I have posted elsewhere regarding John Piper’s “future” justification. If you read Piper’s writings on the topic, he leans very heavily on the idea that the phrase “according to” means something completely different than the phrase “on the basis of” when it comes to our works and justification. He has to lean heavily, because without such a distinction he is guilty of muddying the gospel.
Here is how he argues in his book The Future of Justification:
Now we are in a better position to comment on Romans 2:13 where Paul says, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Again, as we saw with verses 6–11, Paul does not say how being a “doer of the law” functions in relation to being justified at the last day. At least the same four possibilities that I mentioned above exist, plus one more: Doing the law could be (1) the basis of justification in a meritorious way; or (2) it could be the basis as Spirit-wrought fruits of faith; or (3) it could be, not the basis, but the evidence and confirmation of faith in another basis, namely, Christ who cancels the debt of all sin; or, extending that last possibility beyond forgiveness, (4) it could also be the evidence and confirmation of faith in Christ as the one in whom not only forgiveness but also divine righteousness is counted as ours. Or (5) Paul could be stating a principle that he affirms but that he believes never comes to pass for sinful people. Thus, John Stott says, “This is a theoretical or hypothetical statement, of course, since no human being has ever fully obeyed the law (cf. 3:20).”
What is not said in verse 13 is that people are justified “by works.” Paul does not use the phrase ej x e[ rgwn (“from works”), which I take to be roughly what is usually meant by the English phrase “on the basis of works,” as opposed to the phrase “according to works” (kata; ta; e[ rga auj tou` ).*** Paul is clear that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Rather, he says, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Does this mean that the statement “It is . . . the doers of the law who will be justified” (v. 13) only expresses a principle of doing over against hearing so as to remove the objection that the Gentiles don’t have access to “hearing”?
Given the demands of the flow of the argument in Romans 2:6–16 which we saw above, I doubt that we can press this statement very far for the defense of justification by works. Paul makes a statement that in this context functions as a principle (doing, not hearing, will matter at the judgment), rather than a declaration about how that doing relates to justification—let alone whether the doing of Christ may supply what our doing lacks. The verse was not written to carry that much freight. However, the verse does raise the question that must be answered: How does the obedience of the Christian relate to his justification?
***[footnote] Wherever the phrase ej x e[ rgwn is connected to justification in Paul, the point is that justification does not happen this way. Rom. 3:20; 9:11, 32; 11:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:2, 5, 19; Eph. 2:9; Titus 3:5. In Matthew 12:37 and James 2:21, 24–25, justification is said to happen “by your words” (ej k . . . tw` n lov gwn sou) or “by works” (ej x e[ rgwn). Other contextual factors incline me to take Jesus and James to mean not that justification is “based on” our deeds the way our justification is “based on” Christ as our righteousness, but rather that our deeds confirm our faith in Jesus so that he remains the sole basis of our acceptance with God, in the sense that his death alone covers our sins and his righteousness alone provides all the obedience that God requires of us for God to be totally for us—the perfect righteousness implicitly required in the phrase, “God counts righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). It is likely that Matthew and James are using the word dikaiov w differently than Paul is (just as Matthew and Paul use kalev w differently, Matt. 22:14; Rom. 8:30). So, James and Matthew may also be appropriating the phrase “from works” differently than Paul. While Paul chooses to never employ that phrase in reference either to present justification or future judgment, James and Matthew, without differing from Paul conceptually, employ a phrase that Paul wouldn’t to say something (conceptually) that Paul would. I am not saying that there are distinct and uniform usages of the two phrases ej x e[ rgwn and kata; ta; e[ rga. The latter can carry the sense of “on the basis of” at times, though not always. Therefore, we must draw our conclusions concerning Paul’s understanding of the function of works in relation to justification not merely from the phrases themselves, but from the wider teaching of the apostle as well.
How I See Works Relating to Justification
Let me declare myself clearly here: I believe in the necessity of a trans- formed life of obedience to Jesus by the power of the Spirit through faith as a public evidence and confirmation of faith at the Last Day for all who will finally be saved. In other words, I believe it is actually true, not just hypothetically true, that God “will render to each one accord- ing to his works [ta; e[ rga auj tou` ]: to those who by patience in well- doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom. 2:6–7). I take the phrase “according to” (kata; ) in a sense different from “based on.” I think the best way to bring together the various threads of Paul’s teaching on justification by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28; 4:4–6; 11:6; Eph. 2:8) is to treat the necessity of obedience not as any part of the basis of our justification, but strictly as the evidence and confirmation of our faith in Christ whose blood and righteousness is the sole basis of our justification. How this is the case, while justification is by faith alone apart from any basis in that very obedience, has been one of the main themes of my preaching and writing for the last thirty years.***
***[footnote] See most fully my extended treatment of this issue in The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1995). See also “The Pleasure of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice,” in John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000, orig. 1991), 233–257; “Fighting for Joy Like a Justified Sinner,” in When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 71–94; What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), especially 174–180, 242–248; “Letter to a Friend Concerning the So-Called Lordship Salvation,” http://www.desiringGod.org/ResourceLibrary/ Articles/ByDate/1990/1496_Letter_to_a_Friend_Concerning_the_SoCalled_Lordship_Salvation/
So you can see what a lynchpin Piper’s interpretation of “according to” is. You can access the PDF from the link above to read more on pp 116-120.
However, Piper’s interpretation of the phrase “according to” does not stand the test, and as a result, his view of the final judgment has serious problems.
Richard Gaffin tries to argue, on the basis of the grammar involved in a similar Pauline statement, that works are not the ground of judgment: “It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe, that in Romans 2:6 Paul writes, ‘according (kata) to works,’ not ‘on account of (dia),’ expressing the ground, nor ‘by (ek) works,’ expressing the instrument” (By Faith, Not By Sithgt [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006], 98-99; similarly, Venema, Gospel, 266). Though Gaffin’s comment concerns Paul’s statement in Romans 2:6, at the same time we find the same prepositional combination with the accusative in John’s statement in Revelation 20:12e, the only difference being in the use of the singular and plural pronouns (cf. Rom 2:6). Gaffin argues this point because he wants to preserve sola fide in the judgment of the works of the believer. Relying upon the analysis of Ridderbos and Murray, Gaffin’s finer point is that the judgment kata works is “in accordance with” the works, and such works are synecdochical for faith in Christ (see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard de Witt [1975; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 178-81; Murray, Romans, 78-79).
Yet can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone? The use of “dia” with the accusative means “because of, on account of,” and the use of “kata” with the accusative means “in accordance with, corresponding to” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 368-69, 376-77). One must ask, what difference exists between the two? In fact, when we delve more deeply into the significance of “kata” with the accusative, we find that “often the noun that follows kata specifies the criterion, standard, or norm in the light of which a statement is made or is true, an action is performed, or a judgment is passed. The prep. will mean ‘according to’, ‘in conformity with’, ‘corresponding to.’ This use is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied at the great Assize (Matt. 16:27; Rom 2:6; 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev 2:23)” (Murray J. Harris, “Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in NIDNTT, 3:1200). Pace Gaffin and Venema, their argument apparently fails to account for judgment kata works for the wicked. This point seems to be borne out by Paul’s own use of kata, as he says, “He will render each one according to [kata] his works” (Rom. 2:6), but this rendering kata works is for both the righteous (v. 7) and the wicked (v. 8). According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but are they not the ground of their condemnation (see 2 Cor. 11:15)? Again, note how Paul uses kata: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [to de ergazomeno ho misthos ou logizetai kata charin alla kata opheilema]” (Rom 4:4; see also Brian Vickers, Jesus Blood and Righteousness [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006] 95; Yinger, Paul, 21-26, 89-90, 135-136, 175, 182, 186). Judgment therefore is indeed kata (in accordance with, or on the basis of) works – the evil works of the unbeliever and the good works, or righteousness, of Christ.
“Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” p. 315