John Piper: What are the commands of Jesus?

johnpiperIn his sermon “This Man Went Down to His House Justified,” from August 6, 2006, John Piper spurns the emphasis that secular people often place on Jesus as a great moral teacher. Not because he isn’t that; rather, it’s because apart from the salvation that Christ came into the world to offer us, his moral genius is beside the point. The moral commands of Jesus, Piper implies, are not useful guidelines for people in general; they are instead

descriptions of the way new human beings behave who have been born again; who have therefore been enabled supernaturally to see the glory of Jesus; who have recognized the incredible outrage of their sin; who have ceased to trust in anything about themselves; and who have cast themselves entirely on Jesus for mercy, for righteousness, and for forgiveness.

I like that! While Piper doesn’t let us disciples off the hook for living up to Jesus’ many commands, he rightly recognizes that apart from God’s saving grace, made possible by Christ’s atoning death, we are helpless to carry them out. God must first perform a supernatural action, which he does through justification and new birth.

Moreover, he emphasizes that our obedience isn’t something we perform in order to be saved; rather, we obey in response to the salvation that he has already given us.

I would only add one thing: even after we have been born again, we will still fail (unless or until we are perfected in love, this Methodist pastor hastens to add) to cast ourselves “entirely” (superlatives make me nervous) on Jesus for mercy, righteousness, and forgiveness. As Paul writes in Romans 7, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”

But Piper’s right: Inasmuch as we do cast ourselves on Jesus, our obedience, along with many good works, will result.

11 thoughts on “John Piper: What are the commands of Jesus?”

  1. I like Piper a lot. His defining belief might be that:

    “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

  2. Piper has an unfortunate tendency to sound like the Pharisee in his text: “Thank God I am not like other men.” Well, we should be thankful for our new birth, and take the occasion to recall that we are not just miserable world-bonded sinners, we are also stamped with the Image of God, that we may rule. And how are we going to take charge and run things if we have “ceased to trust” everything about ourselves? If I am asked to drive the car, I’m worse than useless if I actually can’t manage the traffic or if I’m just going to be a Nervous Nelly about it. As we learn to think with both sides of our brain we can be really genuinely effective in the vineyard, not “relying on my works” but “doing my job”.

    1. Marshall, did you get this from my excerpt, or are you speaking of the sermon in general? Or Piper in general? Regardless, I don’t think you’re being fair to him. He’s not talking about operating a car, although if we pray for God’s protection as we do so, how unreasonable is it to “trust in God” in that area, too?

  3. Yeah, I go round and round about this “what we do to” versus “what we do because” issue in my own head, much less discussions with other people. What does it mean for Jesus to say, as he did at least once, “Your faith has saved you” (or, perhaps in other instances, made you well or granted your request)? And with respect to the tax collector (can’t spell), he says he will restore fourfold and THEN Jesus says, today salvation has arrived here (paraphrase). Was Jesus saying, “Yeah, he was already saved, but now everyone can see it”? And what of repentance? Is that just “proof of the pudding,” or a necessary prerequisite? Ultimately, why does God select whom he will save? If it does not have to do with something in the person to be saved, don’t you just have “willy nilly predestination”?

    1. I don’t think God predestines in a “willy nilly” way. Yes, he choses who he will draw to himself, and no, I don’t pretend to understand his criteria. I do believe that all who seek God, repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus will be (already are) saved. So, that’s man using his “free will” and God being “sovereign” in his election.

      None of that frees us from responsibility for ourselves and our action. So Tom, we are back where you and I always are in this discussion. God knows what he’s doing, whether we understand it or not. 🙂

      1. So, you are right, we get back to the same thing. Guess I can’t pass up a good argument! 🙂 Really, though, not calling the choice “willy nilly” is, I think, what some would reference as a “cop out.” In other words, we don’t know what it is–we just know it is not that because God is the agent and we know God is not like that. Well, I agree God is not like that, so I know he does not act “willy nilly,” so he must be acting in some PRINCIPLED manner. That is what is the opposite of “willy nilly.”

        So, I think I am entitled to investigate what criteria God might use, along the lines of Abraham saying, “Far be it from you to act that way! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right!?” (Interestingly, the “subject matter” Abraham was addressing was “treating the righteous in the same way as the wicked”–a not irrelevant observation here.) Therefore, logically we come down to two possibilities–something extrinsic to the human being God is acting towards, or something intrinsic to the human being. If I am somehow acting on a logical fallacy with this “either/or,” then I am happy to hear it. (Of course, one could say, “A little of both,” but that would still mean there is SOMETHING intrinsic involved, so I don’t think that defeats my point.)

        If wholly extrinsic, I have a big problem, because that means whether a person goes to heaven or hell has nothing to do with him or her. It is simply God acting “inexplicably.” God of course may act inexplicably if he likes, but, again, the question is, would that be the type of thing we would expect the God with the personality the Bible attributes to him to do? I don’t think so. (See Abraham again.) I find it very hard to reconcile such an action with “love” and “justice,” among other things.

        Consequently, I must come down on the side of there being SOME intrinsic basis. And I think that has biblical support (even though there are grounds to argue either way). “Noah found favor with God because he was blameless in his generation,” and therefore escaped being drowned in the Flood. Very picturesque of heaven versus hell based on the quality of the person involved. Cornelius was picked as he through whom the reach of the gospel to the Gentiles was exemplified because he prayed and gave alms. That is not to say either of them (or anybody else) is “perfect,” as nobody is. Nevertheless, there is some difference between whom is selected and whom is rejected–even if it is nothing more than a recognition of one’s depravity and a crying out to God for his forgiveness. That is still “something.” That is still something which “differentiates” the publican from the Pharisee, so the former went home justified and not the other. God did not “arbitrarily” select the publican, based on “nothing” in him.

  4. And you are in good company Tom. A great many folks have taken your position. None more than Wesley.

    But, a great many have a different view of election. Edwards, Whitfield, Sproul, Piper, Lloyd Jones, McDonald and many more. You can read their explanations, which are far more eloquent than I can give. It is from their arguments that I was persuaded. But, not their arguments alone. I found myself able to substantiate those arguments by going to Holy Scripture.

    You can say the same for those who read the arguments of Wesley and all those you could name, which is why we have such and impasse. And, I don’t believe that I’ll know the “truth” until I hear it from God himself, “on the other side”.

    Suffice to quote God, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”.

    1. You are right that this is a longstanding controversy with many erudite scholars on both sides. As well as both having scriptures to quote, including particularly Romans 9 for your perspective. So, I won’t push the matter further (at this point in time!), except to say that as far as “on whom I will” is concerned, obviously it is “God’s choice” as to who will be saved (“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”), but this still “begs the question” of, on what basis? Just noting that the matter is one of God’s “election,” as opposed to us having a “right to demand” (which clearly no one does), does not obviate whether he makes his selection on the basis of “something” rather than “nothing” in the individual he chooses to elect. I say, something. Because I don’t like how it makes God look otherwise.

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