dies, your soul remains, but is separated from the world. Separation occurred with God and Adam and they were kicked out of paradise. And God remained physically distant from man ever since. HE still spoke and revealed Himself, but did not walk with men as He did with Adam.
Hell is the second death – the lake of fire, according to Rev 20, is the second death. If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he is thrown into the lake of fire. This occurs at the Great White Throne judgement.
After that, the throwing of Death and Hades into hell, God says I make all things new, and the dwelling place of God is with man. – Return to Eden.
So the wages of sin is both spiritual death and physical death. Sin separates us from God. Sin culminates in physical death. Sin leads to spiritual death, complete separation from God, the second death spoken of in Rev 20.
But, John 3 speaks of the new birth, a spiritual birth that occurs when someone receives Christ.
Eph 2: You were dead in your trespasses and sins.
So, we have physical death, spiritual death, and second death. Second death must be the death that follows physical death. Second death is hell.
All people go through physical death.
What then is spiritual death? And when does it occur?
Option 1: spiritual death occurs at the 2nd death.
If this is the case, we are all spiritually alive, even non-believers. Spiritual life and death has to be associated with connection to God. Is it the case that non-believers are slowing dying a spiritual death and the outcome of physical death is spiritual death? That might be the case, because God’s Holy Spirit can speak to the non-believer only until he dies. Calvinism disagrees and says regeneration occurs before the non-believer can hear anything from God, because the non-believer is spiritually dead.
But, arguing against this is the idea that non-believers are spiritually alive is that the Holy Spirit brings new life and makes us alive.
Ephesians 2:4-5 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved—
Paul here is speaking of the power of the resurrection to make dead things live.
But, we might say that being dead in our trespasses doesn’t mean spiritually dead, just heading in that direction. Our sins are taking us to hell, we see the light and change directions. We repent and are given a new life, separated from our sins. Our sins separate us from God, Christ separates us from our sins and joins us to God, reconciles us to God.
Also, we have to account for the age of accountability and the doctrine that children go to heaven until they reach the age of reason. If that is the case, then we start out life connected to God and our sin separates us from God once we choose to sin. We are held accountable for our sins when we know the difference between right and wrong and choose the wrong. This is a rabbit trail. But, the main idea is that we start off spiritually alive and our sins do not kill us until the day God judges for the second death.
But, wait, Isaiah 59:2 states that our iniquities have caused a separation between us and God so that He doesn’t hear our prayers. But, God. He knows that left to our own devices we will not be saved. There was no hope for us in our sinful state. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He brought life to us, He brought salvation from our sinful state.
Option 2: spiritual death is the default state.
If this is the case, we are born sinners and born condemned. And we have no hope of salvation unless God regenerates us spiritually. This is theology of Calvinism. Faith follows regeneration. There are many arguments against it that state that faith must precede regeneration and they are pretty convincing. The other problem with this is that children are born condemned and aborted babies for example go to hell. This is untenable.
So, I am going with Option 1, that spiritual death doesn’t occur until the soul is tossed into the lake of fire.
“I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained(received) it, but I press on to lay hold (of it).” – Phil 3:11-12
To attain to something – to reach a goal, to succeed in achieving. To reach a speed (that car can attain the speed of 110 mph).
So Paul is saying his goal is heaven and he is well on his way to achieving that goal and he expects to obtain the goal. The important thing is that he hasn’t yet attained it and he must press on in order to achieve it.
Phil 1:22 “If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
“Remaining alive to me [is] the fruit of labor (or work)” – literal Greek
So, the gist of it is that Paul will work the spiritual harvest every day in which he has breath and this is part of the attaining to the resurrection. Life for us as believers has purpose and includes work. Serving Christ is the work we do from which there is no retirement until the day we die or Christ returns.
Living for Christ is not a spectator sport.
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” – Phil 1:21-22
What is our labor for the Lord?
- Serve the local church
- Serve your family
- Be involved in ministry
- Encourage believers
- Disciple believers
- Make new disciples
- Don’t waste your time or energy or cash – they are God’s gifts for you to steward
- Love people
Work while it is still day.
Here is the goal of our lives, the resurrection life. What does Paul mean by attaining to the resurrection from the dead? Well, he explains in the following verses:
- He hasn’t yet attained it
- He presses on to attain it
- He works toward the goal of the upward call of God
- It is equivalent to having become perfect
Are you saying that heaven is not a gift? Salvation by faith alone, right? No, just that faith works. Faith without works is dead. True faith results in works. True faith causes us to work at making disciples. True faith causes us to follow Christ. True faith causes us to live with eternity in view. True faith causes us to live in the belief of heaven and hell. Belief in heaven has to be more than an academic doctrine of our faith. Belief in heaven changes the way we live. Belief in heaven means enduring a Roman jail so that the faith of others will be strengthened. True faith is being able to say ‘To die is gain and to live is Christ’. True faith in the resurrection is leaving your riches behind to follow after Christ. True faith denies that this life is what I am living for. True faith in the resurrection is sacrificing the pleasures and enjoyments of this life to live a life as a soldier, not working for pay, but working for the reward that follows this life. True faith rejects “Your Best Life Now” and endures pain for The Best Life After Death. True belief in the resurrection accepts and endures this life with its rejection, isolation, persecution knowing a better life awaits us. True faith does not seek to get rich, believing greater riches than imaginable await us in heaven. True faith seeks to bless others with your wealth rather than spending it on yourself. True faith embraces suffering not eschews it. True faith believes the greatest healing of our bodies is to allow this body to die. True faith believes heaven is real.
1 Corinthians 15:19 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Do you agree that you are pitied more than anyone else if there is no resurrection? If there is no resurrection you have suffered needlessly. If the dead are not raise to life, then suffering for Christ is worthless and of no value and you wasted your life. If there is no resurrection we should be all about seeking pleasure and enjoyment as our purpose. But, since there is a resurrection, suffering for Christ in this life makes sense and is worthwhile because our suffering will be richly rewarded in heaven.
I heard one marriage counselor use Ephesians 5:21 to define the relationship between spouses to the exclusion of the rest of the passage. Let’s look at the whole passage and make interpretative sense of it:
Ephesians 5:21-25 21 ¶ submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Paul tells us to be subject or submit to each other as members of the church, the body of Christ. How does that look? Walk in humility, don’t consider yourself better than the rest, demonstrate servant leadership.
Then Paul adds to the imperative that one particular class of people within the church, the wives, should follow his admonition to be subject to one another, but in their case to be subject to their own husbands.
And then Paul says to be subject or submit to their own husbands BECAUSE the husband is the HEAD of the wife.
Some marriage counselors like to focus on verse 21 and skip verse 22 and suggest that husbands also submit to their wives when no such command is given. If that was the case Paul should have said, “Wives to their husbands and husbands to their wives.”
What about women who are not married? Their status is not specified. He did NOT say, “Women, submit to the men.”
Why is this submission so important? It goes back to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Servant leadership and the first shall be last. That’s the general idea for the church relationships.
Then the rules for the marriage relationship. This relationship is a special subset of the church relationships. It is special because it symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband symbolizes Christ and the wife symbolizes the Church. How they function in relationship is to mirror and provide a concrete, visible example of the spiritual relationship of Christ and His church. Just as the wife submits, we submit to Christ. Just as the husband loves his wife, so Christ loves His Church.
It is as if wives and husbands are playing roles in a play. The wife and the husband should be good studies of the part they play so that God gets the glory. Hopefully, they both play their roles in imitation of Christ and His church so closely and so accurately that the world sees and glorifies God.
Evolution is the thesis that a long series of fortunate mutations caused life to evolve to the current pinnacle, human life. This has happened over 4.5 billion years, they say, which improves the odds by allowing long periods of time for it to happen. The fossil record has a different story that shows complex lifeforms showing up all at once, but we will leave that weakness in evolutionary theory for another day.
A very smart guy, Dr. Nick Longrich of the University of Bath in the UK, wrote a piece for Newsweek that posits that we are likely the only intelligent life in the universe. It was a very telling piece that exposed the holes – inadvertently – in evolution. He states that humans came to be by seven specific evolutionary leaps that only occurred once. “Our evolutionary history shows that many key adaptations—not just intelligence, but complex animals, complex cells, photosynthesis, and life itself—were unique, one-off events, and therefore highly improbable. Our evolution may have been like winning the lottery … only far less likely.” They are one-off events because they arose in the history of this planet only once according to evolutionary history. “Curiously, all this takes a surprisingly long time. Photosynthesis evolved 1.5 billion years after the Earth’s formation, complex cells after 2.7 billion years, complex animals after 4 billion years, and human intelligence 4.5 billion years after the Earth formed. That these innovations are so useful but took so long to evolve implies that they’re exceedingly improbable.”
The problem comes with statistics. If the odds are very long that life started without any help from a Creator, did life start without help? This is what is called a statistical improbability. At what point are the odds so low (in the dirt so to speak) that the event statistically would not happen? Evolution is based on chance, the chance of beneficial mutations accumulating. Evolutionists like to say that of course beneficial mutations occurred, look at the complexity of life. This is a logical fallacy of using the conclusion to prove the premise, called Begging the Question. It is circular reasoning. I can say the same thing. Of course there is an intelligent designer, look at the intelligence built into the design of life. Dr. Longrich employs the fallacy: “Earth’s history must have allowed intelligent life to evolve, or we wouldn’t be here to ponder it.” But, left to chance, any reasonable person would have to say that life arising and producing humans is so astronomically improbable that it could not have happened. Since it did, it is reasonable to assume human life arose by some other means than chance.
The conclusion by Dr. Longrich is that we are the only intelligent life in the universe since evolution is true. Sorry folks, no aliens can exist due to improbability of evolution. He posits out of thin air probabilities for each improbable evolutionary bottleneck and comes up with this: “Intelligence will evolve on just 1 in 100 trillion habitable worlds. If habitable worlds are rare, then we might be the only intelligent life in the galaxy, or even the visible universe.”
What is amazing is the arrogance these scientists have toward us low-lifes who still believe in God. A large majority of Americans still believe in the existence of God who created us. Yet, this viewpoint, since it is religious, is deemed unacceptable and not even a possible answer to the existence of life on the planet Earth. Any theory that could be assigned to the supernatural is deemed unacceptable in scientific arenas. They suppress the truth when the truth is staring them right in the face. God is the elephant in the room that evolutionists will not acknowledge. An intelligent designer is the best answer to how life arose and produced the incredible complexity of the human body and mind, not chance. Evolutionists are blinded by their refusal to acknowledge the even slight possibility of a supernatural entity existing. After all, it blows their theory out of the water. Why do people choose evolution over God? It is an act of rebellion. If a moral law-giver exists, then they are accountable to Him for their actions.
I find the similarities between Judah circa 700 B.C. and America circa 2000 A.D. to be astonishing.
Jer 8:8 – Jeremiah complains, “They use the Law to make it say what it does not really mean.” Yeah, we have teachers today that conveniently interpret Scripture to fit their own narrative. We have all varieties of churches, all of whom claim that their interpretation is right.
Jer 8:13 – Punishment for the sins of Judah is economic devastation, crops fail, famines and droughts. Well, that doesn’t really fit. We are in the midst of an economic boom. But, the Great Recession was just 11 years ago and the Great Depression followed an economic boom during the “Roaring Twenties.” While I don’t ascribe to human-caused global warming in the sense that burning fossil fuels has caused the climate to warm, I do think famines and droughts are the result of human sin. (Whatever happened to the “Greenhouse Effect”? That term is not in vogue today.) In my view, the deserts are expanding, probably due to overgrazing and overuse of water by farmers. There is evidence that the deserts of New Mexico are spreading into West Texas.
Jer 8:19 – The people cry “Where is our God?” But, God was not to be found because the people abandoned Him. When God brings punishment on a land for their sins, will He also listen to people pray for Him to come against the things He put in place to punish them? God is not near because we are not near to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” We must repent, not just complain to God about the punishment He causes us to endure.
God has been forgotten in America. The only time we call on Him is when disaster strikes. We don’t need God. Besides, He demands high moral standards, that we live ethically, that we love our neighbor more than ourselves and that isn’t convenient when we are trying to become more powerful and wealthy. We would rather lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want.
Andy Stanley, in a sermon titled, “Aftermath, Part 3” said that the 10 Commandments were not to be applied to Christians because we are under the new covenant, not the old covenant. He said that the Gentile believers were not asked to keep the Law of Moses. He is right that pastors have been mixing the old covenant and the new together for a very long time, creating confusion.
On the other hand, nine of the ten commandments are repeated in the New Testament either by Jesus or one of the apostles. Which commandment doesn’t make the cut? Keep the Sabbath holy. So, the point that Andy makes is mostly inconsequential since nine of the commandments are repeated. But, the principle is important and the principle is that the New Testament is NOT a continuation of the Old Covenant. Stanley argues that Jesus fulfills the Law and therefore Christians are not required to keep the Law. He says Jesus fulfills the Law to launch a new law, to love one another.
Nowhere in the New Testament are Gentiles told to keep Moses’ Law. The New Testament makes a big deal in saying that they were NOT required to be circumcised, the primary identification of someone who is following Judaism. Therefore, the Gentiles were not grafted into Judaism and not placed under the Law of Moses.
One might wonder why not keep the Sabbath? Many Christians have incorporated Sabbath-keeping into their religious practices, mostly by changing it from Saturday to Sunday. Who authorized them to change the day of the week to keep the Sabbath holy? They will argue that since Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, Sunday has replaced Saturday as the most holy day. But, the Bible does not support this change anywhere. So, why is it that the NT does not speak of obeying the 4th command? In fact, it tells us not to let anyone judge you about whether or not you keep the Sabbath (Col 2:16). In the OT, God is very serious about keeping the various aspects of the Sabbath. He exiled the Jews for 70 years so that the land could take 70 years of Sabbath years that the Jews had not done in the 490 years they were living in Israel supposedly under the Law of Moses (even David did not keep this commandment?). The Bible does not tell us why the Sabbath apparently is not important for Gentiles to keep; its absence in the New Testament sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore, arguing from silence (not a good idea) one may conclude that the Sabbath is not mentioned since Gentiles are not under the Law of Moses. It surely would be confusing if Gentile Christians were told that the Law of Moses was not for them, except for the Sabbath-keeping. So I reject the notion of a Christian Sabbath; it is not a biblical concept. I do believe resting one day out of seven is a good principle and that is because the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God wanted His people to enjoy rest and relaxation one day a week. You could also argue that for Christians it isn’t one day that is holy, but all seven days are holy.
Another area that Christian leaders should be ashamed of their bad theology is the theology of tithing. The tithe also is not mentioned in the NT, yet pastors everywhere love to teach their congregations that they should nevertheless be committed to giving a tithe to the church. I think it is self-serving and a lack of faith and/or bad theology. The tithe was meant for the nation of Israel for the Levites, the poor, and a celebratory sacrifice before the Lord.
In Stanley’s sermon, he covers the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and explains how James and the elders came to their conclusion to NOT require the Gentiles to keep the Law of Moses. James concludes that they will not put a heavy burden on these new believers that even the Jews could not bear. Instead he writes a letter stating four requirements only that he wants the Gentiles to follow. Stanley states that one might think James would pick the most prominent of the commands of Moses: Do not steal, do not lie, do not covet. No, the Law of Moses is expressly absent from the list they generate. What’s on the list?
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)
Command 1: Abstain from things polluted by idols
Command 2: Abstain from sexual immorality
Command 3: Abstain from what has been strangled
Command 4: Abstain from blood
Three of the four are requirements about eating food. Many commentators conclude that the list was put into place to maintain the fellowship between Jew and Gentile believers since Jewish believers would still hold to the dietary requirements of the Law of Moses and by submitting to these rules, it would keep the peace. Verse 21 can be taken a number of ways, but I take it to mean that if a Gentile believer wished to keep the Law of Moses, he could learn about it by attending one of the synagogues. However, this interpretation may not be likely because elsewhere Paul makes it a major point that Gentile believers are not to add the Law to their faith (See Galatians).
So, yes, Andy Stanley is technically correct that the Ten Commandments are not applied to Christians, yet their universal nature means in effect that keeping the Law of Jesus incorporates the principles of the Ten Commandments.
Corporate worship can be very powerful, as evidenced in this passage in 2 Chronicles.
2 Chron 20
(a paraphrase) Jehoshaphat seeks the Lord, not just inquiring of the prophets as was the custom, this time he called for a national fast. The people assembled to ask for the LORD’s help. Jehoshaphat humbled prayed before the people, ‘we are powerless against this huge army…We don’t know what we should do; we look to you for help.’ Then the LORD’s Spirit came upon a Levite and he prophesied: “Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, the battle is God’s…You will not fight in this battle, just watch the LORD deliver you.” The people bowed low and worshiped the LORD. Then some Levites got up and loudly praised the LORD.
On the march to the battle, Jehoshaphat appointed musicians to play and praise God, saying “Give thanks to the LORD, for his loyal love endures.”
Vs 22 – “When they began to shout and praise, the LORD suddenly attacked the enemy.”
What is the meaning of this? I think the shouting and praising indicates the hearts of the people, that:
- they were trusting in God,
- they were confident that God would give them victory,
- They were filled with boldness.
Do you think the Israelites were self-conscious about whether or not they were in key? Or if they would embarrass themselves with uninhibited singing? It is a rare church that belts out worship and worships without being self-conscious.
Can you Lose Your Salvation?
This is a question every believer encounters at some point in their journey with Christ. Some people wonder if they were truly saved in the first place, which is a similar question. The issue is ‘did I do something that made God mad at me?’ Or, ‘I have backslidden and I am not pursuing God, does God still consider me saved?’ Or, ‘I think I have committed the unforgiveable sin.’
In considering this question it is obvious that theology matters. You must know what you believe about soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. How does a person become saved and if saved, always saved? What are the conditions for salvation? It is essential to know what it takes to go to heaven and whether salvation depends on you or not. Your perspective and bias on how you approach Scripture will influence how you answer this question as well. A Calvinist, for example, will always say no to this question since it is part of Calvinism that one cannot lose his or her salvation. So, if Calvinism is true, the question is answered in the negative, you cannot lose your salvation. But, then the questions just morphs for the Calvinist to ‘Are you sure you are saved?’. Because if you do not persevere and you do fall away, then they will say you were never saved in the first place.
What are the conditions for Salvation?
Faith and Repentance from man; Grace and mercy from God.
One place to start is Eph 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you are saved through faith and this not of yourselves
NAU Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
NAU Ephesians 2:9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
By grace through faith. Many people mis-translate the part ‘not of yourselves’ as referring to faith. That is incorrect. In the Greek the pronoun is neuter and so its antecedent must be neuter as well. Faith in the Greek is feminine. Obviously grace is not from man, it is from God, so it doesn’t fit either. The proper antecedent therefore is salvation is not of yourselves and salvation is not the result of works, it is the gift of God. Does God exercise faith to save us? No, the Bible is clear that we must exercise faith to receive the gift of salvation. Therefore, faith is not a work otherwise this Scripture would not be true.
So God saves us from our sins and gives us salvation or eternal life as a free gift. It is not something we earn; it is something received on the basis of faith. This leads me to John 1:12
NAU John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
This verse presents two conditions for salvation: receive Jesus and believe in the name of Jesus. This verse also presents salvation as becoming a child of God. Other verses state that we are adopted by God the Father. This relationship is one of the reasons many people will give to state that we cannot lose our salvation since we would also lose the relationship of being God’s son or daughter. In effect, God would have to un-adopt us.
So, we have at least two conditions for salvation: faith and receiving Jesus. What about another famous verse, Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The idea here is that anyone who calls out to be saved will be saved. You say, “Jesus, save me” and Jesus saves you. Pretty simple. This is not a separate condition, though. Calling out to Jesus is the action that relays to God that you believe Jesus will save: faith.
One of the aspects of belief is that the Bible presents it in the present tense. In other words, it is not a one-time event. In the Greek, a one-time event is presented in the aorist tense which in English is translated as past tense. In the Greek present tense, an ongoing action or continual action is implied which means that belief is ongoing. It is the idea that our faith must have lasting value. One cannot be considered to be saved if he believed for one day and then changed his mind. His belief in Jesus must continue. An analogy might be marriage. You love that person for life. A one-night stand does not constitute love nor marriage.
This brings up an important question. What if a person believed in Jesus for a long time and then began doubting that Jesus really is God? If you stop believing in Jesus, do you lose your salvation? The answer to this question at this point would be yes because present tense belief, ongoing belief, is a requirement to be saved.
1 Tim 1:15 – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost.”
It is God’s pleasure to save sinners, to see them repent in faith and turn to Him and receive the gift of the forgiveness of sins.
Paul is explicit: ego eimi (I am) chief of sinners. Why the present indicative? He could have said, ‘among whom I WAS the foremost.’ But, the emphasis is not on the fact that his sin is in his past, which we all know it is because he no longer persecutes and blasphemes. Since it is evident that his sins are not present, Paul is emphasizing that he is the worst of sinners. (one of the uses of the Present Indicative in Greek is emphasis.)
He also emphasizes that he is the foremost of sinners because through him Jesus Christ ‘might demonstrate his perfect patience’ to other sinners looking for mercy. If Christ can save Paul, he certainly can save you, sinner. That is Paul’s point. To demonstrate how far the mercy of Christ will reach.
So, Paul is not the greatest sinner in the present, he is the greatest sinner before he came to know Christ. Paul would be appalled that people would think that as a Christian Paul was the greatest sinner. Once a Christian, no longer a sinner. Yes, Christians sin, but it is not an identifying trait and not normative. (That is why gay Christian is an oxymoron).