But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification – both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.
In a previous post I argued that salvation by faith plus works is nothing more than salvation by works, and that the moment we mix in a measure of human works we’ve forfeited divine grace, for the Scripture says, “If by grace then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace” and “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed,” (Rom 11:6, 10:11). There is no such thing as final salvation, because if there were it would mean there’s no such thing as initial salvation. Those who are justified have passed from death to life, as the Scriptures say, “who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom 8:33).
This also means (as Greg Morse and John Piper seem to deny) that salvation cannot initially be by faith first and then faith plus works later, for as Paul plainly says, “This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:2-3). If we’re saved by faith alone, then it’s by faith alone we’re saved.
Having gotten that off my chest I thought I’d begin to feel better, but as it turns out I didn’t. I saw a second glaring mistake in the word grace, and the more I thought about Piper’s use of the word as “God’s acceptance of my works in Him” the more unhappy I became. So let me once again affirm what the Scripture says–this time with regards to grace–and at the same time offer my two cents on why Reformed Baptists generally fall on the side of defending Piper’s statement.
Some Theological Street Cred
I grew up Pelagian, so I know firsthand just how Biblical even the largest of errors can look. If you’ve never encountered one in person then you may be tempted to think they’re easy to spot, but the truth is they’re not. Pelagianism is slippery, like an eel; like Karl Barth. It uses all the right words and so has every trapping of orthodoxy, but it means different things by the words, and so is deadly as a ninja. Growing up we believed we were saved by grace, but grace meant God was nice enough to hand down a ladder to climb up to Him with, not that it was His sovereign work from first to last. We confessed the need to be born again, but that meant being baptized, not being regenerated. We believed in being saved by faith alone, but faith meant faith plus works. And it wasn’t until I became convinced that the Bible used the word justified to mean “declare righteous” rather than “to become righteous” as we had used it, that the jig was up and I realized I had been sold a bill of goods.
My problem was that, without realizing it, I’d inherited an orthodox vocabulary and a heterodox worldview hiding behind it. I had a set of preconceptions lying beneath the surface that looked clean from outside but was polluted if seen from the inside. It was like an iceberg—the part that’s visible looks okay, but the part underwater is the deadly bit. What Jesus had said of the Pharisees being “whitewashed tombs” applied equally well to me, and I realized that precision of language matters a great deal.
To a much less deadly extent I’ve seen this same dynamic play out with Piper on his comments with his comment of salvation by fruits. The Baptist doesn’t see anything wrong with it while the Reformed see everything wrong with it. Why? Because although the words look the same their meanings diverge sharply depending on where you stand. Both the Reformed and Piper say “grace”, but the two mean very different things by it. The fastest way I can explain this is to discuss the fundamental theological differences, so bear with me for a moment as we take a detour.
Reformed vs Baptist
The Reformed understand grace as an objective thing, as extra nos. From this they conclude that faith is not something man does in salvation, but the instrument by which he lays hold of the obedience and sacrifice of Christ. Faith is the stick that allows you to roast your campfire marshmallow, the spoon that enables you to eat your Yoplait yogurt (curse you for that conical shaped monstrosity, Yoplait), and really, it’s pretty incidental by comparison to Christ. Christ is what matters. Christ’s work, Christ’s obedience, and Christ’s sovereign grace dispensed by the one true king of the universe are what saves. Grace brings to mind the objective work of Christ, not how the individual believer feels about it.
In contrast to this (and by that I mean it’s been my experience and observation) that Baptists see faith as the inward thing which saves and must be stressed. Yes, Baptists also believe we are saved by grace through faith, but they put the stress on the subjective faith rather than the objective grace. The Baptist believes that faith matters. Faith must be guarded, grown, carefully cultivated, for faith unites us to Christ, and faith is what God has invited us to do. Merely telling someone about grace is a good way to leave that person unsaved, the person needs to know they must put their trust in Christ.
Both agree on the necessity of both, but if one has to be stressed uniquely, the Baptist thinks it should be faith. To the Baptist it’s important to conclude service by inviting people to faith, while to the Reformed what matters is attending to the means of grace, thank you very much. And these two worldviews run along completely different fault lines for everything. To the Reformed, baptism is God’s pledge toward us (and should include infants); to the Baptist, it’s our pledge toward God and should only be done by sincere adults. To the Reformed, the church is those gathered together; to the Baptist it’s only those inwardly, invisibly gathered. To the Baptist, grace lifts us up; to the Reformed graces reaches down. The one is subjective, the other objective. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Thus, when Piper says, “You are saved when God reviews your works and signs off on them” the Reformed hear, “Christ’s perfect works imputed to your account isn’t enough, you must do good works to earn your salvation” while the Baptist hears, “lay hold of holiness now that you’re mature just as you did earlier when you were a new convert.” Because the Baptist has been conditioned to think in terms of doing what God has commanded, he doesn’t find a problem with such language, but because the Reformed begin from a different starting point they immediately roll up their sleeves and prepare to throw the heresy card down on the table.
Grace that isn’t Grace
Now to the point: Desiring God appears to be saying that although our salvation hangs on us presenting our fruits before God, the good news is that God has promised ahead of time to graciously accept them as they are. Just so I’m clear, Piper is not saying that a man has to generate his own fruits to be saved. Nor is he saying that someone who has been justified will fail to enter into heaven. Nor is he saying that God will fail to produce fruit in the life of an elect man or woman. Instead, he’s saying that grace means the bar of what God finds acceptable is lowered enough to include my works. Or if you like, in Christ my works are sanctified and raised up high enough that God can judge me successful and I can be let in.
This is so awful and clumsy that I want to requote the statement and add the word lolz to the end of it so everyone can appreciate what clownish, vagrant theology sounds like. Grace means a perfect God promises everyone will pass the test if we but do our best? Honestly, even the Roman Catholic church with her doctrine of purgatory is better than this, for at least it affirms God is holy and we are not. A subjective, simplified grace such as this is a neutered grace, a weak and sorry grace. Whatever else it is, it isn’t Biblical grace.
That’s why I’m going to close this post with a description of what real grace is in order to prove my point: our salvation is bound up in the merits of Christ, gifted to our account by the Holy Spirit after He reconfigured our hearts to trust it; as it is written, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The God-Man bore the hellish wrath of His Father as He hung dying on a cross that I, of all people might live. That is grace. It is not about me, for I am nothing. As Solomon said, “I know that whatsoever God doeth it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it, and God doeth it that men should fear before Him,” (Ecc 3:14). Real, pure, authentic grace hits like a howitzer.
Yes, Another Post Script:
I know I took some serious shots at you Baptists here (and there) and I hope it hasn’t come off as unloving or uncharitable. I do think it needs to be said, for I believe the gap between Reformed theology and Baptist theology is as wide as Objective vs Subjective, and only one can be right. I also think that righteousness as Extra Nos must be defended at all points without apology. God help us to search out and believe what He actually meant. Amen.