John Piper has been teaching “final salvation through works” (his language) at least since the publication of Future Grace (1995).
The question is not merely about the necessity of evidence. On that the Reformed confessions agree. The issue arises when he makes our good works instrumental in “final salvation” and in the very notion of a two-stage justification whereby we are initially justified by grace alone, through faith alone but finally saved through works.
He teaches it here. His doctrine is documented extensively on the resource page.
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Methinks, we rather must speak about “final assurance through works”, is this correct?
No, we have vindication at the judgment. Our assurance depends solely on the divine promise.
Justification and Vindication
Can you explain WCF 16.2 that seems to suggest final salvation through works?
Salvation Through 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.”
It’s difficult when we have an idea stuck in our heads, to avoid reading it into sentences that have vocabulary we also use to express our own ideas. It’s also hard to read the older more complex English. WCF 16.2: By good works, believers do six things; then, the sentence proceeds to say that believers are created in Christ Jesus unto good works … “that, having their fruit unto holiness, ….” — “that …” stands for the fact that believers are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. To this is added this fact, something that believers have: “having their fruit unto holiness,” To be created in Christ Jesus goes one-to-one with having their fruit unto holiness. The having of this fruit unto holiness, the conclusion is that this is sufficient for them to have eternal life. The “fruit unto holiness … eternal life” is Paul’s “fruit unto holiness, AND the end eternal life. We have the fruit unto holiness, AND the end. Not a chain of necessary conditions, but a collection of things we have.
Hi Dan, just looking at the entire chapter 16, and thinking in context of 16.2, regarding good works: Our good works are the fruit and evidence of salvation. This would appear be an instance where correlation does not necessitate causation. On the outside, pagans appear to do good civic work, yet we do not attribute their worldly efforts to any fruit of the gospel. Likewise, we do not receive a gift with our hands and then remark about how wonderful our hands are to receive that gift. Romans 6 is where this “fruit. . . end of holiness. . eternal life” is lifted from. Those ends are still driven by us being made alive in Christ rather than being dead in sin (and we are no longer slaves to sin).
16.3 stresses that those good works are only good through the work of the Spirit of Christ. And likewise, 16.5 cites Luke 17:10 that in those works, we are still not meriting anything, but fulfilling the duty of the law.
The ditch (one of many) we must avoid is linking our “evidence of fruit” with the surety of salvation. We must not look at the evidence of our salvation for assurance, but rather look to Christ and His promises for our assurance.
The scandal of the Gospel is just that. We merit absolutely nothing to our salvation, but the gratitude of that free gift leads us to a place where we are able (by the power of the Holy Spirit) to perform good works. Our temptation is always to attempt to add to the Gospel. The irony is that it would cease to be good news if I were required to do anything within my own fallen power. SDG
16.2 is not speaking of final salvation through works, it is speaking of the way the redeemed is to walk, which is the good life. 16.2 is not speaking in causal terms of bringing life everlasting. This distinction between the way and the cause is important when reading WCF 16.2
16.2 also has to be seen in light of what comes after in 16.5:
“We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.”
This is pretty clear.
Cordially in Christ,
Good evening Dr. Clark,
I don’t really know where to start, I just can say that I am shocked. I never read “Future Grace” but I hoped that this was just a slip-up and he somehow withdrew from it. But this article is from 2017…!
And I wondered: how is this different from the Catholic view of justification and salvation? Is it maybe a Baptist form of Federal Vision? And isn’t that enough to call this doctrine out as heresy?
Thank you for your work and elucidation!
Greetings from Heidelberg,
“For if a sinner, after he is justified by the merit of Christ, were justified more by his own works then might he have some matter of boasting in himself.
And that we may not doubt of Paul’s meaning, consider and read Ephesians 2:8-9: ‘By grace,’ he says, ‘you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast himself.’ Here, Paul excludes all and every work and, directly, works of grace themselves, as appears by the reason following, ‘For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works; which God hath ordained that we should walk in them.’
Now let the papists tell me, what be the works which God has prepared for men to walk in, and to which they are regenerate, unless they be the most excellent works of grace?
And let them mark how Paul excludes them wholly from the work of justification and salvation.”
William Perkins (1558-1602), The Works of William Perkins, 7:47.
Could someone please exegetically explain Perkins’ argument? How does the connection of Ephesians 2:9 and Ephesians 2:10 prove that good works (works after regeneration) are excluded from the work of salvation?
Piper says, in that 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.”
What neither you nor Dr Piper seem to understand is that you’re advocating the very medieval and Roman definition of faith rejected in the Reformation. Both of you are advocated a “faith formed by love” (fides formata caritate). When Piper says “that fruit and that faith” he is teaching the medieval/Roman doctrine that faith justifies because it sanctifies and produces good works.
The Reformation rejected that definition categorically because Scripture does not teach it.
Faith justifies and saves because it apprehends Christ. Full stop.
It Is All Sola Gratia, Sola Fide
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through
We Attain Heaven Through Faith Alone
See the wonderful chapter by W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed By Love or Faith Alone? The Instrument of Justification” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. Also available via Apple Books.
The remainder of my comment has been omitted, the ellipses does not cover them. I believe the remainder of your quote would refute your claim that I believe we are saved by faith and by works. Quite the contrary, we are saved by grace alone thru faith, which is a gift from God.
I would appreciate being able to see my complete comment.
Is that possible?
I’ve replied to this claim repeatedly. I deleted it because I’m exhausted by the Piper-apologist assumption that you all are the first ever to think of these things.
See the SEVENTY-ONE resources I’ve supplied in the resource post.
The position you’ve argued is THE CLASSIC MEDIEVAL doctrine of salvation by grace and cooperation with grace. There were late-medieval Augustinians who argued that it was God (and not we) who produced the good works in us.
The Reformation rejected that position too. The biblical-Reformation view is articulated in the WCF: not for anything in us or done by us. The view Piper/you are arguing assumes that if we appeal to divine sovereignty the problem goes away. It doesn’t. It still fails the “in us” test.
It also validates the criticism I’ve been making that you have abandoned the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone.
Works, not even divinely wrought works in us, cannot be and are not the instrument of a fictitious final justification/salvation (there’s no material difference) through works.
As I’ve been explaining for years now, Jesus did not die so that we could be out on bail until final salvation.
Jesus said, “it is finished” not, “Well, I’ve made a good start but there’s a lot more to be done [by the Spirit, in you, with cooperation, even Spirit-wrought] before you will be finally saved and admitted to heaven.”
To spell out the implications of Piper’s view that way illustrates its absurdity, how patently unbiblical it is.
Check out David Peterson’s Possessed by God on the neglected aspect of positional or definitive sanctification.
Piper seems to be reading modern language and definition of sanctification back into the Greek word. Paul means that we have been made holy to approach God, not in the sense, of renewal sanctification. The early reformers used ‘regeneration’ to refer to sanctification until Arminius, I believe.
I find Piper’s exegesis to contain many anachronisms.
On definitive sanctification:
Context is everything. And when quoting from James 2, you have to begin with James’ introduction in 2:14: “14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? ”
The rest of James 2 is not talking about someone who has actually put his whole faith and trust in Christ but about someone who SAYS he has put his faith in Christ. Big difference.
Ding, ding, ding. You win the prize today.
I would like to ask a clarifying question just to make sure I understand your point of view. (I myself am a convert to Catholicism from the Reformed tradition, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how my own version of the Reformed view that I held as Reformed is similar to and different from other expressions of that view or the historic characteristics of that view.)
You say, along with the Reformed confessions, that “faith is the alone instrument of justification.” In your view, does that mean that faith alone, apart from anything else, including charity or love, is all that is required to attain justification and therefore salvation? In other words, all that is required of us to attain justification and eternal life is faith? All the things that accompany faith–love, hope, works, etc.–flow from faith and necessarily follow and go along with it, but they are not required as a condition for attaining a right to justification or eternal life?
To put it in other words, all we have to do to gain justification and eternal salvation is have faith. Other things, like love and good works, will always accompany real faith, but they are not requirements or conditions we must meet in order to gain justification and eternal life. Is that your view? If so, is your basic complaint against Piper and others on this point that you interpret them as saying that other conditions besides faith are required of us in order to attain justification and/or eternal life?
The Roman doctrine of justification by grace infused (gratia infusa) and cooperation with that infused grace is clearly taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church §1987. The medieval and Romanist doctrine of justification is a doctrine of progressive justification. There is no distinction between justification and sanctification in Rome.
For her faith is a virtue, one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) and an aspect of sanctification. Love is the greatest virtue and faith therefore does not merely “work by love” (Gal 5:6). As it is the Vulgate translated by the Douay-Rheims:
The medievals (and Rome) turn “works” into “is formed by” and produced their definition of “faith formed by love” (fides formata caritate). For Rome it is sanctity and virtue (i.e., our love) that makes faith justifying and saving. At Trent, Rome explicitly condemned any account of faith in justification that defined it as trusting (fiducia).
As Bob Godfrey reminds us, “The Council declared in Session Six, Chapter 7, ‘For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body.’”
CCC §§176-77 at least hint at fides formata when (in 176) Rome speaks of faith as a “personal adherence.” The previous sections on faith include perseverance with is implicitly fides formata. The footnotes to the CCC cite Trent, session 7.
According to the Reformed churches, God’s Word teaches that we are justified sola fide, by faith alone. Romans 3:28, as we understand it teaches:
When Paul said, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” it necessarily implied faith as the sole, receptive instrument of the declaration of justification. The same is true of Gal 2:16, 3:1–10. Rome’s doctrine of final justification—we reject their two-stage doctrine of justification—through sanctification is the very error of the Judaizers that Paul refuted. Contra the popular presentation, the rabbis taught justification by grace and cooperation with grace. The medieval church returned to that error and the Reformation again re-asserted Paul’s case.
“Condition” is a tricky work. The Reformed orthodox talked about “conditions” in a variety of ways. There are three great kinds of conditions, however: causal (antecedent), instrumental, and coincidental or consequent (see my reply to James). The antecedent cause of justification is legal righteousness that meets the terms of the law. This is something that only Christ accomplished. No sinner can or ever has met the terms of the law, not even with the help of grace. Jesus, the Last Adam, kept the covenant of works for us and his condign merits are imputed to us who believe. His alien (to us) righteousness (contra Rome, which makes inherent righteousness (iustitia inherens) or proper righteousness (iustitia propria) the ground of justification) are the ground of our acceptance with God and the remission of sins and the antecedent condition. The instrumental condition of our justification is faith resting, receiving, trusting in Christ (faith has two other aspects knowledge and assent but they are not in dispute). Faith is a divine gift not something that we generate within ourselves. Good works are the consequent condition of the covenant of grace. They are not the ground nor the instrument. They are coincidental with faith and the the fruit and evidence of faith and as such are necessary. Belgic Confession (see the reply to James) is quite clear about this as is the Heidelberg Catechism.
Yes, Piper has adopted a two-stage scheme wherein the first stage is justification sola fide on the ground on Christ’s righteousness imputed. The final stage, however, so-called “final salvation” is said to be “through works.” He and others have made good works an instrumental cause of final salvation and thus placed believers, were it possible, back under a kind of final covenant of works thus reducing justification to provisional status. Under Piper’s scheme, the justified are presently out on bail awaiting trial.
I posted this article in a social media group allegedly for “Reformed” people.
I seem to have swatted a beehive.
There are folks there, including pastors in Reformed denominations saying things like this:
“ Good works are more than evidence. The Reformed Confessions/Catechisms explicitly say so.
It really is that simple.”
“… if faith without works is dead, then works is necessarily a condition. That said, something being a condition is different than saying it is the basis of or meritorious toward salvation.”
To support these claims they quote two parts of the Westminster Standards:
WLC 32 in the last clause:
And WCF XVI:2 the last line:
I’m reading in these passages usage of the definite article when speaking of faith as THE requisite condition for salvation, which is immediate in justification and ultimate in glorification this is not two stages but “the way” mentioned above in WLC32. I do not see an indefinite article defining any sort of work as “A” condition to salvation, rather as evidence of faith.
WLC specifically uses the phrase “THE condition” …etc.
I don’t see anything addressing works as anything but evidence in WCF.
What am I missing that these guys are plainly seeing?
There do seem to be a surprising number of Reformed pastors who either do not understand their own confession or who do not well informed about the Reformed tradition or who are over-reacting to antinomianism or all of the above.
There are folks there, including pastors in Reformed denominations saying things like this:
On fruit and evidence:
The Logic of Fruit as Evidence
That antinomian J H Heidegger on fruit and evidence
Belgic Confession 24:
In the Belgic the Reformed are perfectly clear about the necessity of good works and the function of good works: They are necessary as fruit and evidence “but we do not base our salvation” on them. They are not instrumental.
They are coincidental. Again, for the thousandth time (not much of an exaggeration), is ≠ through. Faith is the sole instrument of salvation because it unites us to Christ and he alone is the sole ground of our justification.
Typically, I find that the people who talk the way these guys do don’t believe in the prelapsarian covenant of works and they (as Piper) inevitably bring it back on the back end, to make final salvation conditioned upon or through our good works.
Faith is the instrumental condition of salvation. The divines said that right here. Our holy obedience is evidence. “Way” here = is. The English language has changed since 1647. They are assuming that “way” = instrument. It doesn’t. It is simply the 17th century way of saying “is.” It signals coincidence as in good works coincide in those who have been justified.
That is the consistent testimony of the standards and of the Reformed theologians of the period as I’ve demonstrated repeatedly here:
Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works”
Is this two-stage salvation confined to John Piper among the YRR contingent or is the problem more widespread? Between Piper and the Federal Visionists I wonder if they will at some point advocate rejoining with Roman Catholic church?
The Federal Vision has essentially the same problem. They have a more sacerdotal system, whereby the sacraments confer initial justification etc but a final justification through works, like Piper. Some, under the influence of the FV and Norman Shepherd, have become Romanists. Scott Hahn is perhaps the most famous example but there are others.
I doubt that most laity understand why Piper is saying. The Baptist sociologically is deeply anti-Romanist. When they want to be naughty they become Anglicans.
Thank you for the clarification. I think I get what you are saying. Let me try to restate what you are saying in the form of a kind of analogy, and tell me if I’ve got it basically right.
I’m picturing getting into heaven as like getting into a building to participate in some event. Jesus stands at the door of the building to admit people or refuse admittance to them. The sole requirement for admittance is a ticket that represents faith alone. If you’ve got that ticket–even if, theoretically, that was all you had got, even if you had no love, no good works, etc.–Jesus will count that as sufficient to admit you into heaven. However, the ticket is on a key chain to which is attached a number of other items–love to God, hope, good works, etc. So, while the ticket is all that is required for admittance, practically speaking you have to have these other things too because you can’t have the ticket without them. Perhaps, to make the analogy more complete, we could say that the ticket is hidden inside some other object that represents “good works,” so that you must present those “good works” to Jesus to get into the building–not because they are themselves required but because, a faith-ticket always being inside them, they are a necessary evidence that you’ve got the faith-ticket.
Obviously, no analogy is perfect, but does that capture something of what you are saying? Faith is all that is required to attain a right to justification and eternal life–both now and throughout our entire lives, even at the last judgment–and yet faith is inseparable from other goods works, and is also evidenced by those good works, so that, practically speaking, one must have those good works even if they aren’t themselves part of the requirement for attaining justification and eternal life? And then your criticism of Piper and some others is that they have turned “good works” from being only an evidence of faith and inseparable from it into an actual additional requirement or condition for getting final justification and eternal life?
No, this does not at all capture what I’m saying.
We, who are trusting in the condign merit of Christ as the ground of our justification, DO have something to offer: JESUS’ PERFECT ACTIVELY SUFFERING OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW OF GOD.
What has the papist to offer? His sins, his corrupted, imperfect work, which he admits must be augmented by congruent merit. By faith the justified are clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
We do have good works. The give evidence and are, as I explained, coincident with our faith, they are the fruit of our faith but CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS SUFFICIENT. The Roman scheme flatly denies the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness.
We do not expect to be admitted to heaven on the basis of the quality of our faith but on the basis of the quality of him in whom we trust. Faith, in justification, i.e., God’s declaration that a sinner (though still intrinsically sinful) is reckoned as righteous, is an instrument, it lays hold of Christ.
Good works are evidence that faith exists. James 2:14 says, “You say that you have faith” because, in fact, they didn’t. How did he know? Because they had no fruit. Their good works were neither the ground nor instrument of their justification (in the forensic sense) but they were necessary as evidence, to vindicate their claim to believe.
Christ’s righteousness is what is required.
Faith lays hold of Christ’s righteousness.
Don’t conflate the two.
You don’t seem to grasp yet the concept of instrument. Consider the Belgic Confession:
Piper has, in his final salvation scheme, replaced faith with works.
I apologize for not being clearer. I recognize that, in your view, faith is important not as a meritorious work but only as an instrument which lays hold of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
What I hear you saying is that faith is the only requirement God makes of us in order to attain justification and eternal life (recognizing that faith is a divine gift to us and also that its importance lies solely in the fact that it is an instrument apprehending the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ). Nothing else is required of us–love, hope, good works, etc.–but these other things, while not requirements, are things that naturally and inseparable accompany true faith and which evidence it. Thus, though they are not required, they must be there, practically speaking.
Going back to my analogy, keep the picture I presented earlier, but add that the reason why the faith-ticket is all that is required is because the faith-ticket is a kind of check that draws on the bank account of Christ’s righteousness. Apart from that, it’s just a worthless piece of paper as far as justification and eternal life are concerned. Also, add that the ticket was a gift to us from Jesus himself.
With these clarifications, do you think my analogy gets at what you are saying about faith alone being the instrumental condition for receiving justification and eternal life?
I summarized the Roman view in good faith, using Roman language and categories.
So far, when you’ve summarized the Protestant view, you’ve changed the terms. E.g., “requirement” is problematic in this context.
There are two categories:
The ground is the condign merit of Christ.
Rome says that it become inherent, proper to us. We deny that. It remain inherent and proper to Christ but is imputed to us.
We lay hold of Christ and thus receive his imputed righteousness (condign merit) through faith alone.
The merit of Christ is sufficient. IT is the requirement because IT alone meets the terms of justice.
Nothing else is required AS A PRECONDITION or as an antecedent condition but good works are required as a CONSEQUENT condition.
I don’t like the analogy. It doesn’t explain or illustrate well what we Protestants are saying.
Our analogy is Paul’s: the courtroom. Why not use the Pauline analogy. Rome has us out on bail. Luther has us actually justified. The judge has spoken. Sentence has been passed. We are justified.
Thank you for helping me to understand your view better.
Can I put it this way? (I’m not trying to change your language, but it helps me understand things if I can put them in my own words to some degree.) The imputed righteousness of Christ is the only thing that is the ground of justification. It is the sole requirement, and the sufficient requirement. Where the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is, there, necessarily, is a right to justification and eternal life.
Faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of the righteousness of Christ. Where faith is, there is, always, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Nothing else–love, hope, good works, etc.–function in this way. If we have faith, we have the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and therefore we have justification and a title to eternal life. Even if, theoretically (recognizing that this can never actually happen), all we have is faith–we don’t have love, good works, etc.–we have all we need to have the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and therefore a title to justification and eternal life. However, love, good works, etc., are inherently and necessarily connected to faith and evidence it. So they are not the instrument that connects us to or attains for us imputed righteousness, and in that sense they are not in themselves required conditions for attaining imputed righteousness, and so we can’t rely on them as such, but, practically speaking, they have to be there because of their inherent connection to faith and the fact that they evidence it. (And this is what you call a “consequent” condition.)
Using courtroom language, we could say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is all we need to have the judge declare us righteous and acceptable to God and as having a title to eternal life. Faith is the one thing that links us to Christ’s righteousness and attains it for us, and so it alone is required of us by the judge to be considered to have the imputed righteousness of Christ (and thus a title to justification and eternal life). Other good works are not required, but they are always there, and always must be there, because they necessarily accompany faith and evidence it to the judge.
How is that?
I’m really just trying to understand the role of works in your view. If I were to adopt your view, and I was trying to figure out for myself, “What does God require of me if I am to have his righteousness imputed to me and attain a title to justification and eternal life?”, I think the answer would be, “faith alone, because it does the full job of linking me to imputed righteousness.” I would not consider myself required to do good works as a condition on my part to have the title to imputed righteousness and eternal life granted to me, but I would recognize that, if I have true faith, I must have good works too, because they are inseparable, and I know that the Judge at the Final Judgment will look at the good works I have as evidence of my genuine faith in Christ.
Works are a matter of gratitude. The book of Romans is in three parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. Did you read Belgic Confession art. 24? Is it really that difficult?
Your inherent righteousness stinks before God.
Christ’s righteousness alone is sufficient.
Faith apprehends Christ and his righteousness.
The same sovereign Holy Spirit who gave us new life and true faith (and all the benefits of Christ, justification, union with Christ, adoption) also works progressive sanctification in us. It too is a gift of God. The sanctifying grace of Christ produces in us good works and a necessary consequence of our new life and union with Christ.
That’s it. It’s not that complicated.
Trust in Jesus condign merit.
Live in union with Christ.
Good trees produce good fruit.
Thank you again. I think I’m getting what you’re saying. One of the reasons I am working hard to understand this subject is because when I was Reformed, I would have said that works are no more optional than faith if one wants to attain eternal life. It is not optional for me to have faith if I want to receive eternal life. Nor is it optional for me to love God, or love my neighbor, or do the works that flow from this love. Then, a few years back, after becoming Catholic, I read through a number of Luther’s works, including his Freedom of a Christian and a good section of his Commentary on Galatians, and I was surprised to find that it seemed like he was saying that faith is something we are required to do if we would hope to have eternal life, but there is no requirement for us to have anything else. That is, I don’t have any obligation to love God, love my neighbor, avoid murder, theft, etc. All I have to have is faith, and that connects me to Christ, and so I have full justification and a title to eternal life. Luther then goes on to say that, though they are not required of us in order to receive eternal life, yet the justified person who has real faith will do them to some degree. They will follow “automatically” from having true faith in Christ.
I thought that this was Luther’s view, but that the Reformed had rejected it in order to say that good works really are required for eternal life (though they are not a meritorious cause or ground of justification). But over the past few years, I’ve begun to wonder if I previously misunderstood what the Reformed were saying, and if perhaps my own version of Reformed thought was different from the classic Reformed view. So I’ve been really interested to talk to Reformed people to see if they believe that love, good works, etc., are something we are required to do in order to attain eternal life (recognizing that good works are a fruit of grace flowing to us from Christ’s merits), or if these other works would be considered “optional,” so that we have no obligation to do them, but we will simply want to do them anyway because we want to please God, we’re grateful to him for salvation, etc.
So that’s what led me to ask about it here, since your dispute with Piper and others seems to be connected to this issue.
The confession of the Reformed churches is quite clear. Good works are not “optional.” They aren’t justifying but they aren’t optional either:
I think you’re judging the pan-Protestant confessional paradigm by the Romanist paradigm. No, we’re not Romanists but we aren’t antinomians who make works a second blessing or “optional” (what a terrible expression!).
Thanks again. So, in order to be saved, we must be both justified (by means of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) and sanctified (by means of the Spirit changing us and purifying us within). We cannot attain eternal life without both of these. Therefore, as works (love to God, and all the acts of obedience that flow from that) are an intrinsic part of sanctification, they are required of us if we will have a title to eternal life. But both justification and sanctification are a gift from God, and faith alone is the instrument that unites us to Christ and so attains the benefits of union with Christ, which include justification and sanctification. So faith is the alone instrument, but it is not the only thing required of us.
Is that right?
No, it is the Roman position that “in order to be saved” we must be both justified and sanctified.
The Protestant position is:
Because we have been saved, i.e., because God has graciously justified the ungodly (Pelagius and Rome both misinterpret Paul there) he is also graciously and gradually sanctifying them. The proper analogy here is the Red Sea. God did not save the Israelites because they were sanctified. He saved the Israelites because he is gracious.
Christ accomplished salvation for all his elect at Calvary. His Spirit graciously applies that salvation to his people. He justifies them definitively by grace alone, through faith alone and graciously and gradually sanctifies them on the way to heaven. They enter heaven solely on the basis of the righteousness of Christ (condign merit) imputed through faith alone.
So, no, you’re not getting the idea yet.
I won’t address the second part of your post because it’s based on a false premise.
Thank you for putting up with my questions! I hope I’m not driving you crazy, but I am very interested to understand what you are saying accurately.
Let me try again. The imputed righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone, is all that is necessary to put me in a right relationship with God and to give me a title to eternal life. Sanctification and good works add nothing at all to this. However, true faith is always, necessarily accompanied by other good works. Justification is always accompanied by sanctification. And so, while sanctification is not required of us in order to have a title to justification before God or eternal life, yet, practically speaking, we must have it, because it is inseparable from faith and justification.
And your problem with Piper is that he seems to be making sanctification and good works necessary, not only as something that necessarily and always accompanies faith and justification, but as if they were additional requirements to attain a title to being right with God and receiving eternal life.
Is that right?
I’m not sure what else to say. I think you need to take some time and do some serious reading. It may be that it will take some time for all the pieces to fit together.
We shouldn’t assume that it’s easy to understand a different paradigm. It isn’t. It took me years to understand what the mainstream of medieval theology was saying and what the Pentecostals are saying or what the Federal Visionists are saying. I don’t think I really understood the essential part of Norm Shepherd’s program for years (i.e., baptismal efficacy).
This is close. The condign merit of Christ is actual righteousness. Your inherent righteousness is not. It is always corrupted (vitiated) by sin and therefore, in the Roman system, in need of congruent merit and thus is never actually condign (worthy). The Protestant says that we are clothed with Christ’s condign, actual, worthy merit. That’s the ground. We have title to, yes, but more than that an actual right to heaven because of the condignly of Christ’s merits imputed. Indeed, our works add nothing to Christ’s finished work (actively suffering obedience) for us. Either Christ is the Savior or he is not. To make him a mere facilitator is blasphemy.
Yes, true faith is always and necessarily accompanied by good works. These good works are necessary morally and as fruit and evidence. They never become the ground or instrument of our justification or our salvation. Thus, “practically speaking” is inadequate. Good works are not merely practically necessary. They are morally necessary and necessary as fruit and evidence. If my neighbor tells me that he has an apple tree but his tree never ever produces apples I am entitled to say to him, “Are you sure that’s an apple tree? Where’s the fruit? Where’s the evidence?” The fruit doesn’t make the tree (contra the Roman doctrine of fides formata) but apples are a sure indicator of a living apple tree.
What did Jesus do to the fig tree (Matt 21:18–22)? He saw the fig tree as they were walking. It was barren and thus he cursed it. The message of John 15 is that barren vines will be gathered and thrown in the fire. Piper and his FV friends are completely wrong about John 15. The point is not that “You had better produce fruit (and we get to say how much fruit and of what quality is necessary)” but this: living vines produce. Dead vines do not. If you’re a dead vine you need to repent and believe in Jesus. If you’re a dead vine you’re living under a death sentence, a judgment, and your soul is in peril. Wake up! Realize the greatness of your sin and misery and flee to Jesus for free salvation. Those who have been given new life, who are actually united to Christ by the Spirit, through faith, will be producing fruit.
One of my several problems with Dr Piper is that he has bought into and adapted the Romanist scheme of two-stages of justification. Where Rome has initial justification through baptism and final justification through sanctification (and that by grace and cooperation with grace) we say that there is one stage of justification and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. He has also exchanged works for faith or turned faith into faithfulness as the instrument of the so-called “final salvation.”
The question is not and never has been whether good works are necessary. The question is how they are necessary:
The question is not “requirements” but instruments. In his doctrine of “final salvation through works” Dr Piper has changed the instrument of our justification before God from faith to works.
OK, I think that makes sense. And thanks for all the links as well. It is helpful to listen to all the different Reformed voices on this subject to get a clearer idea of what the Reformed position is.
I appreciate your taking the time to help clarify these things for me. Have a great day!
Could you please explain the differences between Piper (in the article linked to above) and this from R. C. Sproul:
I’m sorry. I meant “Dr. Clark, of course.”
I agree entirely with what R. C. wrote contra Shepherd for the same reasons R. C. said it: Shepherd rejected Reformed doctrine that our good works are morally necessary (please see the extensive correspondence with Mark Hausam under this post) and logically necessary as fruit and evidence. Shepherd said that we are justified through “faith and works” (his language c. 1975) and through “faithfulness” (his language post-1975). R. C. was representing the Reformed tradition. He changed the instrument of justification from faith to works or faithfulness.
Piper has done the same thing under his doctrine of “final salvation through works.” (Emphasis added).
1. As I’ve been saying for years (see the 71 resources I’ve compiled on this:
Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works”)
There are not two stages of salvation, justification sola fide and final salvation through works.
That is a papist scheme.
2.Our works are not and cannot be the instrument of our salvation.
Second, R. C.’s Tabletalk essay is regarding the judgment according to works. Again, this is not in dispute. Piper, however, is not satisfied with the Reformed scheme of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. His soteriology isn’t formed by Luther and Calvin. It is formed by Daniel Fuller. He has modified Fuller’s scheme by adding the window dressing (much as Doug Wilson has) of an initial stage of justification sola fide and even imputation.
Why Is Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude Insufficient?
Further, I note what the Reformed Churches confess about rewards:
The judgment according to works is not a covenant of works. There will be no video played at the judgment. We have been saved. We are being sanctified because we have saved. R. C. is right to say and I have said this repeatedly, that we are “working out” our salvation with fear and trembling in this life (Phil 2:12) but we do so in a covenant of grace not in a covenant of works.
There are those, however, who reject the covenant of works, of which Piper is one, who then re-impose a covenant of works on us (without telling us) by speaking about “maintaining our justification” by good works. That is heterodox moralism.
As I keep saying (does no one ever look at the resource page on this or read the articles?) good works are necessary. The neonomians aren’t satisfied with HC 64:
or HC 86:
or HC 87:
I’ve published commentaries on these questions and answers. E.g.,
Heidelberg 87: The Impenitent Cannot Be Saved
Mark a high school Christian might say this to you, “you’re putting it out as a lifetime of work, subject to a post-lifetime gate check, and part of the work is calling of it all a gift (!), when salvation is really a gift, given by Christ, and work is evidence of the gift.” You put faith out there as a requirement, that we have to call a gift, and work out there as a requirement, that we have to call a gift, and no doubt, with all these self-contradictories, the understanding is not going to follow. Good deeds follow from a gift given, not an attainment still dangling ahead of us. Isn’t Christ worth resting in?
Similarly, Piper has “God is at work in your life” (last page of his evangelistic tract called “Quest for Joy,” published by GNP Wheaton) as the most conclusive positive comment he left there, which evidently seems fine for him, because he thinks that’s all anyone has: “what you enter eternity with is nothing but the measure of contentment that you had in God (Future Grace (2012), p. 226.) (cf. 1 John 5:12, for a difference.) In that book he envisioned a survivalistic test for everyone … did they forgive their mom (FG p. 265), and “covetousness can mess up your eternity” (p. 226), adding up to Christians with a non-perfect covenant-keeping record being let in because they kept trying, and particularly those who failed at that one virtue, fighting all particular sins, in hell. It is quite appealing to rely upon our own selves, and only God’s sovereign call can pull someone away from some kind of reliance on self, to Christ.
You wrote, “Do we not stand before the Lord, on that final day, bearing the faith in Christ that He has given us, that same faith from Him that has produced the works He has given us? God sees in us what He has done and accomplished by the work of His Son and the work of His Spirit.”
William Perkins (1558-1602) and many Reformed theologians before and after him distinguished between a.) the finished work of Christ in his Christ active and passive obedience (outside of the sinner) imputed to the sinner, and b.) the Holy Spirit’s work inside the regenerate.
It is very important to understand the discussion between the Reformed and Tridentine theologians on this matter. And one window into this is Perkins’s interaction with his Romanist opponents.
Tridentine theologians taught that it was the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctifying the inward man by grace and cooperation with grace that brought about justification unto everlasting life. They proposed that “The works of the regenerate are the works of the Holy Ghost; therefore, perfect and pure. And because these works come from the Holy Ghost they merit before God because they are without fault.”(a) Perkins answered that the works of God are perfect, but sanctification is imperfect and incomplete in this life. (b) Perkins wrote, “[T]he will (in which they being as yet but partly regenerated, some corrupt qualities of sin do yet remain) and are not immediately and simply or wholly derived from God’s Spirit. And hence it is that they are all stained with sin.” (c) Even the works that come after conversion are blotched and blackened in sin: “they cannot come near to a legal righteousness.” (d) These works would only be “imperfectly good,” and what is imperfect cannot justify because justification requires condign merit. (e) The works of the regenerate would have no fault in them if they proceeded “immediately from the Holy Ghost,” but there is fault in them because they also come “by the will and understanding of man…as water in the fountain is both clear and sweet, yet the streams thereof passing through the filthy channel are defiled thereby.” (f) He especially fleshed this out in his comments on Galatians 5 where he distinguished between the flesh, which “signifies the corruption of the whole nature of man,” and the Spirit, which “is the gift of regeneration.”(g) The flesh and the Spirit are engaged in spiritual combat in the Christian life: “the flesh and the spirit are mixed together in the whole man regenerate…as light and darkness are mixed in the air at the dawning of the day.” (h) Perkins then described this conflict “between the natural conscience and the rebellious affection.” (i) He collated Galatians 5 with Romans 7:21 and 23, “‘When I would do good, evil is present,” and ‘The law of the flesh rebels against the law of the mind.’”
(j) For Perkins, Paul described himself as a regenerated man in Romans 7, and he speaks “not of this or that action, but of the course of his life.” (k)The cause of this combat in the justified sinner is “the contrariety of the flesh and the Spirit…And one has no power at all to bring forth the effect of the contrary.” (l)Perkins faced opponents who “craftily” included “works done by men regenerate” as not their own, “but Christ’s in them.” (m) In Chapter XVI, the Council of Trent made this case: “Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves, nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated, for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is [the justice] of God, because it is infused into us by God through the merit of Christ.”
These works save “because they are works of Christ that he works in us.” (n) Perkins’s opponent Canisius did not teach that one was “justified by inherent justice (iustitia propria), at least not strictly considered, since that would be Pelagian. Rather, he said one is justified through Christ’s infused merits, which produce inhering justice.”(o) In response to this, Perkins cited Hebrews 1:3, Ephesians 2:10, and Philippians 3:8, which “exclude the merit of all works done by Christ within man.” (p) Further, in his direct response to Chapter V–VII of the Council of Trent in the sixth session on justification he concluded,
“And hence it follows that there are no such works whereby a man may prepare himself to his own justification, for though the mind be enlightened with a general faith, yet man before he be justified is nothing but flesh. And flesh being in nature opposite to the Spirit can make no preparation for the Spirit, no more than darkness can make preparation for the entrance of light.” (q)
Perkins’s point is that the combat between the flesh (the sinful human nature) and Spirit (the gift of regeneration) in the Christian life cannot merit justification unto life everlasting because justification requires a merit of condigno and not a mixture including congruent merit. (r)
Perkins’s outside us/inside us distinction was rooted in his exegesis of Scripture and was a foundational polemical distinction against the Tridentine position. Further, this distinction communicated the need for a perfect, spotless righteousness, which was wrought by Christ alone outside us and imputed to sinners through the instrument of faith. Perkins believed this was clear
in Holy Writ. Christ’s obedience outside us is the only way to be justified before God’s tribunal:
“We are justified by an obedience out of ourselves, we are taught utterly to deny ourselves, and to go out of ourselves as having nothing in us whereby we may be saved… Christ in respect of His obedience is our hiding place.” (s)
A. Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:55.
B. Perkins, Commentary on Hebrews 11, in Works, 3:112; 407.
C. Perkins, A Golden Chain, in Works, 6:240.
D. Perkins, A Golden Chain, in Works, 6:238. The language of legal righteousness or legal obedience is synonymous with active obedience for Perkins. See Perkins, Reformed Catholic in Works, 7:36–37.
E. Perkins, A Golden Chain, in Works, 6:238.
F. Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:55. Ames also picked this up from Perkins. See William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism, 121–122.
G. Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:360.
I. Ibid., 2:361.
J. Ibid., 2:360.
K. Ibid., 2:361–362.
L. Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:361. 36 Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:140–141. 37 The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 41.
M. Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:140–141. Cf. Perkins, A Warning Against the Idolatry of the Last Times, in Works, 7:424.
N. Clark, Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant, 162.
O. Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, in Works, 7:140–141. Emphasis mine. This can be traced back to Luther’s “sharp distinction between justification or what Christ has done for believers (Christus pro nobis) and sanctification or what Christ has done and is doing in believers (Christus in nobis).” David C. Steinmetz, “Martin Luther Among the Early Anglicans,” 7. This was retained by Melanchthon and Perkins, as we see here.
P. The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent, trans. Q. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 32–33. Chapter V, On the necessity, in adults, of preparation for Justification, and whence it proceeds, stated, “The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.” Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in, Works, 2:361.
R. Perkins was responding to Tridentine theology, particularly the Council of Trent in the Sixth Session (1547) on justification in Chapter V–VII: “Through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost… For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ has communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in our hearts of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.” The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 31–32, 35.
S. Perkins, Commentary on Galatians, in Works, 2:117.
Cordially in Christ,
I am trying to understand Piper’s position through your critique. (NB: Capitalized letters are a substitute for italics.)
In the website article, “Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone,” Piper writes: “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.” Let me break this down into its parts:
1. “In FINAL SALVATION at the last judgment”… The Reformed tradition believes in a “last judgment.” But the Reformed position does not believe in “final salvation” because there are not “two stages” of salvation. Is this correct? Would the Reformed position say that “final judgment” and “final salvation” are the same thing?
2. … “faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne”… I understand Piper to say, in this part of the sentence, that fruit is evidence of saving faith. In the book, Four Views on the Role of Works in Final Judgment, Thomas Schreiner’s position is summarized as: “Justification Apart from and by Works: At the Final Judgment Works Will CONFIRM Justification.” I understand Schreiner to be saying the same thing as Piper. But perhaps I am wrong. What is wrong with Schreiner’s summarized position, if anything?
3. … “and we are saved through that fruit and that faith.” This is the part that is problematic because of the language of “saved THROUGH that FRUIT and faith”? If Piper would have written: “we are saved through that faith,” this would be Reformed?
Three further questions:
1. Is there a way you can change Piper’s sentence to make it biblical and Reformed?
2. Do you have one webpage that lists all the documentation of Piper teaching “final salvation through works”?
3. Are there other Reformed theologians that document the same claim you make about Piper teaching final salvation through works?