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Weekly Wisdoms for the week of November 8, 2021

Your contribution to salvation is sin and resistance.

Martin Luther was once asked what we contribute to salvation. He famously replied, "Sin and resistance."

Had the Apostle Paul been asked this question, he would have replied with a similar answer. In Romans 3, Paul gives a beautiful explanation of the gospel, beginning with a fatal diagnosis of humanity: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (v. 10-12).

To be clear, it's not that we were born neutral and then became sinners by making sinful choices. Rather, we were born into sin; at birth our very nature was sin. The psalmist laments that he was sinful even before he was born: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5). In other words, before we did anything, we were sinful because sin is our nature—sinful is who we are.

Being sinful at birth means we are spiritually dead at birth because sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). And dead people cannot make themselves alive. You contributed nothing to your physical birth (you can thank your mother and father for your physical birth!) and you cannot contribute anything to your spiritual birth.

But don't we need to put our faith in Christ in order to be saved? Absolutely! But even faith in Christ is a gift from God. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Notice that faith is "not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." And if that weren't clear enough, Paul reinforces his point by saying that your salvation is "not by works" (i.e., not by anything you accomplished) because if it were then you could boast. But, since God does everything to bring about your salvation, you cannot boast (c.f. Romans 3:27).

You were dead, but God made you alive. He saved you. The only thing you contributed was sin and resistance.

In the resurrection, instead of vindicating the self-righteous, God justifies the unrighteous.

God is holy. The Israelite Hannah prayed, "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2). And Moses proclaimed, "Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?" (Exodus 15:11).

Because God is holy, he requires holiness and perfection from us: Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16).

To use other words, God requires us to be righteous—i.e., perfect and having no fault. However, none of us can possibly be righteous by our own strength or effort. There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).

Instead of expecting us to become righteous on our own strength, God accomplishes our righteousness for us—he justifies us—by taking our sins upon himself in Christ's death and resurrection and by giving to us Christ's righteousness. In Christ's death, God justifies the unrighteous: Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men (Romans 5:18; also see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 4:25).