If you have been following events in Christianity recently, you know that there is something of a debate going on between John Piper and N.T. Wright about the doctrine of justification. The article in Christianity Today opened my eyes to what each man was saying, and gave me a good context to give this example of Justification by grace alone through faith alone.
I was just given a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse. As in, it was a gift. I did nothing to deserve it, nor did I pay for it. The couple that gave it to me is an extremely generous, God-fearing couple and they enjoy blessing our family as often as they can. It is in excellent shape with a new clutch, and four new tires in the trunk that need to be put on soon (see how awesome these guys are?). After going out of state to get this vehicle, I drove it home-contemplating all that needs to be done with it still.
I need to put the new tires on, fix both door handles, fix the glove-compartment, get it inspected, registered, keep it insured, give it an oil change, and make sure that it stays tuned up and in working condition.
Well, actually, I don’t need to do any of that.
See the car is mine. It was given to me, and it will be mine no matter what. If I don’t register it, I can’t drive it, but it is still mine. If I don’t pay insurance on it, I get in trouble for driving it, but it is still mine. At the same time, I can drive it with its present tires, I don’t need to change them, and when they get worn out, the car is still mine. Get the picture?
So let’s review. I did nothing to receive the vehicle, it was graciously given to me. And because there is no payment due on it, it remains mine no matter what I do with it.
Here is where I would agree with Piper who says that “Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with Him through faith alone.” This seems to side more with Ephesians 2:8-10 then do the words of Wright who says it is “the announcement issued on the basis of faith and faith alone of who is part of the covenant family of God.” If I read that right, he makes it sound as if it is up to your faith to justify you when actually it is truly “by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8). Just as my car has been given to me and I can enjoy it only through working on it, grace is given to us through the “work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with Him through faith alone.”
Time for Work
Some people then say that this is far too easy- that we can just tell people to say a prayer and they are all set for eternity. But that is not what Piper, Paul, or even Jesus says. Piper says “the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ.” This echoes Paul concluding that verse with, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” And again, this goes back to Jesus who told His followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). As many would say, this is the comfort and call of the Gospel. We are comforted that we can do nothing to lose our standing with Christ because we did nothing to gain it, but we are called to live life denying ourselves, doing the work set before us, and allowing the Spirit to take up residence in us to change us.