It is not uncommon for me to find theological questions in my inbox from brothers and sisters outside my own church. Unfortunately, I’m rarely able to respond directly to such queries. But some questioners are persistent enough, and some questions seem broadly relevant enough that I figure a brief blog post is in order.
Like this question: is glorification conditional?
The question was prompted by something John Piper said on a panel to the effect that glorification was conditional. The other panelists, of whom I was one, didn’t seem bothered by Piper’s statement. So this brother who emailed me is wondering why not. How can we say that the believer’s future and final glorification is in any sense conditional?
As often happens in theological discussion, we have to start by saying that in one sense glorification is not conditional, if by condition we mean we must earn our place in heaven or that the final salvation of those regenerated and justified hangs in the balance. The golden chain of Romans 8:30 cannot be broken: those whom God predestined will be called and those called will be justified and those justified will be glorified.
But the word “conditional” does not have to carry the sense of merit or uncertainty. A condition is simply a requirement that must be met or a state of affairs that must come to pass if a certain event or outcome is to be realized. To say something is “conditional” is to say nothing about how the condition is met or whether there is any doubt the condition will be fulfilled. I can see how the word “conditional” throws people off, but we must affirm from Scripture that without certain evidences made manifest in our lives, we will not be glorified.
- Without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
- Those marked by patterns of willful sin and disobedience will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-10).
- God will present us before him holy and blameless if we continue in the faith and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23).
We must not ignore these warnings and promises. We cannot live like the devil and expect to meet God. This is not because God demands a set number of holiness points before we can enter heaven. We are justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. And this grace that grants us faith will invariably be a grace that causes us to change and keeps us in the love of God. To ignore the second half of the previous sentence is to prove the first half never happened.
This is the point Piper makes in Part VI of Future Grace, a section entitled “Unmerited, Conditional Future Grace”:
By its nature, saving faith loves God and delights in God as the sum of all that could ever satisfy the soul. Saving faith is humble because by nature it despairs of self and looks to God. Saving faith draws near to God and cries out to God and waits for God and takes refuge in God and trusts in God and hopes in God, because the essence of faith is to see and embrace God, and God alone, as the sum of all it will ever need. And saving faith trembles at the thought of offending such a great God through disbelief in his promises. All the conditions of future grace that we have looked at are not additions to faith, but expressions of faith. (252-253)
If the language of conditions trips you up, think about what Piper is saying using the more familiar language of “perseverance.” Glorification is the promised reward for those persevere to the end. The fact that our perseverance is a gift from God which is infallibly given to the elect, born again, justified believer does not remove from us the requirement to preserve.
John Murray explains:
The very, expression, “The Perseverance of the Saints” in itself guards against every notion or suggestion to the effect that a believer is secure, that is to say, secure as to his eternal salvation, quite irrespective of the extent to which he may fall into sin and backslide from faith and holiness. It guards against any such way of construing the status of the believer because that way of stating the doctrine is pernicious and perverse.
It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits in faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness.
The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere unto the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 154-155)
So is glorification conditional? Not if that means we can earn heaven or that those declared righteous before God are in danger of being declared unrighteous on the day of judgment. But will we be glorified irrespective of the kind of life we live? The testimony of the New Testament everywhere states just the opposite. As Murray says, “Perseverance means the engagement of our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose. The scripture doctrine of perseverance has no affinity with the quietism and antinomianism which are so prevalent in evangelical circles” (155). Or to put it another way, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13).