I’ve been away from the blog for much of this week because I was attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference on Tuesday through Thursday. I had never been to T4G before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Albert Mohler closed the conference on Thursday saying that he had taken much more away from this conference than he expected. I have to say, happily, that I did too. The Lord spoke powerfully to me personally both through the speakers and through the fellowship with brothers there. It was a great week.
I found John Piper’s message from Thursday night to be particularly helpful. His text was Luke 18:9-14, and it was a model of biblical exposition soaked in meditative, prayerful preparation. I think everyone was astounded by one particular insight that Piper brought out from this text. I first heard John Piper preach on Luke 18:9-14 about four years ago, and it was the first message that Piper preached to his church after his sabbatical in which he wrote The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. I wrote about this particular insight then (read it here), and I want to highlight it again now.
In this sermon, Piper goes to war with certain New-Perspective-type understandings of justification by faith, and Piper has grasped what is the heart of the matter in this controversy. Many evangelical proponents of the New Perspective (NP) have argued that God produces righteousness (be it faith, faithfulness, obedience of faith, etc.) within a Christian which then becomes the “basis” for one’s justification. NP advocates claim that this is not a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian stance because the righteousness is God-produced.
In this sermon on Luke 18:9-14, Piper argues that looking to one’s God-produced righteousness as the basis of one’s acceptance before God is precisely what the Pharisee did in Luke 18. In the parable, the Pharisee “thanks” God for producing in him his righteousness, and yet the Pharisee does not go away justified, but condemned.
Piper says that any person who looks to their own God-produced righteousness as the basis of their acceptance before God will be condemned just like the Pharisee. N. T. Wright argues for justification on the basis of the whole life lived (see references here). If N. T. Wright convinces people to trust in their own God-wrought righteousness for justification, then those people will be condemned just like the Pharisee. That’s what’s at stake in this debate.
I am in full agreement with Dr. Piper on this one. I think that many proponents of the NP confuse an Augustinian view of grace with the Protestant (and biblical!) view of righteousness. As I have written elsewhere, one can be Augustinian and still be outside of the Reformation.
This is not the same sermon Piper preached four years ago, for there has been much added to it (in particular, his comments on Luke 17). In any case, Piper’s message was right on the money, and it’s a message that many need to hear.