I’ve just finished John Piper’s book The Future of Justification (A response to N.T. Wright). Piper’s passionate pastoral reasons for keeping justification by faith alone central to Christian life and ministry state what I discovered the hard way and have tried to articulate on this blog at various times; if our works of love compete with Christ in our hearts and minds as the basis of our acceptance before God we rob the cross of its power to produce good works in our lives. Here’s Piper in his own words:
WHY THIS BOOK?
My ultimate reason for writing this book is to avert the double tragedy that will come where the obedience of Christ, imputed to us through faith alone, is denied or obscured. Inevitably, in the wake of that denial, our own works—the fruit of the Holy Spirit—begin to take on a function that contradicts the very reason these good works exist. They exist to display the beauty and worth of Christ whose sacrifice and obedience (counted as ours through faith alone) are the only and all-sufficient security of the fact that God is completely for us. That’s the first tragedy: In our desire to elevate the importance of the beautiful works of love, we begin to nullify the very beauty of Christ and his work that they were designed to display.
The other tragedy that I pray we can avert is the undermining of the very thing that makes the works of love possible. What makes radical, risk-taking, sacrificial, Christ-exalting works of love possible is the fact that Christ’s perfect obedience (counted as our righteousness) and Christ’s perfect sacrifice (counted as our punishment) secured completely the glorious reality that God is for us as an omnipotent Father who works all things together for our everlasting joy in him. If we begin to deny or minimize the importance of the obedience of Christ, imputed to us through faith alone, our own works will begin to assume the role that should have been Christ’s. As that happens, over time (perhaps generations), the works of love themselves will be severed from their root in the Christ-secured assurance that God is totally for us. In this way, for the sake of exalting the importance of love, we will undermine the very thing that makes them possible.
Yet the freedom and courage to love is what the world desperately needs to see in the church and from the church. The world does not need to see strident, triumphalistic evangelicals laying claim to their rights. The world needs to see the radical, risk-taking, Christ sacrifice of humble love that makes us willing to lay down our lives for the good of others, without the demand of reward on this earth. For the sake of this display of the glory of Christ, I plead for our allegiance to a robust, biblical, historic vision of Christ whose obedience is counted as ours through faith alone.