In a recent article and sermon John Piper dealt with his theory of salvation. This has caused much controversy, but the seriousness of this teaching by Piper is understood by relatively few within the Church. Which raises many questions about how well the modern Church understands the gospel of grace, along with the roles of justification and sanctification.
Piper’s Justification and Sanctification
In the article ‘Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?’ Piper asks a question that strikes at the very core of the gospel. When he deals with justification and sanctification he states what he believes:
- “In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
- In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.”
Up to here we have no problem as this is true. We are forensically declared righteous by faith alone, with Christ’s active and passive obedience imputed to our account, and if we have this faith that justifies then we will be sanctified and do works of ‘practical holiness.’ This is all true, but sadly there is more.
Piper’s ‘Final Salvation’
Piper has a third term for his system of soteriology and it is here where the problems arise. He says in his article:
“In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.””
This is concerning by it itself as it seems to make that fruit and that faith the basis by which we enter heaven. Could it be poorly worded?
Piper later contrasts dead faith and the faith that saves. We both agree here that a dead faith will produce no fruit and that the faith that justifies will produce fruit. Here Piper and I agree.
Our fruit does not in any way contribute to our salvation, but it proves that our salvation is genuine. The justification in James 2:24 is declarative only of a justification that is already a reality but Piper makes the fruit a means to attaining something separate from our actual justification. ‘Final Salvation’ may as well be called a ‘Second Justification’, and it is one dependant on extra conditions apart from faith alone.
“Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.” [Underlining mine]
Works or fruits are necessarily present in a converted believer in which salvation has already begun, but they are not necessary in order to attain heaven or any other part of our salvation, as John Brown of Haddington stated:
“Sanctification is not necessary in order to found our right of access to Christ as a Saviour, –or to be the ground of our claim to his righteousness, or of our interest in the judicial favour of God, or title to everlasting happiness”
–John Brown of Hadddington’s Systematic Theology, Pg. 399.
The sentence ‘we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone’ makes it extremely clear that he is speaking of the means of attaining, if we are to give any value to human language at all.
But again, could this just be poorly worded? However, this is serious enough by itself and not something to overlook, even if it were the case that his explanations are confusing and contradictory.
This looks more unlikely as we see statements like this:
“So faith alone doesn’t mean the same thing when applied to justification, sanctification, and final salvation.”
Other Conditions for Heaven
In Piper’s sermon, from which this article is taken, he stated:
“Love, the fruit of faith, is the necessary confirmation that we have faith and are alive. We won’t enter heaven until we have it.” [Underlining mine]
Are there extra conditions, after we have entered by faith alone (Piper’s ‘Justification’), to attain a righteous standing before God on the final day (called the ‘Final Salvation’ by Piper)? What else can be deduced but that this is another gospel? What else can we deduced but that our standing on the final day depends on our sanctification? This is heresy and a false gospel of which the Reformed Church used to preach against.
“But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.” [Underlining mine]
So we must conclude that a right standing with God is simply a starting point and that our works must be the difference between those who enter into heaven, and those who do not!
So what are these ‘other conditions’?
“Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and power ours through faith. And in union with Christ, faith is living and active with Christ’s power.
Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but . . . a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God.” [Underlining mine]
Did you see that? Piper says that ‘inherent righteousness’ is ‘required for heaven’! How is this different from Rome’s gospel which preaches an infused righteousness of the believers is required for the last day? Sure the terminology is slightly different, but the conditions are more Roman Catholic than they are Protestant!
J. Gresham Machen wrote:
“If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin.”
Desiring God Denies Salvation by Faith Alone
You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing your sin. https://t.co/xSsHQfrLgK
— Desiring God (@desiringGod) October 14, 2017
Could it now be any more blatant? Greg Morse who wrote the article in the link stated that:
“But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.”
This teaching is very similar to the teaching of Norman Shepherd who had to leave Westminster Theological Seminary following great controversy over his corruption of the gospel. Here are some brief statements of Shepherd, taken from his Thirty-four Thesis on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance and Good Works:
“The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification. but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgement of the last day (Matthew 7:21-33; 25:31-46; Hebrews 12:14) (Thesis 22).
[G]ood works … though not the ground of [the believer’s] justification, are nevertheless necessary for justification (Thesis 23).” [Underlining mine]
Source: O. Palmer Robertson, The Current Justification Controversy, Pg. 34-35
This ‘justification in the judgement of the last day’ is identical to Piper’s ‘final salvation’ in which ‘inherent righteousness’ is ‘required for heaven’. While the terminology is different, the message is the same as Shepherd’s.
What did prominent and respect ministers of the day say about Shepherd’s teaching:
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “[Mr. Shepherd’s] teaching is a subtle form of legalism and eventually is “another gospel.””
William Hendriksen: “As I see it, we must choose between Shepherd’s view and that of Paul.”
Source: Ibid., Pg. 48-49
Similar evaluations came from men like R.C. Sproul, Iain Murray and Roger Nicole.
Mark Jones’ Defence of Piper
The defence of Piper reveals other problems and inconsistencies within today’s Reformed Church. It reveals the fact that much of the Reformed community sees no problem with saying works are ‘necessary for attaining heaven’, rather than the true expression of how works are necessarily present in the believer as the evidence or proof of a salvation already begun. Good fruit does not make a tree good, but good fruit comes from a good tree.
“Piper speaks of good works as necessary for attaining heaven. Reformed theologians have spoken of good works as necessary for possessing heaven. In my mind, that’s the same thing. And, quite frankly, I think that’s the better approach rather than causing unnecessary division where there really doesn’t need to be any.”
So in Mark Jones’ mind ‘attaining’ is the same as ‘possessing’. Attaining means ‘to reach or succeed in getting something’, while possessing means ‘to have or own something’. However, at least the Westminster Standards are clear on the role of good works:
“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.”
Source: Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 26:2
Jones contradicts himself in the same article:
“Piper affirms strongly and clearly that works do not contribute to the acquisition of salvation. But Piper also wants to affirm that good works should be considered necessary for the obtaining of salvation.”
However ‘acquire’ (the verb for ‘acquisition’) is a synonym of ‘obtain’. So what does Piper believe? Does he believe two completely contradictory statements? Works do not contribute but they are also necessary? I am glad that is not true, otherwise the gospel of grace would be terribly confusing but for a few elite academics.
“I keep referring to this distinction, namely, the right to life versus the possession of life. If you do not have a thorough acquaintance with this distinction you have no business writing critical blog pieces on this topic.”
Which is odd because he states that Piper is speaking ‘of good works as necessary for attaining heaven’ but ‘Reformed theologians have spoken of good works as necessary for possessing heaven’ in 2015. Does Jones actually care about this distinction at all as he stated in 2015 that ‘attaining’ (right) and ‘possessing’ are the same thing in his mind? (To be clear I do not agree with Mark Jones and I am concerned with the views he has shared.)
“Here’s the problem for these critics of Piper. This isn’t really a problem. And if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.””
So one cannot bring up any objection of heresy, it seems, unless you are educated enough to agree with Mark Jones and John Piper.
“To our knowledge, no one has actually proven that the Reformed authors quoted and Piper are saying different things.”
“Piper speaks of good works as necessary for attaining heaven [right]. Reformed theologians have spoken of good works as necessary for possessing heaven [possession].”
Does this not contradict his own claim? Is this not the basis of his own defence of Piper? If his 2015 article is correct then Piper is teaching something different from these ‘Reformed theologians’, and this is by his own admission. If there is no difference then why bring up this ‘distinction’ at all? Should we believe Jones’ arguments from 2015 or from 2017? Which side of Jones’ own contradictions are worthy of believing?
Can you imagine how much this will benefit the average person in the pew? Yes, Jones and Piper have, at best, caused great confusion among God’s people.
This is the gospel we are speaking of, and not ‘making a mountain out of a molehill‘ as some might claim! Galatians 1:6-9 is clear how serious we are to treat a false gospel but many are unwilling to even entertain the idea that an organisation like Desiring God could possibly be preaching a false gospel when they openly deny faith alone by writing: “But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not.”
Are we allowed to use the scriptures and even the confessions of the Reformed faith to show when the gospel has been corrupted? If some have their way only those who can ‘carefully examine, in Latin, the language of Twisse‘ can raise any objection. The confessions are no longer enough to settle disputes, according to some.
It is the duty of every Christian to share the gospel and to study the gospel. It is our duty to stand for the truth when we can do so.
What does John Piper himself say about the seriousness of corrupting the gospel, as described in Galatians 1?
“Paul is calling down God’s curse upon people who are directing people away from the Curse-Remover, and it makes him furious that people in the name of Jesus would direct people away from the Curse-Remover — the Curse-Bearer, the Substitution, and the One who takes on all the wrath for us. So he’s really angry, and he’s calling down God’s damnation upon those who would direct people away from the Damnation-Remover.”
How charitable should we be with something that poisons the body of Christ with a works salvation? Maybe we should listen to the Apostle Paul here:
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
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