John Piper hits a six

No. This is not a post about Piper’s infamous Tweet about Rob Bell. (at some point I might have some thoughts to share about the latest furore surrounding Bell. But I haven’t even ordered Love Wins, so I’m not going to start down that road.)

Instead, it’s about a post Piper published on the Desiring God blog last week: I Act The Miracle.

In the post, Piper comes down hard against any sort of ‘sit back and wait for God to work’ approach to dealing with sin and growing to maturity in Christ.

Whether it’s ‘waiting passively for the miracle of sin-killing to be worked on me’, as Piper puts it. Or whether it’s the kind of thing an (entirely appropriate) emphasis on ‘sanctification by faith’ can easily degenerate into — in which suspicion greets any hint that moral will and effort might be part of how we grow as Christians.

We’ve got big problems when we start suspecting any exhortation to obedience and effort of covertly smuggling ‘salvation by works’ in by the back door. If that were true, large chunks of the New Testament and Jesus’ own teaching would be in trouble.

It’s perfectly right, of course, to be concerned to see God’s sovereign initiative, work and glory upheld not only as we start out in the Christian life but as we continue in it.

But you don’t uphold the sovereignty of God’s grace it by denying the real role our willing and acting has.

For as you ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling … it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.12-13).

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4 comments

  1. Totally.

    It is part of the very nature of the Holy Spirit coming into us that it becomes a part of our will also. When we will it is also part of the Holy Spirit’s work – self is dead.

    The challenge is to realise that the Holy Spirit should get credit for this. If we hold the Holy Spirit at arm’s length and say we did it alone, then it is a sort of salvation by works sort of thing; but if, rather, we do our best in recognition that we have crucified our self with Christ, then the credit rightfully is given to the Holy Spirit (God).

    1. Thanks, Matt! As you know, you and I might differ slightly in how we formulate this — and the New Testament writers do use a variety of terms.

      But I think the thrust is the same: God graciously takes priority in salvation (from beginning to end). Yet rather than cancelling out our will/effort/dignity it puts these on a whole new footing.

  2. I’m interested in another aspect of this. If we say it is not only acceptable, but expected that we “will” the fruits, as it were, would it then perhaps be that one may justly “practice” the gifts? I don’t mean as in “do” the gifts, but train them. Where would you stand and wait… on such an issue?

    1. I’m not sure I’ve poured a whole lot of thought into that question, Matt.

      My gut instinct is to say that it’s the ‘doing’ of the gifts — and, perhaps even more importantly, the way they are exercised — that seems to be the focus of Paul’s discussion in say 1 Corinthians. I’m not sure I can think of anywhere in the New Testament that talks explicitly about ‘learning’ or ‘teaching’ them (which is not to say that there’s nowhere that does, just that I can’t think of anywhere).

      That being said, I’m inclined to see the gifts in neither purely ‘supernaturalist’ nor purely ‘naturalist’ terms — I lean towards a more ‘interactionist’ view (roughly as outlined in Miroslav Volf’s Work In The Spirit if I’m not mistaken).

      Certainly most of the ‘gifts’ mentioned in Ephesians 4 (which are people rather than particular abilities, etc) would seem to require something like that: How could an apostle be either a purely natural or a purely supernatural gift? If Paul is anything to go by, then it’s the mix of his ‘natural’ (God-given) abilities, talents, education, training and background as well as his ‘supernatural’ encounter with the Lord Jesus that qualifies him as the apostle to the Gentiles.

      But I’m not 100% sure how this applies to the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians and Romans. What do you reckon?

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