Final salvation

LittleFaith

Puritan Board Sophomore
Lately I have been doing some casual 'research' of John Piper's writings with the specific intent of determining whether I agree with Scott Clark's assessment that Piper teaches a doctrine of final salvation - namely, that our initial justification is by faith alone but that works play a role in securing our ultimate salvation. I did conclude that I agree with Dr. Clark here, while noting that Piper is not totally consistent across his career and there are points at which it is truly not clear that he is advocating this.

After listening to a sermon last night by another speaker in which the terms "initial" and "ultimate" salvation were used, I am wondering if it is ever appropriate or in accord with Reformed theology to use this terminology. I know that Bavinck spoke of sanctification as infused and that other theologians have spoken of definitive and progressive sanctification. Clearly there is a cooperative element to the Christian life even from the beginning. Certainly I also agree with the somewhat trite statement that we "were saved, are being saved, will be saved". In my own life, I keenly feel that even now if God were to let go of me I would be irretrievably lost - how wonderful that he promises NOT to lose those whom the Father has chosen. But to speak of any kind of initial and ultimate salvation seems to move our cooperation from effect to cause as regards the means of our salvation. Even that trite saying reminds me that regardless of what effort or labor is required on my part to confirm my election and work out my salvation, it is God who is still the sole author and perfecter of my faith all along the way.

So, all that said, it seems to me that the language of initial and ultimate salvation should always be avoided; but I would like to hear from others on the matter.
 
This reminds me of Carl Trueman's Foreword to Schreiner's Faith Alone in a Five Solas series, a helpful phrase such as "We are justified by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone" "Faith that is alone is not faith in union with Christ". I agree that using terms such as initial and ultimate may muddy the waters of comprehension, and should be avoided, or at least used more clearly, we can fall back on these catchphrase words that seem to say much but leave a question mark in our heads instead. I am light years from where you are in your walk, so it takes a bit of brave throwing caution to the wind to comment here, but just to say that the believer is justified by faith alone is a solid fact, all praise and honor to God, NONE to the believer, but if this believer is relying on anything they do, they're at best mistaken, and need to brush up their theology.
 
Lately I have been doing some casual 'research' of John Piper's writings with the specific intent of determining whether I agree with Scott Clark's assessment that Piper teaches a doctrine of final salvation - namely, that our initial justification is by faith alone but that works play a role in securing our ultimate salvation. I did conclude that I agree with Dr. Clark here, while noting that Piper is not totally consistent across his career and there are points at which it is truly not clear that he is advocating this.

After listening to a sermon last night by another speaker in which the terms "initial" and "ultimate" salvation were used, I am wondering if it is ever appropriate or in accord with Reformed theology to use this terminology. I know that Bavinck spoke of sanctification as infused and that other theologians have spoken of definitive and progressive sanctification. Clearly there is a cooperative element to the Christian life even from the beginning. Certainly I also agree with the somewhat trite statement that we "were saved, are being saved, will be saved". In my own life, I keenly feel that even now if God were to let go of me I would be irretrievably lost - how wonderful that he promises NOT to lose those whom the Father has chosen. But to speak of any kind of initial and ultimate salvation seems to move our cooperation from effect to cause as regards the means of our salvation. Even that trite saying reminds me that regardless of what effort or labor is required on my part to confirm my election and work out my salvation, it is God who is still the sole author and perfecter of my faith all along the way.

So, all that said, it seems to me that the language of initial and ultimate salvation should always be avoided; but I would like to hear from others on the matter.
Indeed.

Justification itself is the Biblical and better term. Sanctification is the bearing of fruits showing that one is truly justified. All are a part of 'salvation' since it isn't merely removing the guilt of sin but it's power. Works are in some sense, 'necessary' but as consequent (not antecedent as faith is) conditions. Further we are not told quite how many... actually scratch that, Matthew 25: a cup of water to the least of these...
Paul continually goes back to our new identity as the reason why we need to stop sinning, not the other way around. Certainly we can retroactively go back and see. The new neonomians rightly see a problem in the world and in the church but flip everything on its head to get the results they want.
 
Lately I have been doing some casual 'research' of John Piper's writings with the specific intent of determining whether I agree with Scott Clark's assessment that Piper teaches a doctrine of final salvation - namely, that our initial justification is by faith alone but that works play a role in securing our ultimate salvation. I did conclude that I agree with Dr. Clark here, while noting that Piper is not totally consistent across his career and there are points at which it is truly not clear that he is advocating this.

After listening to a sermon last night by another speaker in which the terms "initial" and "ultimate" salvation were used, I am wondering if it is ever appropriate or in accord with Reformed theology to use this terminology. I know that Bavinck spoke of sanctification as infused and that other theologians have spoken of definitive and progressive sanctification. Clearly there is a cooperative element to the Christian life even from the beginning. Certainly I also agree with the somewhat trite statement that we "were saved, are being saved, will be saved". In my own life, I keenly feel that even now if God were to let go of me I would be irretrievably lost - how wonderful that he promises NOT to lose those whom the Father has chosen. But to speak of any kind of initial and ultimate salvation seems to move our cooperation from effect to cause as regards the means of our salvation. Even that trite saying reminds me that regardless of what effort or labor is required on my part to confirm my election and work out my salvation, it is God who is still the sole author and perfecter of my faith all along the way.

So, all that said, it seems to me that the language of initial and ultimate salvation should always be avoided; but I would like to hear from others on the matter.
He does teach a final justification or judgment according to works. The chief question in the debate between Piper and Clark is whether that doctrine is correct or not.
What does Paul mean when he says "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:"
 
What does Paul mean when he says "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:"
So what do you think? Is it correct to speak of initial and ultimate salvation?
 
So what do you think? Is it correct to speak of initial and ultimate salvation?
I don't think there's an initial and final salvation such that one can be initially justified and finally perish.
But it's a basic fact of the Scripture that there will be a final judgment according to works for both the good and the evil man, the believer and the unbeliever.
Turretin and other Reformed Orthodox call it the "judgment according to works."
 
I don't think there's an initial and final salvation such that one can be initially justified and finally perish.
But it's a basic fact of the Scripture that there will be a final judgment according to works for both the good and the evil man, the believer and the unbeliever.
Turretin and other Reformed Orthodox call it the "judgment according to works."
Agreed. But, I don't think Piper believes that either, that one can be initially justified and then perish - not with his emphasis on election and sovereignty. My impression is that he is teaching that works are part of what keep the elect saved. I could just need to read more from him on the topic, though.
 
Agreed. But, I don't think Piper believes that either, that one can be initially justified and then perish - not with his emphasis on election and sovereignty. My impression is that he is teaching that works are part of what keep the elect saved. I could just need to read more from him on the topic, though.
It's pretty normal in Reformed theology to talk about sanctification as a part of salvation.
To give a couple prominent examples, the "ordo salutis" or "order of salvation" always includes sanctification, and the Confession of Faith lists sanctification as a "means to glory"
"As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation."
 
Elect from eternity and justified in time.
OK. Well I certainly don't think our works elect or justify us.
But "save" or "salvation" is ordinarily not synonymous with "justification" in Reformed theology.
For example, the Confession places salvation alongside justification at one point. "Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."
There, "salvation" appears to refer to final deliverance from God's condemnation, because it is placed after justification and sanctification.
 
OK. Well I certainly don't think our works elect or justify us.
But "save" or "salvation" is ordinarily not synonymous with "justification" in Reformed theology.
For example, the Confession places salvation alongside justification at one point. "Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."
There, "salvation" appears to refer to final deliverance from God's condemnation, because it is placed after justification and sanctification.
Ok. Then can you help me understand what is different about what Piper is teaching, and why it's wrong for him to say we are justified by faith alone rather than saved by faith alone?
 
To be honest nothing I’ve ever heard or read from Piper seems contrary to the reformed position outlined by Charles above, at least when interpreted charitably. Piper is a biblical theologian and is not always very systematic in his thought, but I do not think he’s the danger some people paint him to be.
 
Ok. Then can you help me understand what is different about what Piper is teaching, and why it's wrong for him to say we are justified by faith alone rather than saved by faith alone?

I don't know why Clark has such an issue with Piper. It appears to me he's blowing the issue out of proportion.
Mark Jones went on the record to criticize Clark on this point a few years ago.

I do think the phrase "final justification" isn't ideal because it doesn't sufficiently distinguish the judgment according to works from justification, but debates should revolve around ideas, not vocabulary, and besides, James uses the word "justify" that way, so it's not without biblical precedent.
It's also helpful to clarify with Turretin that works are brought forth as evidences and fruits in the judgment, not as meritorious
 
I don't know why Clark has such an issue with Piper. It appears to me he's blowing the issue out of proportion.
Mark Jones went on the record to criticize Clark on this point a few years ago.

I do think the phrase "final justification" isn't ideal because it doesn't sufficiently distinguish the judgment according to works from justification, but debates should revolve around ideas, not vocabulary, and besides, James uses the word "justify" that way, so it's not without biblical precedent.
It's also helpful to clarify with Turretin that works are brought forth as evidences and fruits in the judgment, not as meritorious
It seems in at least one place (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-really-save-us-by-faith-alone) that Piper is teaching some form of works-based salvation - "In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith." On the surface, that seems concerning to me - but I have not read Turretin to know for myself whether Piper's statement can be squared with Reformed doctrine.
 
It seems in at least one place (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-really-save-us-by-faith-alone) that Piper is teaching some form of works-based salvation - "In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith." On the surface, that seems concerning to me - but I have not read Turretin to know for myself whether Piper's statement can be squared with Reformed doctrine.
I actually see nothing wrong with that statement. It seems legit and, to me, squares with the reformed position. Faith resulting in evidencing fruit
 
I actually see nothing wrong with that statement. It seems legit and, to me, squares with the reformed position. Faith resulting in evidencing fruit
Well this input has been helpful - thanks to all who have weighed in! I may have to re-assess my previous thinking here, so I will do some further reading and reflection.
 
It seems in at least one place (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-really-save-us-by-faith-alone) that Piper is teaching some form of works-based salvation - "In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith." On the surface, that seems concerning to me - but I have not read Turretin to know for myself whether Piper's statement can be squared with Reformed doctrine.
I'm okay with the part I underlined, but I'm not comfortable with the part I bolded. I much prefer how the WCF puts it: "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love." (11.2) This is what the Trueman quotes provided by @JeffR in #2 above is saying more economically.

I would not ever say that we are saved through the fruit (works) of our faith - we are saved through the fruit (work) of Christ's obedience. This is why, elsewhere, the WCF teaches that "the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him" (16.6) and "as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit" (16.5). In other words, any good fruit we produce is really Christ's fruit - He is the vine, we are the branches.
 
I'm okay with the part I underlined, but I'm not comfortable with the part I bolded. I much prefer how the WCF puts it: "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love." (11.2) This is what the Trueman quotes provided by @JeffR in #2 above is saying more economically.

I would not ever say that we are saved through the fruit (works) of our faith - we are saved through the fruit (work) of Christ's obedience. This is why, elsewhere, the WCF teaches that "the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him" (16.6) and "as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit" (16.5). In other words, any good fruit we produce is really Christ's fruit - He is the vine, we are the branches.
To play devil's advocate to my own opinion, per the feedback in this thread - is Piper denying faith as the sole means of justification proper?
 
To play devil's advocate to my own opinion, per the feedback in this thread - is Piper denying faith as the sole means of justification proper?
I don’t think so. Justification is a one-time, instantaneous act which is irrevocable. He seems to me to be saying what James says— that our faith is vindicated and our salvation consummated at the last day when the fruit of justifying faith is recognized at the judgment. Not that the fruit is any way a ground/means of our being declared righteous before God.
 
To play devil's advocate to my own opinion, per the feedback in this thread - is Piper denying faith as the sole means of justification proper?
I don't think so. But I would not say 'saved by fruit.' If that were cut off that would be fine. Or that we are 'vindicated.'
 
To play devil's advocate to my own opinion, per the feedback in this thread - is Piper denying faith as the sole means of justification proper?
To be fair, I think a few years ago I would have had major problems with that language, but now it just seems biblical and in line with more of what I know about the reformed tradition.
 
I don't think so. But I would not say 'saved by fruit.' If that were cut off that would be fine. Or that we are 'vindicated.'
That exactly mirrors some of the writing I read this morning on the Clark-Jones-Piper tiff... that "vindicated by works" would be a better way to phrase it

To be fair, I think a few years ago I would have had major problems with that language, but now it just seems biblical and in line with more of what I know about the reformed tradition.
I guess I have me some book-larnin' to do!
 
I guess I have me some book-larnin' to do!
I apologize, I think my last response sounded condescending, please forgive me brother! I didn’t mean to say I am more educated, just that I can see how someone would find the language troubling even though I no longer do.

Clark, for example, is far more educated and knowledgeable than I could ever hope to be, so I certainly don’t take one’s position this conversation to be a matter of how educated one is.
 
I apologize, I think my last response sounded condescending, please forgive me brother! I didn’t mean to say I am more educated, just that I can see how someone would find the language troubling even though I no longer do.

Clark, for example, is far more educated and knowledgeable than I could ever hope to be, so I certainly don’t take one’s position this conversation to be a matter of how educated one is.
No need for an apology, friend. I merely meant - and it is quite true - that I am not widely read when it comes to the Reformed tradition, especially as regards primary sources. For me, it's a bunch of Calvin, some Bavinck, Matthew Henry, and the confessional standards. Even then it's not clear how much I really understand of what I've read there. Whether compared to a student such as yourself or someone like Dr. Clark, I would indeed have some book-learning ahead to be able to knowledgeably compare Piper to Turretin for myself.
 
“Works can be considered in three ways: either with reference to justification or sanctification or glorification. They are related to justification not antecedently, efficiently and meritoriously, but consequently and declaratively. They are related to sanctification constitutively because they constitute and promote it. They are related to glorification antecedently and ordinatively because they are related to it as the means to the end; yea, as the beginning to the complement because grace is glory begun, as glory is grace consummated.”
Turretin, Volume 2, page 705
 
Apologies if it seems like I am beating a dead horse and re-asking questions in lightly varied ways - it really does help me get these things into my own thick head.

I am understanding that the line between Reformed orthodoxy and neonomianism comes, then, not necessarily from including works in our salvation - but from including works in our justification or in some way making them antecedent to God's work in regenerating and justifying is. So it is fine to speak of our salvation being maintained or preserved by our works, or to state that there is no salvation apart from works - so long as they remain consequent to justification and so long as the distinction between justification and sanctification is preserved. Have I more or less grasped this? I was pretty convinced prior to this that it was quite patently wrong to speak as Piper did, so am having to adjust my mental framework... gets harder with age!
 
So it is fine to speak of our salvation being maintained or preserved by our works, or to state that there is no salvation apart from works - so long as they remain consequent to justification and so long as the distinction between justification and sanctification is preserved.
I would not say that our salvation is either maintained, or preserved by works, period.

Works necessarily flow out of our justification, but in no way contribute toward it, or keep us in that state.


O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
-Gal. 3:1-3
 
I would not say that our salvation is either maintained, or preserved by works, period.

Works necessarily flow out of our justification, but in no way contribute toward it, or keep us in that state.


O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
-Gal. 3:1-3
I am understanding from some of the contributions to this thread that the terms "salvation" and "justification" are not coterminous.
 
Back
Top