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In Chapter 7, John Piper points out N.T. Wright’s words on future justification. Piper’s main contention with Wright in this chapter is that Wright’s theology is unclear as to whether our good works are meritorious and serve as the basis for our justification on the Last Day.

Piper notes how Wright points to Romans 2 as evidence of his belief in a future justification that is according to works (105). He offers a different interpretation of Romans 2 that avoids Wright’s perplexing language (106-108).

Piper also believes Wright is off-base in claiming that Protestants haven’t adequately dealt with Paul’s language relating justification and works and he trots out sections from all the great Protestant Confessions as proof (111-115). I would assume that Wright knows of the thoughtful reflection between faith and works in the Protestant confessions. The “conspiracy of silence” that Wright mentions probably refers to the lack of thoughtful application and preaching of what is in fact contained within those confessions.

I agree with Piper that Protestants have done more reflection on this subject than is often argued. I agree with Wright that many Protestant teachers and preachers have not followed the example of the great Protestant thinkers because they are scared to death of affirming anything that even remotely resembles justification “by works.”

Piper’s conclusion?

“There is a good deal of overlap between Wright and Gaffin (and me) in that we all want to put full and proper stress on the importance of real, ethical obedience in accordance with the mind of the apostle Paul (as well as the rest of the New Testament writers).”

But Piper and Wright part ways when it comes to Wright’s terminology of “basis.” For Piper, only Christ’s righteousness can be the basis for justification. That is why in the next chapter, he turns to the question: Does Wright say with different words what the Reformed tradition means by “imputed righteousness”?

written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog


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5 thoughts on “Future of Justification 13: Justification by Works”

  1. Brian says:

    [“In Chapter 7, John Piper points out N.T. Wright’s words on future justification. Piper’s main contention with Wright in this chapter is that Wright’s theology is unclear as to whether our good works are meritorious and serve as the basis for our justification on the Last Day.”]
    In every instance in which Jesus speaks of the afterlife and judgement, his illustrations are based on our deeds (Matt 25 sheep & goats – Matt 19 young rich man – John 15 vine & branches – and many more). Of course, strict adherence to “justification by works” is pelagianism, and has been condemned by both Protestatism and the Catholic Church. Many point to Abraham’s faith as justifying in Romans 4, but overlook (or explain away) his deeds in Hebrews 11 (leaving his homeland for the promised land) and James 2 (offering Isaac). Biblical evidence stongly supports justification by faith and works – inseparable, and both, gifts of grace.

  2. aworthydiscussion says:

    Hmmm don’t agree with you their Brian – thats what is commonly know as semi-pelagianism and seems to be an official doctrine of the Catholic Church. (Salvation is by Grace + Works). Those of the reformed faith see Works as evidence of salvation, Evidence of Regeneration etc.

  3. Ted Hans says:

    well said by aworthydiscussion-i must join in saying i don’t agree with you Brian!

  4. daniel says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m with you Brian.

    The idea that good deeds earns one a new resurrection-body and a place in the kingdom is not the same as the idea that the good deeds done by a believer will be judged on the last day.

    From what I can see, Wright does not indicate that one’s good deeds earn God’s gift of resurrection and everlasting life (aka salvation). Instead, he seems to me to indicate that one’s good deeds are evaluated by God in the “final assize”. I believe the relevant text from Paul is in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul talks about Christians building upon the foundation of Christ and having their works tested by fire with some folks suffering some kind of loss and others not. Both groups of Christians receive the verdict “righteous” because both are in Christ by faith, but one receives a “reward” while the other one doesn’t.

    Perhaps I’ve not understood Wright correctly.

    Don’t ask me what that reward is…I don’t know.

  5. Nick says:

    Though I think that Wright wouldn’t use the word merit, I’m guessing that he is saying that our lives (works included) will be judged one day. And if we’re judged righteous (justified), it will only be because of God’s work within and through us (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). But the judgment will be of us…or at least I think that’s part of what he’s saying

    However, going into detail about what ‘final justification’ hasn’t been a focus of his, and I think it’s fine to say that he’s been unclear on the matter (unless his book on virtue has shed some light on this).

  6. Aaron says:

    There is an elephant in the room in these discussions. In Roman’s chapter 4, where Piper believes Paul preaches Sola Fide, Paul gives no mention of heaven or hell or final judgement or eternal life. What he talks about is “The Promise of Abraham” as it relates to being identified as one of God’s Chosen People and “Circumcision”. This is the elephant that Wright points to that Piper can’t seem to see for some reason. Read Romans 4:13 and go from there.

    It’s not ironic that the same elephant appears in Galatians 3 (Read Galations 3:28) and Ephesians 2 (Read Ephesians 2:13), where Piper believe Paul teaches Sola Fide. Again, a big elephant appears where there is no mention of heaven or hell or final judgement or eternal life. Just a lot of talk about circumcision and the Promise of Abraham and Gentiles and Jews now being united into one body of Chosen People by faith apart from works.

    HMMM … is it really that difficult???

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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