A reader alerted us to this quote from John Piper. It appears in the Foreword to Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).
As Tom Schreiner says, the book “tackles one of the fundamental questions of our human condition: how can a person be right with God?”
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 (p. 11).
So being in a right relationship with God is by faith alone (i.e., apart from works). But attaining heaven is by faith plus other conditions (i.e., works).
Doesn’t John Piper believed in justification?
You would think that if we can be in a right relationship with God by faith apart from works, that means we can attain heaven by faith apart from works. After all, isn’t that what being in a right relationship with God means—that we’ll spend eternity with Him? Aren’t we eternally saved by faith apart from works?
Piper doesn’t think so. As he said, you need to meet other conditions in order to attain heaven. What are those other conditions?
Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ. Union with Christ makes his perfection and powers 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 (Ibid.).
If you want to attain heaven you need to obey. You aren’t really justified, and won’t actually attain heaven, unless you live a life of obedience until the day you die.
Piper unquestionably believes in salvation by works.
I’d like to contrast Piper’s position with the Free Grace position using the analogy of a gym membership.
Piper is saying, “Becoming a member of the gym is absolutely free. But if you’re really a member you’ll necessarily pay $50/month. And if you aren’t paying $50/month, then you aren’t really a member. But don’t misunderstand me—the gym is free! It doesn’t cost anything to join! So, how will you be paying, Visa or Mastercard?”
According to Piper’s gospel, you gotta pay to join the “free” gym.
By contrast, and still using the gym analogy, the Free Grace position is simple: “Becoming a member of the gym is absolutely free. Period. Save your money to help out your neighbors.”
We are saved by faith in Jesus, apart from works.
When Reformed and Calvinist types like John Piper and Thomas Schreiner claim to believe in justification by faith apart from works, don’t believe them. They don’t really mean it. At best, they are very confused about it.
Salvation by “faith plus works” and salvation by “faith that works” both make works a condition of salvation.
Instead, listen to what Jesus said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
Do Piper, Schreiner and the New Calvinists actually believe what Jesus promises? The stunning Christian answer is no.