Important Words on Sanctification from John Piper (Part 2)

31 Aug

In Part 1, John Piper discussed the doctrine of sanctification generally, as a slow – oftentimes painful – process of being made holy. This is different from justification as justification is a one-time, once-for-all declaration that one is acceptable to God because of what Christ did on the cross.

In Part 2, John Piper talks about the doctrine of sanctification on a much more practical level. You can read the transcript of the audio below [Note: Once again, this transcript has been slightly edited for readability]:

David Mathis: John, I think it would be helpful to be clear about the Gospel. What is the Gospel? How would you define it?

John Piper: The safest place to begin is where Paul beings – that is, the place he makes most explicit in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

So he goes right to the core of the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners. And, of course, contained in there are other glorious truths. But that’s the core of the Gospel. It’s the act of God in history to save sinners by substituting His Son, Jesus Christ, in their place so that their sin is on to Him and His righteousness and perfect obedience is on to them through faith alone.

And I think “through faith alone” is an essential part of the Gospel because if you had to earn the benefits of what He had achieved on the cross, there would be no good news. And so, part of the good news is not just that He acted in a sovereign initiation to remove the wrath of God, conquer sin, defeat the Devil, shut the door of hell, forgive sins, provide righteousness, but also that this is ours for free. It’s for free. You can only receive it as a gift; you can’t earn it or work for it.

So, here’s a practical illustration of how the Gospel brings immediate and relevant effect into a person’s life: when I was told five years ago, after an examination on my prostate, the doctor said, “I’d like to do a little biopsy. Something feels irregular.”

I said, “Oh, when do you want to do that?” He said, “Now.” And he left me for ten minutes. That’s a very rare ten minutes; you better not waste those ten minutes. And so, I sat there and then the Lord gave me 1 Thessalonians 5:9 which says, “You have not been appointed for wrath, but to obtain salvation through your Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you so that whether you wake or sleep (live or die), you belong to Jesus.”

So, there the death of Jesus – that’s the heart of the Gospel – is brought to bear on “Whether you live or die, you’re mine. You will not be condemned. There is no condemnation.”

So, to know the Gospel; to believe in the Gospel; to live in the Gospel is to live in the assurance that just before you get this biopsy, you’re as safe as can be. Because if you get cancer and die, you’re safe; if you get cancer and live, you’re safe – because you don’t live under God’s condemnation anymore. You have eternal life and therefore, there is all over your life an incredible freedom from fear and from guilt and from condemnation.

DM: Romans 1:16 says that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. There’s been a resurgence on the belief that the Gospel is not only the power for conversion, but sanctification, as well. How? How is the Gospel power for sanctification?

JP: The language right now in this new Gospel-resurgence is, “What are the practical, daily dynamics of how believing the Gospel makes you a person who cares about human trafficking; who makes you more patient with your wife; who makes you more prone to play with your children in a humble, on-the-floor way; makes you a more loving and kind pastor?”

In other words: “How does the Gospel – how does being forgiven; being justified; being freed from condemnation – translate to ‘I will help my roommate clean up every time he leaves his nasty stuff on the floor everyday.'” How does that work?

Here’s my take on motivation. I want to hear the actual, psychological dynamics of the way faith and the Gospel (that’s past) produces this afternoon (that’s future) a different John Piper. Different behavior; takes away my anxiety; makes me more hospitable; makes me more patient; makes me more generous; makes me less vengeful.¬†

And the piece that I want to stir into this current conversation is two-fold: I think that the key to how faith produces obedience or holiness or love or the fruit of the Holy Spirit is understanding faith as (1) treasuring Christ and faith as (2) confidence in God’s future grace.

Because the New Testament doesn’t just leave us with generalizations about, “If you believe long enough and hard enough that you are a forgiven and justified person, you become good.”

It does not leave us there. It leaves us practical command after practical command. And lots of those practical commands are connected with ground clauses that give practical incentives and motivations. And almost all of those – not all – but almost all of those are related to the future.

So, this two-fold thing: (1) faith as treasuring Christ means that the more I treasure Him, the more I’ll be conformed to Him (c.f. 2 Corinthians 3:18). So, if you see Jesus as glorious and He gets more and more precious and valuable and glorious, you will be shaped by what you are looking at. Which is why not all of the incentives are future-oriented because when it says in Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you with all malice. Be kind to Noel; tender-hearted; forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”

That, “as” there is a being shaped by what you’re looking at. And what you’re looking at is Christ hanging on the cross with indescribable love and self-denial and sacrifice for you. If you look at that long enough, treasure that deeply enough, value you that to the bottom of your being, you’re going to be shaped by it. So that’s huge. Just the meditation on the nature of Christ and his love. So faith understood as “I’m embracing that, I’m treasuring that, I’m valuing that, I’m treasuring it.” That will change you. That’s one emphasis.

The other (2) is future grace – or faith in future grace. When I look at incentives in the New Testament, I see in Luke 14:14, “Invite people over to your house who can’t pay you back, for you will be repaid back at the resurrection of the just.”

Clearly, one of the functional incentives in my mind when I feel disinclined to be hospitable is to say, “Look, sure it’s going to be hard to invite people over. It’s going to be awkward; it’s not going to be as easy as it was; etc. But get over it, because there’s going to be a reward at the resurrection of the just.” That is a concrete confidence in a future reward.

Another example – Hebrews chapter 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” I mean, how can you get more clearer than that? If you asked me, “How does faith in the Gospel change your life?” I’d say, “Do you mean faith in the future? Or are you totally backward-oriented, meaning you’re only looking at the cross?”

So, I’m arguing that faith looks back, gets strengthened by the past grace and then it spends its entire – almost – sanctifying effort oriented on promises. “All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:2). They were bought by Jesus Christ. Jesus secured for us His being totally for us in the future.

So, this afternoon, I must be confident in what He promises to do for me (e.g. Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, I am with you, I’ll strengthen you, I’ll help you, I’ll uphold you with my righteous right hand”). If I believe that this afternoon, I will venture on Him. So, faith in future grace becomes the key to lots of acts of love.

And the one in Hebrews 11:24 – “By faith, Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God, rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for He was looking to the reward.”

Now, I think that’s Hebrews’s way of unpacking how faith – based on Hebrews 11:1 – sanctifies. Faith sanctifies because faith looks to the reward, satisfies its soul on all that God is for us in Christ in the future, looks at the treasures of Egypt and says, “Refuse.” And then, embraces the pain of leading a people for forty years; or being a pastor of a church for thirty years; or stay married to a wife that doesn’t care much about you; or going after your kids that are wayward and being patient with them.

All of that is possible because faith is faith in the future of what the past crucifixion has bought for us. That’s what I want to say over and over again and say that the Bible presents the sanctifying work of faith as faith in future promises.

Just one more comment: yesterday, knowing that we were going to do this, I just opened up my Bible software and did a word search on the word “trust” in the book of Psalms. I would recommend you try that. It’s really simple.

They’re all future-oriented. All of them. But they’re all based on God’s faithfulness in the Exodus (past) or His deliverance from the Philistines (past). And God gets angry when He’s done so much and they don’t trust Him to provide for water. They don’t trust Him to deliver them from the enemy. They don’t trust Him.

“Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots. We trust in the name of the Lord our God.” That means tomorrow; that means five minutes from now. That means when we’re talking about something I have to take care of later. “Should I get anxious? Have I studied enough? Will I be made a fool of? Will I like this person? Will this person like me?” Blah, blah, blah, blah.

How do I love and become patient? Answer: trust Him, for goodness sake – He died for you. But if we don’t orient our trust in what He’s going to do for you and me in an hour and half from now, we’ll be anxious; we’ll get self-centered; and we won’t be made holy.

And so, sanctification is pursued by faith, grounded in the Gospel, but overwhelmingly in the New Testament, that faith is faith in future graces, His promises.

DM: John, you mentioned Romans 8:32, which does seem to bring this together so well, where Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give all things?”

JP: If I could believe that – not just once, but hourly, that the God of the universe didn’t spare the most valuable person in the universe and that that guarantees His giving me everything I need – I would be a happy, humble, other-oriented person.

Because if Noel says when I’m really busy getting prepared for something, “The wind is blowing the umbrella and it’s hitting the side of the house.” She’s right next to the umbrella. You know what’s my first thought in my mind? “You go and put the umbrella down.”

At that moment, if my first thought had been, “God has sent His Son to die for you and purchased for you that He will supply you with everything¬† you need and everything works for good. And in losing two minutes from your study to walk down and do that for your wife whom you’re to love as Christ loved the Church,” I wouldn’t have had that selfish thought. But I think I got there. I preached myself into obedience.

DM: Could you lead us in prayer to close?

JP: Father in Heaven, help our unbelief. We believe; help our unbelief. Yes, sanctification is by faith and we just want to trust your promises. We want to be confident in all your assurances that you will work for us, and help us, and strengthen us, and reward us.

And whatever sacrifices we make, they cannot be greater than what you will restore to us. So, God, increase our faith and may we set our faces to pursue the obedience and holiness – without which we won’t see the Lord and with which we’ll stand before you and hear the incredible words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In Jesus’s name, Amen.


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