Why We Remember The Reformation (Part 3)

“God’s verdict of not guilty and his imputing of his own righteousness to us at the beginning of the Christian life is by faith alone… that’s how we get started. James is answering the question ‘does the ongoing and final reckoning of Abraham’s righteousness depend on works as the necessary evidence of true and living faith?’ James’ answer to that question is ‘Yes.’ And Paul’s answer is also ‘Yes.’ Gen 15:6. If you ask them, ‘Does justification as an ongoing and final right standing with God depend on the works of love?’ …So when Paul renounces ‘justification by works’ he renounces the view that anything we do along with faith is credited to us as righteousness. Only faith obtains the verdict, ‘not guilty,’ when we become Christians. Works are not acceptable in the moment of initial justification. But when James affirms ‘justification by works’ he means that works are absolutely necessary in the ongoing life of a Christian to confirm and prove the reality of the faith which justifies..…For James, ‘justification by works’ means “maintaining a right standing with God by faith along with the necessary evidence of faith, namely the works of love.”

John Piper “Does James Contradict Paul?”(8 August 1999) (HT: Angela Werner for the sermon transcription).

10.3 We believe that this persevering, future-oriented, Christ-embracing, heart-satisfying faith is life-transforming, and therefore renders intelligible the teaching of the Scripture that final salvation in the age to come depends on the transformation of life, and yet does not contradict justification by faith alone. The faith which alone justifies, cannot remain alone, but works through love.

Bethlehem Baptist Church, Elder Affirmation Of Faith

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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15 comments

    • Faith working through love is Scripture. Faith formed by love is Rome. The problem is, there is a great temptation to construe “working through” as if it means “formed by.”

      See Bob Godfrey’s essay in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

      Further, “get in by grace and stay in by works” (cooperation with grace) is certainly Roman. Talk of “maintaining justification” is a repudiation of the Reformation.

      True faith does work through love because it unites the believer to Christ because the Spirit works sanctity in those whom he unites to Christ. That sanctity is a gracious consequence of salvation and good works are the necessary consequence of sanctification.

    • Thanks Dr. Clark. I misunderstood what he meant by faith working through love. I believe I’ve read Piper where he says that an internal delight or love precedes faith and that assurance of salvation can be gained by a recognition of internal delight in God. I will definitely read the essay.

  1. It seems to me that clarity and brevity are not Piper’s forte. These statements are troublesome to say the least.

  2. The sermon quote (unlike the Elder Affirmation of Faith) doesn’t seem to stray from the “necessary evidence” line of thought. There is no idea of works forming a part of justification itself.

  3. Rob,In the sermon, Piper states that God imputes righteousness to us at the BEGINNING of the Christian life BUT then he shifts to asking, ” does the ONGOING and FINAL reckoning of Abraham’s righteousness depend on works as necessary evidence of living faith?….Only faith obtains the verdict, ‘ not guilty,’ WHEN WE BECOME Christians. Works are not acceptable in the moment of INITIAL JUSTIFICATION. BUT when James affirms justification by works, he means that works are absolutely necessary in the ongoing life of a Christian….For James justification by works means MAINTAINING A RIGHT STANDING with God by faith along with the necessary evidence of faith, namely works of love. Piper is right, a true faith will have the evidence of works of love, but not for maintaining a right standing before God, as Piper would have us believe!!! Reformed teaching is that there is only justification at the moment we trust in Christ alone. Initial, ongoing, and final justification that must be maintained by our faith and works of love is a denial of Reformation teaching. If we must maintain our justification, as Piper insists, then our right standing before God is ultimately the result of us doing our part. If that is the case, just how strong must our faith be, and how many works of love are enough?

    .

    • I think it depends how you see “along with” connecting to “the necessary evidence of faith, namely the works of love”. It could either mean works and faith as together justifying the believer or it could mean that justifying faith brings works “along with” it, though faith alone justifies.

      Although I’ve queried the use of that particular quotation, I do support attempts to rigorously examine the DG view of faith, salvation and works. It has concerned me for some time that there hasn’t been more public debate about it.

  4. Rob,Reformed teaching is that when we trust in Christ we are born again, we are regenerated by the indwelling Holy Spirit who gradually conforms us to the image of Christ. The evidence that this is true is that we want to obey our Father out of confidence that this IS true of us, therefore we love Him and want to please Him. The sad thing is that covenant moralists like Piper want us to do good works out of fear that if we do not do our part, we will not maintain our right standing with God, and ultimately fail to have a right standing before God at the final judgment. That is salvation by our works and a denial of everything the Reformation stands for.

  5. Rob, Pipers insistance on a two stage (or even three stage) justification suspends any assurance or certainty of a final right standing before God until the final judgment, just as the Romanists do. Piper explicitly states that while faith justifies us at the beginning, we must maintain our right standing with God by our ongoing faith and works of love for final justification. Are you willing to ultimately stake your right standing with God on the sufficiency of your faith, and the quality and quantity of your works of love? If we do not trust only in the perfect and finished work of Christ, we are appearing before God in the filthy rags of our own righteousness. We have rejected the righteousness of God in Christ alone if we add our works of imperfect love to His.

  6. Justification should not be thought of in isolation from initial regeneration. In the Lord’s parable He is the provider of only the good seeds, ie., fruit-bearing seeds. Trees will bear fruit according to their nature. The trees God promised to plant (Isa 61:3) are ‘trees of righteousness’ and that fruit is as sure as the Sower and the seed. God knows those who are His, He doesn’t need to inspect our fruit at the end to find out who we are and make a decision what to do with us.

  7. Allan, excellent point! Initial justification is the ONLY justification we will ever need because if we are truly justified, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who is the deposit guaranteeing our eternal acceptance with God. We are His workmanship, that is why we do good works. He is sanctifying and recreating us in the image of Christ. We do good works BECAUSE we are already fully accepted by God, not to pass final judgment.

  8. Rob, yesterday I inadvertently sent a post to the next segment, which I hope you might read. It refers to Dr. Clarke’s Oct. 18 post, Background to the Current Justification Controversy. If you read this essay and links provided, I think you will see that Piper really does mean that final justification is on the basis of works and faith, in keeping with the teaching of his mentor Daniel Fuller. In his preface to Future Grace Piper writes: “Though the phraseology of ‘living by faith in future grace’ is my own, the conceptuality was learned in the shared exegetical labors with Dr. Fuller. And most of all, the insights I have gained from the Bible are owing, under God, to the skills of observation and analysis that I learned from his captivating guidance .
    Very telling is a statement Piper makes on page 317 of Future Grace: “Our assurance is not looking back on a momentary decision for Christ but looking foreward to the certainty of God’s preserving grace, based on the all sufficient atonement of His Son’s death and proven by works of righteousness.” In other words, our trust in Christ is insufficient, it must be proven by our works of righteousness to pass the final judgment! I makes me wonder if Piper is not deliberately vague and confusing to obscure his actual meaning.

  9. I don’t know if anyone has stated this before or not, but Piper’s comments, and the Bethlehem affirmation of faith, sound suspiciously like Roman Catholicism.

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