The problem with John Piper not leaving well enough alone
In an article published last month, John Piper states:
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. So, when James says these controversial words, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24), I take him to mean not by faith which is alone, but which shows itself by works. (John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?)
There’s nothing controversial about that paragraph (except for that odd and undefined phrase “transforming fruit”) and if he left off with that there would be nothing remarkable about his article. But the next paragraph is extremely problematic.
Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone. (Id., emphasis added.)
Rachel Miller ably answers Mr. Piper’s odd assertion that works are necessary for salvation in her article Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone where she details the history of the theology of salvation from Paul through the Reformation and up to present understanding on works and holiness. If you want the comprehensive analysis of why Mr. Piper’s teaching constitutes grave error, read her post.
I write here merely on the portion of Mr. Piper’s article where he says, “So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.”
Does he really mean that our justification through faith in Jesus is insufficient for “getting to heaven”? It is in that very justification that we are made fit for eternal life with God.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7.)
Our salvation means we are heirs with Jesus, washed clean and reborn by the Holy Spirit, all because of the mercy and kindness of God and “not because of the righteous things we have done.”
Mr. Piper has undoubtedly read this passage from Titus more than once, so why would he write an article that appears to say we are justified to a state of being that is less than we need to have for “getting to heaven”? The problematic nature of the post has been brought to the attention of Desiring God Ministries, Mr. Piper’s ministry organization which published the article, but there have been no corrections in the weeks since the article appeared. It is up to writers such as Ms. Miller to provide the corrections for him, then.
The rightness of acting rightly
And lest anyone think my own brief post here is an argument for not bothering to follow the way of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, I point to the words of Jesus’ brother James:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:14-18.)
Some people might wonder what deeds are evidence of faith in Jesus. That is a hard question to answer if you want to compare one person’s works to another person’s works. There are so many ways to serve God and the people he’s put in your life that quantifying actions and results is impossible.
Happily this is not the way the Bible measures works. Rather, the way to know whether your actions are in step with the Spirit is by the fruit of those actions:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23.)
If your actions are kind, peaceful, patient, loving, etc., then you are engaging in the work James said will be evidence of your faith. This is fruit which rather than being transforming, as Mr. Piper puts it, is evidence of your transformation.
The fruit of these works are also evidence of the fact that you are “getting into heaven,” to use Mr. Piper’s phrase. But there is no difference between your justification and your holiness when it comes to faith. They both rely on Jesus, the power of the Spirit, and the kindness of your heavenly Father who loves you more than you can imagine.
The present reality of your heavenly presence
Contrary to Mr. Piper’s misunderstanding, “getting to heaven” is by faith alone whether you are speaking of justification or holiness. In fact, your place in heaven is not merely some future event to look forward to but is a present reality:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7.)
Justification, holiness and eternity with God: it’s all because of the faith you have in Jesus by the grace of God.