Weekly Wisdoms for the week of April 23, 2012
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.
You've probably heard these slogans: "Just do it," "Drivers wanted," and "It's everywhere you want to be." And you've almost certainly heard of Nike, Volkswagen, and Visa; however, you probably have never heard of the advertising agencies that coined those slogans: Wieden & Kennedy; Arnold Communications; and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.
In a lot of ways, we're supposed to be like those advertising agencies. We are called to proclaim the name of Jesus to the entire world; we're not called to proclaim the name of our denomination, our ministry, our church, or our pastor.
Compare how often you talk about your church or your pastor versus how often you talk about Jesus.
When unbelievers see Christianity, I can't help but wonder how many of them simply see a bunch of denominations fighting about petty issues: Contemporary vs. traditional worship? Drums and guitar vs. organ and hymns? Powerpoint slides vs. hymn book? Jeans and tee-shirt vs. suit and tie?
Instead, wouldn't our testimony to the world be so much better if, with one voice, we proclaimed "Jesus!"? In Romans 15:9, Paul writes, Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name. Paul's singular focus was on making the name of Jesus known throughout the world.
It's not about your church, your ministry, your Bible study, your small group, or your denomination. Your single focus should be on shouting the name of Jesus to all peoples. Your life should be a walking advertisement for the hope, peace, and joy that's available to all people in Christ.
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