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What happens when believers try to hold to the certainty of glorification while rejecting the sovereignty of grace?

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  • What happens when believers try to hold to the certainty of glorification while rejecting the sovereignty of grace?

    John Piper



    I ask this question because the answer is a present reality all around us, and it is tragic. I want to save you from it and I want to enlist you in the opposition to it.

    Two Theologies—Six Differences and Similarities


    Let me try to answer the question by contrasting two different theologies. We will describe the one theology as "Sovereign grace—trusting saint." And we will describe the other theology as "Assisting grace—sovereign saint." Let's look at six differences and similarities between these two theologies.

    4.1. Definitions


    What I mean by "sovereign grace—trusting saint" is that grace is a sovereign power that accomplishes all of salvation by overcoming the resistance of our will and making us love and trust Jesus Christ.

    On the other hand what I mean by "assisting grace—sovereign saint" is a theology which says that God's role in conversion is to give some conviction and some enlightenment but not to overcome all resistance and not to call effectually, but to leave the final vote with the self-determining power of the individual. God assists. He gets the ball rolling. But the saint is sovereign in that conversion is decisively—not wholly, perhaps not even mainly—but DECISIVELY his own work. God gives general assistance to people and then lets them cast the deciding vote. So what distinguishes one person above another is not the work of God but the personal wisdom or courage or virtue or whatever that causes one person to embrace Christ while others who had the same assistance don't.

    4.2. How a person hears the word of acquittal

    Both of these two theologies agree that by faith a person hears the word of acquittal and is thus justified.

    4.3. The connection between justification and glorification

    Both of these theologies agree that those whom God justified he will also most surely bring to final glory. In other words both theologies believe in eternal security for the justified believer. No one who has come to faith in Christ and the enjoyment of justification can ever be lost.

    4.4. The process of sanctification

    But what about the process of sanctification that connects the initial event of justification and the final experience of glorification? Well, the theology of "sovereign grace—trusting saint" says that this process is a work of God just as much as conversion was a work of God.

    "He who began a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). "God is the one who is at work in you both to will and to do his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God which is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Sanctification is the work of God overcoming my own remaining bent to sinning.

    But the theology of "assisting grace—sovereign saint" did not give God the right to overcome resistance in conversion and so does not give him that right in sanctification either. God assisted with some conviction of sin and some enlightenment, but he did not transgress the sovereign territory of human self-determination. Therefore, this is his role in sanctification as well. He can assist with nudges and reminders and the like, but the final and decisive cause of progressive holiness is the self-determining power of the human will.

    In the one theology God decisively causes me to walk in his statutes. And in the other theology he suggests that I walk in his statutes but I provide the decisive urge from my self-determining power.

    4.5. The certainty of sanctification

    Therefore, the theology of "assisting grace—sovereign saint" can only treat sanctification as possible but not certain. Sanctification is left it in the hands of the self-determining saint and God is denied the right to overcome the saint's rebellion. So there is no assurance that the saint's self-determined will, will in fact have holy inclinations. Since God does not cause the saint to will and to do his good pleasure, there is no guarantee that the saint will progress in holiness. So in this theology there is no certainty that a Christian converted will live a holy life. He provided the decisive impulse for his own conversion. It now remains to be seen whether he will use his self-determining power to be holy.

    On the other hand the theology of "sovereign grace—trusting saint" says that sanctification is absolutely certain for all those who are called, because God himself has sworn by the "blood of the eternal covenant" that he will work in us that which is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20–21), and write his laws on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10 = Jeremiah 31:33), and put his Spirit within us and "cause us to walk in his statutes and be careful to observes his ordinances" (Ezekiel 36:27). "He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 1:8–9; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14).

    In the one theology a life of holiness is uncertain after conversion because holiness is finally a work of man. In the other theology a life of holiness is certain after conversion because it is finally the work of God—a God whose covenant oath is to work in us what is pleasing in his sight.

    4.6. Holiness and glorification

    Now we are prepared to see the terrible result of the theology of "assisting grace—sovereign saint." Since real holiness is uncertain in the Christian convert, but glorification is certain, therefore, holiness is not the necessary path to glory. If glory is assured to you on the basis of your initial act of faith, but sanctification is not guaranteed, then the only way you can maintain assurance is to believe that holiness is not necessary for final salvation.

    And that is in fact what thousands of professing Christians believe today. They cling to the doctrine of eternal security but reject the sovereignty of grace which guarantees holiness of life, and therefore they reject the necessity of holiness and imperil their souls. For the Scripture says that there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14; cf. Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:10).

    If that holiness is not the work of God, if it is not secured for the believer by the covenant oath of God to work in us what is pleasing in his sight, then there is no security.

    What I am trying to point out is that many people want the skyscraper promise of Romans 8:28, many want the precious reality of eternal security. But they don't want it on God's terms. They want their security AND their sovereignty. They want God to step in at the end of their lives with sovereign power and give them glory, but they do not want him to step in now with his sovereign grace and make them holy.

    O how many unregenerate people are at ease in Zion thinking that they are secure without holiness! Why? Because for generations teachers and pastors have been saying that you can have the security of glorification without the necessity of holiness.

    And they have been saying this because they have rejected the biblical teaching of sovereign grace which alone explains how the New Testament on the one hand can give the eternal security of glory, and yet on the other hand make that glory dependent on practical holiness. If God's grace is sovereign, it not only fulfills promises of glory, it also fulfills the practical conditions of those promises.

    If only the road of obedience leads to glory, then the sovereign grace of God will infallibly keep his people on the road that they may get the promised glory. Those whom he justified, he also sanctified and THEREFORE glorified.

    For from him and through him and to him are all things.
    To him be glory for ever and ever.

    By John Piper. ©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

  • #2
    All what you say about grace is not confirmed by scripture.

    What your understanding of grace tells me is that it is all just some man’s opinion.
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by JohnLove View Post
      All what you say about grace is not confirmed by scripture.

      What your understanding of grace tells me is that it is all just some man’s opinion.
      How familiar are you with Reformed Theology, John?

      Please refrain from posting replies to titles.

      God bless,
      William
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by William View Post

        How familiar are you with Reformed Theology, John?

        Please refrain from posting replies to titles.

        God bless,
        William

        I am informed enough to know that it can’t be defended with scripture.

        Reformed theology can only stand the light of its misunderstanding of Paul’s writings.

        Peter told us just how off people were that so misread Paul’s writings.

        (2 Peter 3:15-16) “Think of our Lord’s patience as your opportunity to be saved: our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that is his special gift. He always writes like this when he deals with this sort of subject, and this makes some points in his letter hard to understand; these are the points that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture a fatal thing for them to do.”
        Comment>
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