Does John Piper Believe in Salvation by Works?

The issue is: “Does Piper reject Reformed orthodoxy regarding salvation by faith alone?”

Reformed confessions’ teaching on salvation by faith alone, if Piper answered these questions: 1. Does justification received now in this world by faith declare not only God’s present verdict but what shall be his final verdict regarding his people? 2. Can justification, once declared, be revoked? 3. Will any who are justified in this age be judged as unjust before God by Christ, the Judge, at the last day? 

 

Attention has been called to a recent (September 26) article by John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone? In this short article, Piper asserts:

  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outsideof us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • 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.”

Piper goes on to say:

(Paul) said in Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The only kind of faith that counts for justification is the kind that produces love — the kind that bears the fruit of love. The faith which alone justifies is never alone, but always bearing transforming fruit.

I think what lights the fire here is Piper’s contention that the five solas (Scripture alone, grace alone, Christ alone, faith alone, the glory of God alone) should be understood as relating to justification and not to the whole of salvation (justification-adoption-sanctification-good works-glorification).

Only after justification can the five prepositional phrases follow and do their magnificent work to define and protect the gospel from all unbiblical dilution. We are justified by God by grace alone; on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone; through the means, or instrument, of faith alone; for the ultimate glory of God alone; as taught with final and decisive authority in Scripture alone.” All five phrases serve to modify God’s work of justification — how sinners gain a right standing with God so that he is one hundred percent for us and not against us.

I am not sure that Piper’s take on the solas is entirely correct. I might quibble with him particularly on “grace alone” and “Scripture alone.” But that is not the issue. The issue is, “Does Piper reject Reformed orthodoxy regarding salvation by faith alone?”

One writer has taken issue with Piper’s article as evidence that he does not hold to the Reformation doctrine of salvation by faith alone. This article has itself received some push back, but another writer has come to the defense of the criticism of Piper.

Let me confess several things:

  1. I am not a theologian (except in the sense of being a “student of God”) nor an historian (except in the sense that I have read and know some history). Put simply, I am not qualified to teach theology or church history in a college or seminary.
  2. I have read very little of John Piper. I did hear him speak quite a few years ago at the old Pensacola Theological Institute, and I found him “too mystical” for me. I felt like the student who asks, “Teacher, have I got it?” to which the teacher answers, “Not yet, my student, but don’t give up.”
  3. While I think that Piper basically holds to the consensus of traditional evangelicalism on the matter of women, there are some things he has said that seem bizarre to me. I do not agree with him on these “fringe” views.
  4. I have not been in agreement with those I term “the obedience boys.” I have often said and more often thought that, if I am not saved by the work Christ did for me outside of me, and if Romans 7:14ff is not a description of the experience of a regenerate man, then I will not see glory.
  5. I am an Anglican. Before I became a sincere Anglican I was a Presbyterian who took seriously covenant theology and Reformed sacramentology. That is to say: I am not a Baptist. For me the great divide between Piper and me is that he is a Baptist and I am a Reformed Anglican.

But, with regard to Piper, I think the issue could be clarified and perhaps resolved for those who hold to the Reformed confessions’ teaching on salvation by faith alone, if Piper answered these questions:

  1. Does justification received now in this world by faith declare not only God’s present verdict but what shall be his final verdict regarding his people?
  2. Can justification, once declared, be revoked?
  3. Will any who are justified in this age be judged as unjust before God by Christ, the Judge, at the last day?

If Piper should answer these first of these questions in the positive and the next two in the negative, then I think that he holds to Reformed orthodoxy on the matter of salvation by faith alone through grace alone.

After all, it is taken as almost a Protestant-Evangelical-Reformed truism that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” And, we do have to wrestle with what the Apostle meant when he wrote:

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

William H. Smith is a minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church; he lives in Water Valley, Miss. This article is used with permission.