Home > final judgment, justification, theology > John Piper’s Justification According to Works

John Piper’s Justification According to Works

I have been thrust into a study of the final judgment. It started when I read a post over at Bring the Books: If You Are Late to the Discussion. It is a summary, taken from Christianity Today, of John Piper and N.T. Wright’s views of justification. My study began when I commented that, given Piper’s view, he was the exact wrong person to be defending justification against Wright – and my comment was met with strong criticism. Here is Piper’s view:

Piper: Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with him through faith alone. Future justification is the open confirmation and declaration that in Christ Jesus we are perfectly blameless before God. This final judgment accords with our works. That is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as the evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ. Without that validating transformation, there will be no future salvation.

I do not believe Piper’s view is biblical. There is no “future” justification in addition to “present” justification. They are the same. In the words of Robert Reymond: “Justification possesses an eschatological dimension, for it amounts to the divine verdict of the Eschaton being brought forward into the present time and rendered here and now concerning the believing sinner.” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p743).

Piper cannot consistently believe the above statement and also believe that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1) because he believes our salvation must await validation, determined by our works, on the last day.

Another consequence of Piper’s view is that he must deny justification by faith alone. I understand that he does not believe he denies it and in fact has written a whole book on it, and I thank God for that, but that just means he is inconsistent. Given that “present” justification is different from “future” justification, we can say that “present” justification does not matter because it does not determine who is going to heaven to spend eternity in paradise with God and who is going to hell to burn forever. “Future” justification is what determines our fate, and thus, “future” justification is what matters.

That being said, Piper does not believe that faith alone determines our “future” justification (keep in mind there is actually no difference between “future” and “present” justification). He believes that both our faith and our works determine our “future” justification. Granted, he does not view them equally – he believes in a sort of chain where our works connect us to saving faith which then connects us to Christ’s righteousness. But that means that it is not faith alone that unites us with Christ. Both our faith and our works play a determining role. Thus both our faith and our works are the instrumental causes of our justification.

You may say that’s unfair, that my logic must be wrong, that there’s no way Piper believes that. Well, let me offer some biblical support for Piper’s view. James says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone(2:24). Clear enough, and if there’s any chance I have any Roman Catholics reading this, I’m sure you’re shouting “I told you so” from the rooftop.

But Brandon, you may object, James is not talking about the same thing as Paul. James is talking about our justification before men, about evidence that we look at to estimate if someone is justified. We can’t look into someone else’s heart to see if their faith is genuine. To us, faith is invisible, so we must look at the fruit of faith. I agree! But Piper does not. Piper does not believe James is talking about how we view each other here and now. No, Piper believes James is talking about the final judgment:

Several times Paul listed certain kinds of deeds and said, “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In other words, when these deeds are exposed at the judgment as a person’s way of life, they will be the evidence that their faith is dead and he will not be saved. As James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). That is what will be shown at the judgment. (Future Grace, p366, emphasis added)

He also says:

How then can I say that the judgment of believers will not only be the public declaration of our differing rewards in the kingdom of God, according to our deeds, but will also be the public declaration of our salvation – our entering the kingdom – according to our deeds? The answer is that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real. And our deeds will be the public evidence brought fourth to demonstrate the varying measures of our obedience of faith. In other words, salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life. (Future Grace, p364)

So Piper necessarily denies justification by faith alone, as James makes very, very plain. Yet Paul disagrees: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

If you disagree with the conclusion, I would honestly love to hear why, because I cannot come to any other conclusion. (If you do comment, please do not simply list quotes of Piper affirming “present” justification through faith alone – please actually demonstrate how the points above do not lead to the necessary conclusion).

Update:

R.S. Clark recently taught on the invalidity of a “two-stage justification.” Expostion of the Nine Points (pt 9)-A Two Stage Justification?

I asked him how his teaching relates to Piper:

As to Piper, he’s just flat wrong and he needs to repudiate this teaching. It’s contrary to the Reformation, to the Reformed confessions, and to the gospel.

Related Post:

For Further Reading:

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  1. Louis
    November 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Free Grace: 1
    Piper: 0

    thank you Brandon

    Like

  2. David
    November 15, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    I’m sorry, I don’t have much time now so this will have to be quick.

    I really don’t think Piper is saying salvation is determined by more than just faith alone. I have heard him affirm this strongly at least dozens of times (I attend his church).

    On the other hand, I think he IS saying that some fruit of our faith is inevitable in our Christian life. To what extent the fruit shows and what that looks like only God knows — I am thinking for example of the thief that was saved at Jesus’ crucifixion with little time to show a changed life.

    I think Piper is one who periodically, and thankfully, reacts to bad doctrine common in our American church today. In trying to come across strongly against a wrong doctrine and to wake Christians from their slumber, in this case easy-believism, Piper’s words are sometimes misinterpreted on the other side. I think this has occurred here.

    I think Piper is saying that a changed life, bearing fruit at least to some small degree, is inevitable if one is truly born again. There is no such thing as a Christian whose life is utterly unchanged in love for God, sanctification, love of others, etc.

    Be careful with the logic here. Just because something is inevitable, in this case fruit after faith, does not necessarily make it the cause of something, in this case justification. On the other hand, some fruit for a Christian is such a sure thing that God, who can read the heart behind all the actions and thoughts, can see who is saved based on their fruit or not.

    One verse that comes to mind is John 15:8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” The bearing of fruit proves they are his disciples but it doesn’t make them his disciples.

    I don’t know if this clarifies or changes your mind on Piper’s view or not. If you are still having some issues I would ask you a question: do you believe there is such a thing as a born again Christian who has trusted Jesus for salvation and yet his whole life is utterly unchanged in love for God, sanctification, and love of others and still will be saved? To me that’s an oxymoron. I think that’s basically all Piper is saying. He would say fruit is inevitable, but has no part in causing justification to occur.

    David

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    • November 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your comments. However, I asked that anyone who comment not simply point me to times where Piper has affirmed faith alone. I know he has. My point is that he is inconsistent in doing so.

      He is not simply saying that saving faith will produce fruit. He is saying that that fruit will determine if they go to heaven or hell. There is no way to skirt the fact that this is what Piper teaches. It is the entire point of Future Grace.

      Piper’s views on this are not simply “periodical.” They have been his views for 30 years – his entire ministry. And they are not simply reactionary, they are heavily influenced by his “most influential teacher” Daniel Fuller. If you think I have misinterpreted Piper’s words then you need to demonstrate how. I have extensive quotes from Piper all affirming the same thing. Our works play a determining role in our “final” salvation.

      Here is a sermon from Piper where he teaches that “the doers of the law” in Romans 2:13 are Christians on the final day. That is not me misinterpreting Piper, that is Piper misinterpreting the Bible.
      http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/10/1068_There_is_No_Partiality_With_God_Part_2/

      The phrase “will be justified” expresses getting right with God….What is the gospel about? It is about future judgment….I think that when Paul says, “doers of the law will be justified,” he means that there really are such people, and they are the only people who will be acquitted at the judgment. This is not a hypothetical statement. It is a statement of actual, experienced fact. When Christ comes into a person’s life by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in the Gospel, that person becomes a “doer of the law.”

      Be careful with the logic here. Just because something is inevitable, in this case fruit after faith, does not necessarily make it the cause of something, in this case justification.

      I agree. So does John Gill. Read his excellent essay arguing that exact thing (linked above). But that is not what Piper believes. Piper believes the inevitable fruit does determine our justification (though he affirms it is not the ground of our justification).

      On the other hand, some fruit for a Christian is such a sure thing that God, who can read the heart behind all the actions and thoughts, can see who is saved based on their fruit or not.

      Yes, that is what Piper teaches. The problem is that that is not what “justification through faith alone” teaches. God does not judge me by my fruit. He judges me by my faith. To say otherwise is to deny faith alone.

      Now, Piper may be right. We can have that discussion. But my point here is to simply ask for honesty and admit this is what Piper is teaching – either that or prove this is not what Piper teaches. (And I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to believe that my friends and family will not be deceived about the Day of the Lord and their salvation by reading Piper).

      One verse that comes to mind is John 15:8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” The bearing of fruit proves they are his disciples but it doesn’t make them his disciples.

      The problem is Piper’s unbiblical view of “future justification.” I am justified and the verdict of the final judgment is rendered the moment I believe (before I “prove” myself). My works play absolutely no role.

      do you believe there is such a thing as a born again Christian who has trusted Jesus for salvation and yet his whole life is utterly unchanged in love for God, sanctification, and love of others and still will be saved?

      I sure don’t. But that’s not what the debate is about.

      I think that’s basically all Piper is saying.

      I appreciate your opinion, but no, that is not all Piper is saying.

      He would say fruit is inevitable, but has no part in causing justification to occur.

      That is not what Piper says, as my previous quotes have demonstrated.

      Like

    • November 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm

      Hi David, please see “update” in post above.

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  3. David deJong
    January 19, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Brandon,

    Your view of James is unsustainable if only because James quotes the very same text Paul does in Rom 4 – Gen 15:6. James is not talking about “justification before men”: he is talking about being righteous in God’s eyes.

    Also, for future justification have a look at Gal 5:5.

    There is no conflict between present justification by faith and future final vindication – see also Hab 2:4. This is a part of the biblical tension, living in the already and the not yet.

    Blessings,

    Dave dJ

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    • January 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      Hi Dave,

      Your view of James is unsustainable.

      I agree 🙂 Upon more careful reflection I have changed my understanding of the text. When I get a chance I’ll post my thoughts and I’d love to hear what you think.

      I’m not sure I understand your references to Gal 5:5 and Hab 2:4. Do you mind elaborating for me?

      living in the already and the not yet

      I completely understand living in the already not yet. I’m justified, but I’m not yet glorified. However, that is completely different than saying I am justified and not yet justified. The former is biblical, the latter is a contradiction.

      Like

    • January 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

      Dave,

      The following is adapted from an email conversation, so hopefully I’ve edited it to make sense here. Let me know what you think:

      1) God does not rely on our works to determine if we have saving faith (else how could we ever be justified apart from and before doing any good works?). Thus James 2 is not speaking of demonstration in the court of God.

      2) If we grant that James 2 refers to being “justified” (ie vindicated, demonstrated, proven) in God’s court room, and we grant that the “future” justification is not in view, and we grant that “initial” justification is not in view, then we must grant that there are more than just 2 justifications. There are at least three, and in reality, an indefinite number of justifications.

      3) James is not saying Abraham was justified (however we want to understand that word) at the point in time he offered up Isaac. The justification James has in view is the one that occurred in Gen 15:6. James says Abraham was justified in Gen 15:6 by works, but we have to clarify what James means by that. He is contrasting dead faith and saving faith, and doing so in the context of our view of one another. He is saying that Abraham was justified by works in Gen 15:6 insomuch as the faith that justified him was a faith that was working (not a dead faith), which is demonstrated in Gen 22. Abraham’s faith was working with his works, and his working “fulfilled/completed” (not justified) that he was justified by saving faith. This seems to be the only way to make sense of v24.

      If we substitute the proposed definition of justified into this verse, we get incoherence in James’ argument: “Abraham’s faith is vindicated as genuine by works and not by faith alone.” (Ie, the only way that sentence would make any sense is if James was responding to the argument that one’s “faith is vindicated by faith alone,” which doesn’t make any sense). Clearly James is referring to the justification of Gen 15:6, which is not a vindication.

      4) The justification spoken of is in the court of God, but the demonstration is in the “courts” of men. God’s declaration is pronounced prior to and apart from any works. One way to understand this is to use a rough analogy (keeping in mind no analogies are perfect): A traitor is arrested and brought before his king. Upon private interrogation, the traitor repents and asks for forgiveness. The king grants the request and tells the traitor he is forgiven (a). The traitor later tells his visiting mother that he is forgiven and she tells her family (b). Finally, the king himself proclaims to his countrymen, with the traitor by his side, that the traitor is forgiven (c). The analogy is far from perfect, but the point is to demonstrate how the single judicial act of justification is revealed in 3 different ways to 3 groups of people: to the man himself, to those who know the man, to all men. (a) is revealed by faith, (b) is revealed by works, (c) is revealed by resurrection/glorification (see J. V. Fesko “Justification”).

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  4. Dave DeJong
    January 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Brandon,

    Sorry my response is so delayed. Basically I stumbled across your blog one day (from the Heidelblog) and haven’t thought to come back since then.

    You asked about my references to Hab 2:4 and Gal 5:5. I’ll start with the former. This is a foundational verse for thinking about the doctrine of justification, it is quoted by Paul in Rom 1:17 and by the author of Hebrews as the preface to the renowned “by faith” chapter (Hebr 10:37). So it is important to understand what is going in Habakkuk.

    Habakkuk is prophesying about the coming Babylonians and basically raised the question of God’s justice: how can the judge of all the earth punish his people by the wicked Babylonians? God’s answer is the one who is just will have to wait for his vindication. In continuing to trust in the Lord and wait upon him, the just one will live.

    This verse thus articulates the dynamic character of what it means to be justified by faith. It is precisely because God’s people is not yet publicly vindicated or justified (which will occur at the final judgment) that they need to live by faith in the present. As Paul says, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:10), and “the life I live in the body, I live by faith” (Gal 2:20).

    There is therefore no contradiction between our present and future justifications. You seem to be denying that there is a future justification, I urge you to rethink this. If there is a final JUDGMENT, then there is a final JUSTIFICATION: those who are judicially declared to be in the right at the last day. Our present justification by faith is anticipatory of our final justification which will be visible and public. That judgment will also be based on our works, but these are the fruit of faith and of the indwelling Holy Spirit. (See Rom 2:7-9, 16 for a clear articulation of a final judgment according to works.)

    Gal 5:5 also teaches that there is a future aspect to our justification; Paul speaks of awaiting the justification for which we hope. You have collapsed justification into only a present reality; however there is an aspect of our justification that is incomplete; namely, the vindication that will take place on the final day.

    On this view you also don’t need any convoluted readings of James; James and Paul are in perfect agreement! The apostle agrees that faith works through love (Gal 5:13).

    Blessings!

    Dave deJong

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    • January 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

      Yes I am denying that there is a future judgment for believers. I have been judged already in Christ. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

      There is therefore no contradiction between our present and future justifications.

      Yes, there is, especially if you say one is by faith apart from works and the other is both by faith and works.

      Our present justification by faith is anticipatory of our final justification

      No, it’s not anticipatory, it is.

      Like

  5. David deJong
    January 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Brandon:

    Do you believe in a final judgment?

    Dave

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  6. David deJong
    January 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Brandon:

    Since you so strenuously deny a future aspect to justification, I would like to know what you do with Gal 5:5. (See previous comment.)

    Dave

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    • January 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm

      I read it and believe it 😉

      I think Gill states it well:

      for the hope of righteousness by faith; by which is meant, not the believer’s justifying righteousness, as if it was something future he is waiting for; for this is already wrought out, and brought in by Christ, the end of the law for righteousness; is revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith; is discovered and applied to the saints by the Spirit of God; is put upon them, and imputed to them by the Father; and is what they now have, not in hope, but in hand; their faith having received it, as their justifying righteousness; in which they will ever be found, living and dying: but eternal glory and felicity is here intended, called “hope”; because it is the object of hope, or is what is hoped for; it is unseen, as what is hoped for is: it is future, and what is to be enjoyed hereafter, and therefore hoped for; it is certain, possible to be enjoyed, though with difficulty; which gives room for hope, and exercises and tries that grace; the foundation and encouragement of hope in it are the person, blood, sacrifice, and righteousness of Christ, who is our hope: and hence it is styled “the hope of righteousness,” because none but righteous persons shall enjoy it: and that by virtue, and in consequence of their being justified by the righteousness of Christ, which gives them their title to it; and hence they look for it, and shall enjoy it, on the foot of justice, as well as of grace and goodness: “waiting” for it supposes it to be certain, real, solid, substantial, valuable, and worth waiting for; which, when possessed, will be with the utmost pleasure, and be abundantly satisfying; and that the persons that wait for it have knowledge, and at least hope of interest in it; and do highly value and esteem it, having their hearts set on it, and looking with contempt on the things of time and sense, in comparison of it: the manner in which they wait is, “through the Spirit,” and “by faith”; the Syriac version reads, “through the Spirit, which is of faith”; that is, by the Spirit received through faith; see Galatians 3:14 but it is best to consider them apart; believers look and wait for heaven, under the influence and encouragement of the Spirit of God; who is the author of the faith by which they look for it, and of the hope which is concerned with it; and who is the revealer and applier of the righteousness of Christ, the foundation of it; and which gives some glimpses of the heavenly glory to the saints, shows them their interest in it, witnesses to their sonship, and so to their heirship; and is the pledge and earnest of their inheritance; all which gives great strength and encouragement to faith, by which they also expect it; believing not only the reality of it, but their own interest in it; and so walk by faith in the believing views thereof, until they receive the end of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. David deJong
    January 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    I too agree with Gill. In this case the hope of righteousness is indeed eternal life – our final justification.

    Rom 8:1 can’t be used to say there is not a final judgment for believers. Believers too are included in the final judgment and therefore await their final justification. It is true that we are freed from condemnation NOW; it is also true that we will not be condemned THEN; we are justified by faith NOW; which will be evident by its fruits at our final justification (Mt 25:31-46). That is why Christ can say that even the one who gives a cup of cold water to a follower of his will not lose his reward, and why the Spirit says that the deeds of those who die in the Lord follow them: our works will indeed be rewarded in our final justification.

    I do urge you to consider the full biblical witness on our justification – including the OT witness, e.g. the Psalms – and place this teaching in its eschatological framework. This will redress some of the imbalances in your doctrine.

    Blessings,

    Dave DeJong

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    • January 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm

      There is no imbalance in my doctrine. But I certainly appreciate your concern. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

    • March 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      John Piper:

      “Jesus said, if you don’t fight lust, you won’t go to heaven.”

      The Bible:

      Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

      When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

      For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

      For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

      So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:5-6)

      For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10)

      Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

      Now, I appreciate what men like Piper are trying to do in the face of a Church that seems largely to have abandoned the pursuit of righteousness and sanctification, and I appreciate that Piper might simply be trying to find attention-getting ways of saying that saving faith is changing faith, but the way he chooses to express these thought certainly seems to place him firmly in the camp of salvation through works.

      Since God does not lie, and since He is not man, that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19), we must accept that, if the Scriptures clearly state that salvation is granted through faith, on the basis of Christ’s work alone, then other Scriptures that seem to contradict that idea must be referring to something other than judgement to determine placement into heaven or hell. In many of these instances, the scriptures are referring to matters of church discipline, earthly associations, and qualifications for church service. In some instances, when read in their proper context, we see that the works of evil being condemned in scripture are actually vain attempts at works or law-keeping (Matthew 7, Galatians 5, and Titus 1 are just a few examples)!

      The picture we are given in Scripture of the final judgement is a simple one: We have either been written into the Lambs Book of Life, or we have not. We have either passed from death into life, and therefore have eternal life (and can we have had eternal life yesterday and yet not have it today?), or we have not. There is no separate future judgement; if there is, Christ Himself has said we will not come into it – He has borne it for us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nigel
        March 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm

        Jesus’ language is very clear. He is speaking of life in the kingdom of God. The faith that saves is a faith that transforms. That is the whole message of the bible. The message of Matthew 5 is that the one who is truly right with God is going to fight his or her lust. People who don’t do that will be cast into Hell, because they never truly believed. If they had, they would have fought their lusts. This is the clear teaching of the whole of Scripture, Romans as well as James. Piper absolutely does not believe in justification by works. He subscribes to the five SOLAs of the Reformation. Like the Reformers, he would say that we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. It always produces works.

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        • March 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm

          When looking at Matthew 5, you have to understand the context. Jesus was talking to a group of people who were law-keepers who thought that they were justified by keeping the Law. Jesus was showing them their need for a savior by showing them that they were not keeping the Law, no matter what they thought. This is consistent with what He said later, in Matthew 7, when He said “I never knew you” to those who did many mighty works in His name.

          I agree with Piper’s assertion that no one can receive the Holy Spirit (as every believer does upon placing faith in Christ) and remain unchanged, but I disagree with Piper’s coupling of works and salvation, just as I disagree with a future justification – because it simply isn’t supported by the body of Scripture. Christ Himself said that believers will not come into judgment (John 5:24).

          Think about it: the Church is the bride of Christ. Would you review the sins of your bride on your wedding night? Think about the serpent in the wilderness: The people who looked on the serpent were healed from the poison (sin) when they were bit. The serpent that was lifted up didn’t prevent them from being bit, but it provided a sure cure, if they did step on a snake and get bit.

          From the outside, it would not appear that Lot did a whole lot of struggling against sin, yet the Scriptures declare him righteous. Ditto King David, who would undoubtedly have been condemned as unregenerate by many of the reformed teachers today. Both were chastised and suffered for their sins in this life, as God promises He will discipline all of His children, but Scripture gives no indication that they are suffering punishment in eternity – quite the opposite.

          I believe a lot of this teaching comes as a reaction to the worldliness that seems to have overtaken much of the Church, but are we fighting the right fight? Is the problem easy-believism, or is it that so many in evangelical churches today are unregenerate because they haven’t heard or understood the Gospel at all? When I can read that 57% of self-identified evangelical Christians believe that there is more than one way to heaven, I tend to think the latter.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nigel
          March 12, 2013 at 1:22 am

          I agree with much of what you say, but would like to take issue with a few points:-

          1. Yes, the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to self-righteous people to show them the extent of their need and their utter inability to keep the law, but to imply
          that it has no moral and ethical relevance for the believer is quite wrong. At the end of the sermon, those who are welcomed by the Father are those who have “done the will of God”. In context, that is, they have lived the kingdom life – not as a means of justification but as the inevitable fruit of justification. This is what Paul alludes to in Rom 8:13a.

          Secondly, no one is suggesting that either David or Lot is in Hell. Lot for sure is probably one of the weakest genuine believers in the Bible, but the fruit of his faith was seen in his being vexed DAILY about the wickedness around him – how many of us even come up to that standard of basic godliness?!?

          Thirdly, I think you’re overly harsh on David. Of course he was flawed but he was faithful too and, taking his life as a WHOLE, he was clearly a man “after God’s own heart”.

          Next, future justification. I think Piper may indeed have used unhelpful language, but I think I see where he is coming from. Justify means “to declare righteous”. You and I and Piper would all agree that that takes place in the courts of heaven the moment someone truly believes in Christ. The rest of his or her life in growing terms is evidence – or display – or declaration – of that justification to the unbelieving world through a transformed life. The final declaration is by God Himself to the whole universe, as the glorious, righteous bride of Christ is displayed for all to see. This is the revealing of the sons of God (Rom 8) that all creation is waiting for!

          As far as what people are gearing is concerned, I don’t think it’s a case if either or but both and. Piper is passionate about true gospel preaching and easy believism HAS produced countless false converts. But the WHOLE counsel of God needs to be preached in our churches again and that has to include edgy, shocking preaching on all the warnings in Scripture to those who profess Christ but may not truly possess Him.

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        • theDevolutionist
          March 12, 2013 at 3:35 am

          I think we are mostly in agreement, as well.

          I didn’t mean to imply that the Law has no moral or ethical relevance to the believer, but I did mean to imply that Law-keeping is not the standard by which we are judged (those who are in Christ, that is) for entry into heaven. Just as the blood of the lamb caused the angel of death to pass over the homes of the Israelites, the blood of Christ covers the believer, rendering him or her sinless by imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

          It is not the assertion that saving faith can’t leave a person unchanged that I take exception to, it is the “unhelpful language” used by some teachers implying a coupling of works and salvation. In the specific sermon of Piper’s I referenced, he related a story of a man he had confronted over the issue of adultery who was, at the time, unwilling to end the relationship. The clear implication was that the man was probably unsaved. Neither you, nor I, nor Piper are in any position to make that judgment on the basis of external behavior. What we can and ought to do is to make sure the sinning brother or sister have properly understood the Gospel, and to exercise church discipline to prevent the sin from infecting the Church and damaging its reputation. Beyond that, we are instructed not to try and pull up the tares, but leave them until the harvest, because we are not equipped to distinguish between the tares and the wheat.

          When Peter began to sink below the waves, it was not because his initial motives were not genuine, it was because he became distracted, as all men do, by external factors and took his eyes off Christ. I believe we have too much of that going on today – some of it related to carnal living, and some of it related to an improper understanding of the role of works in the life of the believer (which is also carnality).

          In the words of Paul, we should strive only to know Christ and Him crucified.

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        • Nigel
          March 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

          Of course we enter heaven solely on the basis of Christ’s blood and imputed righteousness – that’s Piper’s position too. But if I had to counsel someone unwilling to end an adulterous relationship, I too would query the person’s salvation – how can you love Christ when by your deeds you deny Him, wilfully crucifying Him all over again (Heb 10:26)? Of course none of us is without sin, but persistent sin, unrepented of, shows the true love of one’s heart. “He who covers his sins shall not prosper, but he who confesses and RENOUNCES them finds mercy” (Prov 28:13)

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        • March 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm

          I would be very cautions about putting a “but” after the phrase “solely on the basis of Christ’s blood and imputed righteousness,” for fear that I might place myself on the dangerous ground of trying to add my own righteousness to Christ’s. Paul tells us that we are justified by faith apart from works.

          I agree that brothers and sisters in Christ should confront one another in love when we see visible evidence of unrepented sin in the life of a professed believer, and I agree that our only recourse in the face of a refusal to repent is to assume the unrepentant brother to be unsaved and to try and reach him afresh with the Gospel. But we must remember that this is the court of man, not of the Lord, who sees all things and knows all things.

          To be clear, I believe there to be error on both sides of this debate. On the extreme side of decisionism / easy-believism, we have people trying to eliminate the need for repentance. How can we come to the knowledge of our need for the Savior without first coming under conviction of sin, and of our helplessness to do right in the face of a holy and just God? On the extreme side of the lordship salvation camp, we have those who are trying to redefine repentance as visible regeneration and grace as justification on the basis of regenerated living.

          I believe that Lot provides an instructive example in showing us that the truth is different from either of these two positions. We see that Lot:

          1. spent a good deal of his life in the pursuit of material gain and earthly comfort (Lot chose to pitch his tent near Sodom – Genesis 13:12);

          2. was under conviction about the sin he exposed himself to on the basis of his decision (2 Peter 7-8); and

          3. actively responded at least one time in faith when told that he would face destruction, along with Sodom, if he chose to stay where he was (Genesis 19:23)

          What we do not see, is visible evidence that Lot lived a regenerate life after his decision. If anything, Scripture indicates the opposite. In the very next scene of Lot’s life, we see him drinking himself into a stupor and engaging in incest with his daughters – thereby fathering the wicked nations of Ammon and Moab! And yet the next words we read of Lot are God’s instructions to the Israelites to leave Moab and Ammon alone, because they are set aside for the people of Lot. Why? Because of Lot’s righteousness? No; because of God’s righteousness. This illustrates the danger we face in trying to ascertain one’s position on the basis of regeneration, rather than relying on the finished work of Christ, whose life needed no regeneration.

          Man looks on the outward appearance, but God judges the heart. Conviction is not always accompanied by action, which is why we are subject in this life to God’s discipline, including church discipline.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Bob
    April 11, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Brandon, I believe that you are correct in your statements about Piper’s view of justification. Thanks for sharing your sharp and discerning thoughts on this important matter, which many are not detecting.

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  9. Bruce Russell
    June 2, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Brandon:

    Have you considered the following:

    http://ntexegesis.blogspot.com/2010/04/in-romans-328.html

    Like

  10. October 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Brandon; have you looked over Reymond pp 1019-22? I think it goes some way to explaining and reconciling the two positions; if not entirely.

    Paul teaches that not only unbelievers but believers as well will be judged in the judgement of the Eschaton (Rom 14:10, 12; I Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10). To them who, by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality, that is, to them who do good as the fruit of a lively faith in Christ, God will grant eternal life, glory, honor, and peace. The criteria of this judgment will be their works. [reymond1020]

    He goes on to quote Murray:

    Believers are justified by faith alone and they are saved by grace alone. But two qualifications need to be added to these propositions. (a) They are never justified by a faith that is alone… [reymond1020]

    And Buchanan:

    All faithful ministers have made use of both [doctrines – a present Justification by grace, through faith alone, and a future Judgement according to works], that they might guard equally against the peril of self-righteous legalism on the one hand and of practical Antinominanism on the other [reymond1021]

    Then states:

    The issue to be determined at the final judgment with respect to believers will be, not their justification per se, but their rewards for good works as the index to and evidence of their salvation by grace through faith. [reymond2021]

    When we compare this to the offending passage from Piper, it seems little different:

    This final judgment accords with our works. That is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as the evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ. [piper, quoted in original post above]

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  11. October 27, 2011 at 4:31 am

    I love reading these thread of arguments of our brothers. I just want to give encouragement to all of you brothers. To argue for born again christians is to arrive into an agreeable and refined doctrine of the scriptures. The golden chain of redemption on Rom. 8:28-30 can help some doubts regarding justification and glorification.

    Like

  12. Paul Boone
    December 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I agree with this blog. I recently bought the John Piper collection through Logos. I have listened to a lot of the MP3’s free on the website. I have enjoyed it but got to one sermon entitled “The liberating law of the Spirit of Life” in which he basically says we must mainitain our salvation by works. I was very disappointed. Hebrews 10:14 says “for by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”. I could go on but will leave it here.

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  13. Nigel
    August 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I think Piper is exactly right, although his language is perhaps unhelpful. Passages like Rom 2 show that those who are justified will inevitably have fruit in their lives. I believe there will be a justification on the last day that is separate from present justification, but it will be GOD’s justification in the sense of His being vindicated (the way Jesus uses the word in the gospels eg wisdom is justified of all her children) – GOD will be vindicated in having saved us, because our transformed lives will be on display to the whole universe. Does anyone know of a helpful treatment of this subject? In one sense WE will be “vindicated” too – everything that we have lost, suffered, renounced, will be shown to have been worth it all on the last day! : )

    Like

  14. November 3, 2013 at 5:29 am

    I agree with your article. However, you should have provided the reference to Piper’s book with bibliographical information and page number. A link to an online article would be great, too. Piper is definitely a false teacher.

    Like

  15. November 3, 2013 at 5:30 am

    God needs no vindication, Nigel. God answers to no creature. We are not His judge. He is our Judge!

    Like

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