John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 4) — Work Hard Enough and You Might Just Maybe, Perhaps Squeeze Through that Narrow Way
Joshua 24:19-22 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”
Mr. Piper, you who would have us be justified by the Law — do you not hear the Law?
Once again, we want our readers to understand why we continue to go after John Piper. Piper teaches abuse victims that they cannot divorce their abuser no matter how severe the abuse. No matter if the husband sexually molests the children. No matter if a wife drowns the children in the bathtub. And, he says, if you do divorce for ANY reason and remarry while that abuser is still alive, you are guilty of adultery. There it is. That is what he teaches. He may was well have entitled his permanence view book, This Momentary Hell From Which there is No Escape.
We are hitting Piper at the very foundation of his error. Namely, his false gospel of justification by works. We conclude that all the rest of his legalistic teachings rise out of this bad root. As we showed last time, Piper says we must pass a future justification which is based on our works. With this in mind, Piper does not actually teach Future Grace, but Future Judgment. His Christian Hedonism has become the grid through which he interprets Scripture, and though he describes it as “enjoying God / desiring God,” we suggest that it is more properly called “Christian Asceticism” the goal of which is to earn God’s favor.
Alright then, let’s turn to his three chapters (22-24) in his book What Jesus Demands From the World, and see another example of Piper’s misapplication of Law to Christ’s people. In other words, his false gospel of justification by works. Actually in this post we will only look at chapter 22, and only part of that because really, to point out the errors in this one book would require a veritable encyclopedia of volumes. Piper opens this chapter with a quotation of the following Scripture:
Luke 13:23-24 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
We recognize right away that some very similar words are recorded by Matthew:
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Now, I suspect that it has been debated if these two accounts are describing one and the same event, or if they refer to two different times that Jesus said virtually the same words. So we will deal with both cases. Piper also refers to Matthew’s account. Let’s ask then a basic, fundamental interpretive question that any Bible student with even rather elementary competence would ask right off before trying to interpret these verses: To Whom is Jesus Speaking?
Answer: Jesus is addressing crowds of unregenerate Jews with some of His disciples present. (Not all of His disciples were necessarily genuine believers, as time would tell). In other words, Jesus is addressing people who were the people of the Old Covenant. The physical circumcision. People who, through wrong teaching and a wrong understanding of the Law of God, felt that they were a shoe in for God’s Kingdom. It is Jesus’ purpose here to teach them the real nature of God’s kingdom, and to show them that the Law of God required far more than they could ever hope to perform. In other words, Jesus was using the Law of God to “kill” their self righteousness and show them their desperate need for a Savior.
In support of this answer, consider the following verses:
Luke 13:22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.
Luke 13:26-30 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Matthew 5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Matthew 7:28-29 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Alright. I trust that these verses adequately support the conclusion stated above — that Jesus was addressing crowds of unregenerate Jews with the purpose of making them despair of their so-called legal righteousness. Jesus was showing them the impossibility of keeping the Law of God and thereby making themselves righteous. Jesus is not preaching gospel here. He is laying down the demands and condemnation of the Law.
With this all in mind, I believe the most effective thing for me to do at this point is to simply give you a quote of the first couple of pages of Piper’s 22nd chapter which is entitled, Strive to Enter Through the Narrow Door, For All of Life is War. As you read, keep asking yourself, “who is Piper addressing here? Who is the “us” and the “we”? And then honestly deal with this question: Is John Piper teaching salvation by works? I insist that his own words prove that he is:
Jesus taught us that life is war. When he said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24), the Greek word behind the English strive is recognizable in English transliteration: agnizesthe . You can see the word agonize in that Greek word. The implication is that we must struggle, wrestle, and exert ourselves. But the most important fact about the word “strive” is that the one other place where we find it on Jesus’ lips is John 18:36, where he says his disciples would be “fighting” if his kingdom were of this world. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.” So here the phrase “strive to enter” means that entering is a battle.
STRIVE TO ENTER WHAT?
Entering what? The kingdom of God. This is plain from the following context. After saying that we should “strive to enter through the narrow door,” he refers to a master of a house who rises and shuts the door so that no one else can enter (Luke 13:25). Those outside knock and say, “Lord, open to us,” but the master says, “I do not know where you come from.” Then they say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he responds, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” (Luke 13:25-27). Then Jesus applies this picture to the real situation of some who will be excluded from the kingdom of God while Gentiles from all over the world will “recline at table in the kingdom of God.” “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29). So the “narrow door” through which we must “strive” to enter is the door to the kingdom of God. Outside there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28). This is one of the ways Jesus refers to hell: “Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:50). The alternative to entering by the narrow gate is destruction. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). In other words, what is at stake when Jesus demands that we “strive to enter” is heaven and hell. It is an ultimate issue.
THE GREATEST THREAT IS OUR OWN SIN EVERY DAY
But what does Jesus want us to strive against so that we can enter through the narrow door? What are the obstacles? If life is war, who is the enemy? In our striving, the aim is not to hurt anyone. Jesus is clear that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27). Saying that life is war does not mean that we make war on people, but on sin, especially our own. In fact, it is only our own sin that can keep us from entering the kingdom, not anyone else’s. The sin of others can hurt us, even kill us. But that does not keep us from entering the kingdom of God. Our own sin is the greatest threat to entering the kingdom of God. But temptation to sin comes from an amazing variety of sources. Jesus is demanding serious personal vigilance. The command to “watch” is one of his most frequent commands. The idea is that we must be awake and alert and ready, lest the temptations of life take us off guard and we be overcome and ruined. Jesus said to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
This command is relevant to all of life. Temptations abound, and Jesus does not take them lightly. The watchword of all of life is, watch, be alert. I say all of life because Jesus warned that the days just before his second coming would be in many ways very normal. It will be, Jesus says, like the days of Noah before the flood came and swept people away who were utterly unsuspecting. They were not watchful. Life seemed too normal, so they were not vigilant. “As in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark . . . so will be the coming of the Son of Man. . . . Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:38-39, 42). Nothing is more normal than eating and drinking and marrying. The point is that we must be vigilant all the time, not just when the times feel perilous. They are always perilous. Soul-destroying temptations to unbelief and sin are present in everyday, normal life. Striving to enter through the narrow door is a lifelong, all-day, every-day calling.
Piper, John (2006-09-30). What Jesus Demands from the World (Kindle Locations 2550-2589). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
In our next post in this series we will continue to examine how Piper deals with and applies these words of Christ about entering by the narrow way. We will see that he consistently applies the Law of God, meant to convict unbelievers of their condemnation and need for Christ, to people who have already been freely justified by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, he continues to teach a false gospel of justification by works.
Note: Here is a link to what R. Scott Clark, professor at Westminster Seminary, California, has to say about this notion of a supposed two-stage justification (which Piper does indeed teach). Thanks to Barbara for finding this link. R. Scott Clark 2-Stage
Posts in this series
Part 4: Is this post.