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).
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.
For Further Reading:
- Mark Seifrid: Piper Nearly Tridentine on Justification
- John Gill: The Necessity of Good Work Unto Salvation Considered
- J.V. Fesko: Paul on Justification and the Final Judgment
- Rick Phillips: Five Arguments Against a Future Justification According to Works
- Rick Phillips: Judgment of Believers in the Westminster Standards
- John Robbins: Pied Piper