Saturday, September 19, 2015

Piper: Salvation by faith alone and just a little bit more?

John Piper writes concerning how one is made right with God in the forward to a new book by Thomas Schreiner. Now this excerpt may just be the result of a poorly expressed thought concerning justification and salvation. But it is worrisome. Does he understand what the words faith alone mean?
The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. 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. 
“We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” 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.
J. Gresham Machen responded emphatically to Piper 92 years ago in Christianity and Liberalism:
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. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.
And over 450 years ago John Calvin weighed in with his more comprehensive rebuttal in his commentary on Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship,created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
For by grace are ye saved... This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us...
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle's words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God's work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul's argument would have no force. He means to prove that man does not in any way procure salvation for himself, but obtains it as a free gift from God. The proof is, that man is nothing but by divine grace. Whoever, then, makes the very smallest claim for man, apart from the grace of God, allows him, to that extent, ability to procure salvation.
Could these be Antinomian musings or are Machen's and Calvin's words fairly understood to be the Gospel proper - the power of salvation unto everyone who believes - in Christ alone? 

Update:  John Calvin just called this in from his Institutes of Christian Religion. He felt the need to add an exclamation point to his previous words:
When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutes portion of it from any other quarter...
Hence the Scriptures make the sum of our salvation to consist in the removal of all enmity, and our admission into favor; thus intimating, that when God is reconciled all danger is past, and every thing good will befall us. Wherefore, faith apprehending the love of God has the promise both of the present and the future life, and ample security for all blessings, (Ephesians 2:14.)


  1. You and Scott Clark are all right in my book! Nothing more important than being NOW legally identified with Christ's death and therefore ALREADY "in Christ".

    Romans 3:2 7 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law?By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.....Romans 4: 4 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But to the one who does NOT WORK, but BELIEVES ON HIM who declares the ungodly to be righteous, the object of his faith is credited for righteousness.
    Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we HAVE BEEN declared righteous THROUGH FAITH , we HAVE peace with God THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We HAVE also obtained access through Him THROUGH FAITH into this grace in which we stand, and we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God.....11 And not only that, but we also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have NOW received this reconciliation through Him.

    1. Romans 5:2 we have also obtained "ACCESS" THROUGH faith INTO grace in which we stand...

      And the same is in Ephesians 2:8
      By Grace "through" faith

      Meaning faith is the means of how you have been given God's undeserved favor as a gift and the gift of his righteousness

      Faith is trusting God's Word to be true while sin is the opposite. A depraved enslaved person does not have the ability to act according to his own will but can believe another if promised freedom without claiming that is his own "work" or "ability" to obtain this freedom. When we trust God's Word concerning His Son we become believers and are given grace. Sinners are "dead" meaning separated from fellowship with God but does not mean they cannot hear the Word of God. God spoke to Abraham and he trusted God "believed" God and that was counted to him as righteousness. When we believe we are given a gift of "life" fellowship with God.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. (1) What does it mean to "obtain" ACCESS "into" grace THROUGH faith? (Romans 5:2). (2) I thought faith is given to us as a gift after we are regenerated? [Brought back to life from being spiritually "dead"
      -separated from fellowship with God. (3) Is it possible that though while being spiritually "dead" [separated from fellowship] we are still able to hear God's Word concerning his Son and trust it [believing Him]?

  2. Calvin, in 1547, replying to the (Roman) Council of Trent---

    I besides hold that justification is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude? (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).

  3. ANY presumed whole or partial route to final acceptance with God other than and only the finished work of Christ on the cross, his death and resurrection, is a works-righteousness regime which Scripture clearly teaches is out of reach for sinful man. Christ came to save sinners, not to help believers become more righteous in order to be saved.

  4. Good stuff, I need to visit this site more often

  5. It's interesting, I read the emphasis on "not" in the last paragraph of the quote.

    "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."

    As in he is referring to justification as - required for heaven/right standing with God. To take a quote out of context of the message, and on a page where emphasis is unclear seems unfair. Especially to make a jump and attack a man's character and personal ministry.

    1. Piper answers your question:

      "In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven...:

      That in essence is the teaching of Rome, i.e. 'inherent righteousness' is required for final justification, a two-part process: Christ's works and your works...

    2. Paul's golden chain in Romans 8:

      29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

      That is Gospel, good news without caveats or fine print conditions...

  6. Psalm 24:3
    Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
    Psalm 68:18
    You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
    John 1:51
    And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
    John 3:13
    No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
    John 6:62
    What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
    Acts 2:34
    For David did not ascend into the heavens
    Romans 10: 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).

  7. dear unknown, so have you taken the time to read Piper's introduction in context? Consider this sermon in which John Piper attempts to use Romans 8:2 to teach both justification apart from works and justification by works:

    John Piper—-Now I want to stop and make sure that you are hearing what I believe the Scripture is saying, because it is not commonly said, but our lives hang on it. There is a real sense in which our justification depends on our sanctification. There is a sense in which whether we are acquitted before God depends on whether the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death.

    But how can this be? The sentence of “not guilty” has already been given, and it was given to those who have faith. How then can I say that the past sentence of “not guilty” is dependent on the present process of sanctification? And how can I say that to experience justification one must not only have faith but also be freed by the Spirit from the power of sin?

    1) The faith to which justification is promised is not merely a single decision to acknowledge Christ’s lordship and accept him as Savior. The faith by which we are justified is an ongoing life of faith. When we read Romans 4 and James 2 carefully we see that Abraham believed God’s promise and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was justified by his faith. But then we notice that the illustrations of this faith in Romans 4 and James 2 are not merely its first act in Genesis 12 that caused Abraham to leave the land of Ur and follow God to Canaan, but also Abraham’s faith in God’s later promise in Genesis 15 to make his own son his heir, and the faith in Genesis 22 that enabled him to almost sacrifice his only son, Isaac. In other words, when Paul and James think of the faith by which Abraham was justified they think not merely of his initial belief but of his ongoing life of faith. Therefore Paul says in Colossians 1:21–23,

    And you who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, IF INDEED YOU REMAIN IN FAITH stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.

    Or as he says in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2: I preached to you the gospel which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, IF YOU HOLD IT FAST—unless you believed in vain.
    We are justified not ALONE by that initial reception of the gospel but by an ongoing life of faith.

    2) Second, the coming of the Holy Spirit into a person’s life and the working of the Spirit to liberate that life from the law of sin and death always accompany genuine faith and there is no other way to have it….To live by faith and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit are the same thing, viewed from two different angles.

    Paul says in Romans 8:14, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” . One must believe in Christ to be God’s child; one must be led by the Spirit to be God’s child. And these are not two conditions but one, for it is by faith that God supplies to us the Spirit, and it is by a life of faith he works miracles among us.

    Now with these two insights I think we can solve our earlier problem. On the one hand Romans 5:1 says we have been justified by faith. . Freedom from condemnation is made conditional upon the work of the Holy Spirit freeing me from sin.

    May no one react and say, O, that cannot be. All you have to do is believe in Christ as Savior; you don’t have to overcome sin by the power of the Spirit. That error cheapens faith, contradicts the teaching of Romans 8:1, 2, and runs the risk of hearing Jesus say on the judgment day: Depart from me, you evildoers, I never knew you.

    You don’t want to believe in a Christ who makes no difference in your life, do you? Who wants a Jesus who is so nothing that all he can produce is a people who think, feel, and act just like the world? We don’t want that.

  8. I'm confused, are we drawing a line between what Calvin said in Ephesians and what he said in James? Namely, " We, indeed, allow that *good works are required for righteousness*; we only take away from them the power of conferring righteousness, because they cannot stand before the tribunal of God."

    1. Hello Anon...

      Not at all, Calvin from James 2:21:

      "When, therefore, the Sophists set up James against Paul, they go astray through the ambiguous meaning of a term. When Paul says that we are justified by faith, he means no other thing than that by faith we are counted righteous before God. But James has quite another thing in view, even to shew that he who professes that he has faith, must prove   the reality of his faith by his works. Doubtless James did not mean to teach us here the ground on which our hope of salvation ought to rest; and it is this alone that Paul dwells upon."

      Calvin is simply saying what James is saying and is agreeable with Paul. A faith in Christ (his death and resurrection) that justifies is a faith that receives the righteousness of Christ and will bring forth works that give evidence of that faith. But those good works have no inherent righteousness. They are acceptable on the basis of Christ's finished work on the behalf of the believer (WCF 16:5-6). Even our best works fall short of the perfection of the law and are only accepted by God because of the Mediator's cleansing blood. As the Reformers taught:

      "Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit."

      Piper is saying we need inherent righteousness (an impossibility in this life as even our good works are stain with the remnant of sin), i.e. works that have an inherent righteousness are "required to enter heaven." This is what Machen and Calvin are saying is not of the gospel. Do we need good works in order to enter heaven? Only inasmuch as they show forth, by the grace of God, a lively faith in Christ alone for one's salvation.

      More Calvin on this topic:


    2. Concerning Obedience of believers (1)

      Concerning Obedience of believers (3)

  9. A good essay related to this topic by John Fonville:

  10. Walter Marshall---"Protestants generally acknowledge, that good works are the way in which we are to walk to the enjoyment and possession of the glory of Christ, though a title to Christ and His glorious salvation be freely given us without any procuring condition of works...We then conclude that holiness in this life is absolutely necessary to salvation, not only as a means to the end, but by a nobler kind of necessity, as part of the end itself.

    Though we are not saved by good works, as procuring causes, yet we are saved to good works, as fruits and effects of saving grace, which God has prepared that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). It is, indeed, one part of our salvation to be delivered from the bondage of the covenant of works; but the end of this is, not that we may have liberty to sin (which is the worst of slavery) but that we may fulfil the royal law of liberty, and that we may serve in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Gal. 5:13; Rom. 7: 6).

    Yea, holiness in this life is such a part of our salvation as is a necessary means to make us suitable to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in heavenly light and glory; without holiness we can never see God (Heb. 12:14), and are as unfit for the glorious presence as swine for the presence chamber of an earthly prince." (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification)

  11. Piper states that "inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven." Sorry in this life the inherent righteousness of the most holy believer falls short of the Law. To say that God accepts our imperfect obedience is true - but ONLY because of the blood of Christ not because of inherent righteousness. So the path of obedience is indeed the necessary fruit or evidence of justifying faith, but that obedience is far from inherent righteousness as measured by the only standard God measure righteousness - his Law and is accepted on ly for the sake or virtue of Christ.

    Paul states it well in Eph. 2:6-9, "For by grace you have been SAVED through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Not a result of works means saved through faith alone. That's Calvin's interpretation. And Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace."

    If attaining heaven is a product of my obedience plus grace (inherent righteousness) and my faith alone (reckoned righteousness), then Paul has it wrong.

  12. We were warned in 2002:

    1. It turns out that Piper’s “future grace,” which is to be the focus of our faith, is subjective, infused grace. “Future grace” is not an attribute or quality of God; it is not the unmerited favor of God.

      “Future grace” is “grace” that God will infuse into us; and it is this subjective “grace” that is to be the focus of our faith. Piper writes: “....the heart-strengthening power that comes from the Holy virtually the same as what I mean by future grace” (69).

      Piper shifts the focus of our faith from the objective, historical Christ to our present, subjective experience; from the meritorious, alien work of Christ outside of us to our own works, done by the power of the Holy Spirit; from the perfect, objective, imputed righteousness of Christ to our imperfect, subjective righteousness; from the life and death of Christ in history to what the Holy Spirit is doing and will do in our lives. “And this faith in future grace,” Piper pontificates, “is the faith through which we are justified” (191).

      ~ John Robbins ~
      (Page #s in Future Grace)

    2. Then, from Robbins on Piper:

      It is not faith in the finished and effective work of Christ on the cross, but faith in “future grace,” which Piper has defined as “the power that comes from the Holy Spirit,” that justifies the sinner. Piper approv-ingly quotes his mentor, Daniel Fuller:

      A faith that only looks back to Christ’s death and resurrection is not sufficient.....

      Forgiveness for the Christian also depends on having....a futuristic faith in God’s promises. Thus we cannot regard justifying faith as sufficient if it honors only the past fact of Christ’s death and resurrection but does not honor the future promises of God...


  13. "Salvation by faith alone" or "saved by faith alone" does not exist in the Scriptures. Justification by Faith, yes; but Salvation through faith. Scriptures is pretty scrupulous on this point. Romans 5:9-10 makes distinction between Justification and Salvation. Therefore you must do likewise. You must reconcile the following.

    Nothing, beyond trusting in the person and work of Christ Jesus in the Atonement, is necessary for Justification. However, practicable, active trust in all these other elements of the Christian walk becomes necessary for Salvation (in order to endure to the end with faith even in the Justification scheme intact). How then can we add conditions to Salvation, without them practicably being or being perceived as adding legal conditions to Justification?

    At least John Piper recognizes the problem.

  14. John,
    A oouple links for further reading to help define things as we talk about the role of faith and the role of works in our salvation:

  15. It has been my experience that most people in America who claim to be Reformed are under the influence of Richard Baxter’s teachings. Thankful for my Irish and Scottish friends who
    hold to Reformed theology and have taught me good stuff. #AmericanEvangelicalismConfused

    1. Dr. Smith, thank you for bringing up the Baxterization of the American "Reformed" tradition. I hadn't even thought of that link!

  16. I don't agree with your assessment on this one Jack, which is a rare thing. I think sometimes in our efforts to be discerning we are a little too wary and tend to read in to things what is not really the intent. That I think is the case here as I really don't see Piper teaching that one needs an inherent righteousness stemming from ourselves, but that any righteousness we do have, positionally in and practically is in Christ and solely due to the workings of grace for and in us. I would like to see this brought up to Piper and see if he is able to provide some clarification on the point, but I clearly don't think he is in any way using the term "inherent righteousness" in the Roman Catholic sense which is their basis for justification.

    1. Hi Lee,
      Thanks for your thoughts. My concern is not necessarily on the use of the phrase 'inherent righteousness' but the notion that believers attain the right to heaven with something of us, i.e. love and obedience plus faith in Christ. And that one truly justified by grace through faith alone in Christ has yet another step or condition to meet in order to attain heaven is troublesome at best.

      "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." - Piper

      "Another way to say it would be that in all the acts of saving faith the Holy Spirit enables us not only to perceive and affirm factual truth, but also to apprehend and embrace spiritual beauty. It is the “embracing of spiritual beauty” that is the essential core of saving faith. And this embrace is what will shape our lives most deeply and receive the “well done” at the Last Day." - Piper

      By including our subjective experience and or piety into the the definition of a faith that truly saves I think Piper undermines a true faith that rests on Christ alone as he is offered in the gospel.

      WCF 14:2 -
      But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

  17. John Piper has been making these kinds of statements for years but since his nebulous Christian Hedonism and his sanctimonious preaching style got him Sainted by Reformed Baptist sycophants, this is just now becoming news?
    But thanks for the post since it should always be news until he corrects himself.

  18. Piper and his "Christian" Hedonism, New Calvinists and the likes of Keller, Chandler, et al, all tend towards this kind of theology.

    This is why we see the social gospel creeping into so called reformed churches.

    It's rather disheartening to see the Reformation being rolled back by these imposters.

  19. Jack-
    I hear Sproul, MacArthur and their friends say the same thing as Piper is saying. How is this really any different than Roman Catholicism? Hope you are a Chicago and Herb Alpert fan as well!

    1. I'm not sure about recently, but MacArthur's preaching on Lordship could be misconstrued as being like this. That said, he typically states that justification is evidenced by sanctification, not that our works are required for justification. At least, that's what I've heard from him over the years.

      I've never heard anything even close to "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." or "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."

      Has he made some recent statements? It has been a while since I listened to him regularly.

      And you're right, this does sound extremely close to the papist position. Almost exactly like NT Wright, IMO. Granted, he never explicitly links it to final justification.

  20. Johm MacArthur, in all the years I've read and listened to him, has always maintained a clear distinction between what John Piper is describing as meritorious infused future Grace and the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance. Piper's appeal to future grace is all his.

    Sproul Sr., has been close to that careful but John Piper has been making it up as he goes, so to speak.

    His paternalism does him in at every turn. It is utterly amazing the number of so-called notable Evangelical men are simply spineless or maybe, simply rutterless,in dealing with Piper's soul crushing crap which is hidden within normal orthodox expression he also offers.

  21. Before you all get your shorts in a bunch, you need to read this...

  22. Alex Guggenheim is spot on here—

    "John Piper has been making these kinds of statements for years but since his nebulous Christian Hedonism and his sanctimonious preaching style got him Sainted by Reformed Baptist sycophants, this is just now becoming news?"

    Here are a few more people who have pointed out that Piper has a defective gospel.

    Rachel Miller—

    Brad Mason stands with Rachel Miller—

    Ps Sam Powell puts Ps Mark Jones on the carpet for dissing Rachel Miller—

    Ps Jeff Crippen (ages ago) wrote a series of posts about Piper's Works Righteousness—
    Part one here: