As has become customary, the good folks at Desiring God have released Piper’s message within a couple of hours of it being delivered. You can download it from their site by clicking right here. This message is titled “Discern What Pleases God—Himself.” It is really a kind of entry level, introductory overview of John Piper’s theology, the insights from Scripture that have formed the foundation for his entire ministry. So if you’re curious about why Piper’s ministry has had such wide reach or you want to get a refresher as to what he teaches, this is a great place to start. This is the doctrine that stands under all the books he has written and all the messages he has delivered.
For those interested in knowing what we’ve been singing at this conference, one of the Harris brothers (and there are a bunch of them, aren’t there?) has collected a complete list of the songs from each of the worship sessions. You can see it here. He talks also about some of the people leading worship and some of the interesting interludes.
This message was particularly interesting as Piper kind of hinted that it may be just a bit of a perhaps of the route he will take in his book interacting with errant teaching on justification. At the very least, it shows that he is putting serious time and consideration into how the teaching on justification is consistent from the gospels to the epistles. His talk, which I found just a bit difficult to summarize, went a little something like this:
In the talk he delivered earlier in the day, Piper said that God’s saving love is His commitment to do everything that must be done, no matter the cost, to make Himself the everlasting and all-satisfying treasure of sinners. The link with this message is that when we see what had to be done so that God could make Himself the treasure of fallen sinners, this determines what kind of obedience pleases or displeases God. If you see what He did at Calvary, you will know two kinds of obedience that God cannot abide and two kinds of corresponding obedience that He loves and delights in. What God did through Christ to make Christians treasures Him governs the kind of obedience that pleases and displeases Him.
Here are the two kinds of obedience God hates.
The first kind of obedience that God abominates because of the work He did in Christ to make Himself the treasure of sinners is obedience offered to Him as grounds of our justification. If you take your obedience to the Word of God and commend it to God as the basis of why He should count you as righteous He hates that obedience because it usurps the place of His Son’s obedience. If you come up with obedience that nullifies the death of His Son He will not accept it.
The second kind of obedience God hates is obedience that conceives of itself as payback for God’s grace. The reason He cannot abide this obedience is because what Christ did in order to make God our everlasting treasure was to provide a rock solid ground and guarantee of all future grace including the grace that includes our obedience.
This all needs explaining from the Bible and this is where he went next.
Here is the biblical basis and foundation for why Piper thinks God abominates obedience offered as the grounds of our justification. He offered the following verses and gave a brief explanation for each: Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:21. Offering God our obedience as the basis for our justification nullifies grace because it takes the place of Christ in our salvation. It cancels grace and nullifies mercy because Christ is offered in His life and in His death as the obedience and the sacrifice which I must have. This comes from four passages: Romans 5:18-19, Romans 10:3, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:8. In Christ we have righteousness from God.
Can this be found in the teachings of Jesus? Piper has spent a lot of time studying the flow of thought in Luke 17 and 18. Consider three passages: Luke 17:7-10 (a servant comes in from the field, the master demands to be served and then Jesus says, “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also when you have done all that you were commanded say “We are unworthy servants.”). It doesn’t matter how many commandments you keep because when the end comes, they count for nothing. If you could keep everything you were commanded, it still wouldn’t count. Luke 18:9-14 (He told this parable to people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. The parable was of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray.). The Pharisee believes that his freedom from adultery and his other obedience is a gift of God. He conceives of this obedience as being God-given. The tax collector, on the other hand, was the one who was justified. The one who offered God even the God-wrought obedience did not receive justification. We learn that no obedience that we perform in our strength or God’s strength will be offered to God as the ground for our justification. We have mercy as the grounds, but still not Jesus. The flow of thought continues in this chapter. The next story is that of the Rich Young Ruler (beginning in Luke 18:18). Despite keep all the commandments, the Ruler lacked one thing (and yet Jesus told Him three things to do). The man was clinging tightly to his wealth and Jesus demanded that He be the one held in that way. Luke uses all of this to tell us that we have no claim on God. When you’ve done everything, even by the power of God, you have no claim on God. One thing is needful: follow Him. Jesus tells us that obedience offered to God as grounds for our being counted righteous will not be accepted.
The positive counterpart to this one is delicate. The New Testament calls faith in the gospel message obedience (see, for example, 1 Peter 4:17). The gospel is that Christ died for our sins and provided a perfect sacrifice for our sins and a perfect obedience for our righteousness. You need only cast yourself on Him rather than on what you’ve done. When you do this you’re obeying the gospel and this is renunciation of obedience in anything you’ve done out of obedience. When you see the phrase “obedience to the gospel” don’t begin to mix in your works. Know that what you’re obeying is the demand that you forsake your own works and rely on the obedience of another. Obedience to the gospel is faith. Faith is in a category of its own and there is nothing else that faith is like. It is absolutely unique and must be regarded as such. Faith in Christ for justification is a receiving of an alien obedience, not an offering of my own. It is a turning away from my obedience and my sufficiency and saying I am undone. I will embrace and receive the sacrifice and obedience of another. Faith is a totally receiving act and not a pushing out act. It is a receiving of Christ and all He is for us.
The second kind of obedience that displeases God is conceiving of your life as a Christian as payback for grace. Why is God displeased by that effort to pay Him back? Because what God did in Christ in love to make Himself the treasure of sinners was not only to provide a ground for their perfection but to provide a ground and guarantee of all future grace bought, secured, by that redemption, by that obedience and that sacrifice. That means that as you walk into the future if you try to think that you must do certain things because they show Him how much you appreciate what He did and can repay some of what He did for me…if that mindset is in your brain, that obedience will be displeasing to the Lord because it will nullify the grace bought for you at Calvary.
There are several texts to prove this, among them 1 Corinthians 15:10. If you try to think of your walk as payback, you nullify what He bought for you. He has gifts for you, triumphs over temptation. You are a debtor to grace and this debt increases daily. The obedience that pleases God is the obedience that banks on the ever-fresh arrival of future grace. Past grace at the cross is magnificent, unparalleled and foundational. It bought a reservoir of grace flowing on to me from the future as I walk into my days. What God wants from me is not payback but increasing debt. He wants me to say “God, what do I have that I did not receive?” Here is another text: Psalm 116:12. “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” Is this payback time? The very next verse answers. “I will lift up the cup of salvation call upon the name of the Lord.” For what? For more grace! How do you pay back God? Ask for more! We have a kind of God who is glorified not when we take the buckets of our gratitude up the mountain and pour them into His all-sufficient spring. Rather, this spring is magnified when we take our empty buckets, take it down the mountain, and pour it on people. He doesn’t need any of our payback. He is glorified when we go every day deeper into debt. From 2 Corinthians 9:8 we see that God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work. So where do good works that come from? God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you may abound in every good work. When you think that you want to please God by your obedience, you should devote your mind and your heart to seeing Christ for who He is and savoring Him for how much He’s worth. The real battle for obedience that pleases God is receiving grace, being satisfied with Christ. When this happens you are weaned from all other treasures and all other prizes.
Piper ended with a brief reflection on 2 Corinthians 8 - “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” This passage provides a wonderful biblical example of true obedience that brings glory to God.
As with Piper’s other message, I suspect this one will be available shortly on the Desiring God web site. I assure you that I didn’t even begin to really capture it!
The conference will wrap up tomorrow with one more general session led by C.J. Mahaney. By 1 PM it will be over…