Disobedient Faith?- John Piper on the Flaw of Free Grace Theology

In what is the third, and most likely last of my posts on John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God, I want to take a look at something he says in the ninth chapter of the book, “The Pleasures of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice.”

As you may recall, I have in the past couple of months been interested/disturbed by the teachings of those who hold to Free Grace theology.  I had been aware of this line of thinking for quite awhile, but I guess it wasn’t until I actually saw it taught by a visiting evangelist from the pulpit of my church that the danger and ugliness of it really first hit me.  John Piper seems well aware of this ugliness as well and so confronts the issue:

So often you find in many churches and ministries the cultivation of an implicit two-stage Christianity: a faith stage and then (maybe) an obedience stage.  But this is not the way the Bible pictures the life of faith.  The separation of faith and obedience, as though faith were necessary for salvation and obedience were optional, is a mistake owing to a misunderstanding of what faith really is.  True saving faith is not the kind of belief in the facts of the gospel that leaves the heart and life unchanged. [The Pleasures of God, p.243]

This is an excellent short summary of both the Free Grace position and Piper’s initial criticism of it.  However, from this one is left with the question, “If faith is necessary for salvation, and obedience isn’t something apart from faith, then how is it that faith produces obedience?”  Piper answers:

But how does faith produce obedience?  When you trust Christ to take care of your future (“faith is the assurance of things hoped for”), the inevitable result is that sinful strategies to gain happiness sink in the peaceful confidence that God will make a greater joy for you in his own way.  Therefore moral conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8.29) is the fruit of faith. [ibid, p.246]

I think this is the greatest explanation of faith producing obedience I have ever read or heard, and can tell you that the part where he speaks of the destruction of “sinful strategies to gain happiness” hit me as a very poignant way of speaking about sin.  I know that the Free Grace-Lordship Salvation debate can get very technical and contentious, but if everyone were to read Piper’s defense of his views in The Pleasures of God I think it would settle a lot of minds.

8 Responses to “Disobedient Faith?- John Piper on the Flaw of Free Grace Theology”

  1. jonathonwoodyard Says:

    I think the best treatment of the Lordship Salvation debate is found in John MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to Jesus” and the follow-up book, “The Gospel According to the Apostles.”

    These two books destroy the theology of carnal christianity that flows from the minds of men like Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles Ryrie, and the such.

    John 14 is clear enough for me….”If you love Me (Christ), you WILL OBEY Me!”

  2. jonathonwoodyard Says:

    I meant to add an old book, written by Puritan Joseph Alleine that deals with this…

    “Wake Up and Live: A Call to the Unconverted.”

  3. Todd Burus Says:

    Thanks for the resources. I’ve never read much dedicated to this topic simply because I had never come face to face with anyone who was buying into to it all too heavily (I am always trying to read the emerging people I know, though, to see where they fall on this, since they all seem to have some jacked up mixture of Free Grace theology and works righteousness).

    My biggest issue (among many) with Free Grace theology is that it basically annihilates the work of the Holy Spirit in assurance, which I think is one of the most blessed gifts from God to us.

  4. Keith Walters Says:

    I think that we see a lot of this both functionally and in some cases doctrinally in many SBC churches. I distinctly remember sermons on two ways to live the Christian life. This is the same theology which drives churches to maintain inactive membership roles. So regardless of what said churches would espouse from their pulpits by maintaining such roles they re functionally denying the Lordship of Christ.

  5. Keith Walters Says:

    Those are definitely the best books on the topic :)

  6. jonathonwoodyard Says:

    I see this in the SBC for sure….but I believe this is pervasive within the realm of Christianity as a whole…..the West especially.

  7. Royce Says:

    There is a fine line dividing Lordship salvation teaching and cheap grace. First, we call men to commitment; God calls them to surrender (death of the human ego). If commitment is the standard of discipleship, what we often get is committed flesh. Surrender says the flesh has nothing to offer to God.
    Many, who teach a version of Lordship salvation, teach that the sinner must clean his life up “before” he can enter into the grace of God by faith. That is utterly false. “Dead men can’t dance!” “You who were dead in trespasses and sins has God made alive (by grace are you saved)”

    The gospel call is to wicked sinners, “come as you are” and fall in an unworthy heap upon the mercy of God and based solely upon the work and worth of Jesus your sins will be taken away and you will be given Christ’s righteousness and be one of God’s own dear children. Any response to that gospel proposition that is less than thankful obedience to everything the babe hears Christ command flies in the face of what the Bible says a disciple is.

    Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is the real item. That is true across denominational lines. Our biggest mission field is the pew.

  8. Jonathon Says:


    I agree brother. Some who teach a Lordship salvation say we must “clean up” then come to Christ. That is, ‘utterly false.’

    However, Todd is not advocating that position. Neither are guys like John MacArthur or John Piper. They are battling the false idea that one can come to Christ and remain the same. I believe men like Lewis Sperry Chafer and Charles Ryrie called it “Carnal Christianity.” This is a false idea.

    The Lordship position acknowledges that sinners will be sanctified at different levels and rates, but that sanctification will take place. For a person to have claimed to place genuine faith in Christ and continue to live a lawless life is outside of the Biblical definition of saving faith.

    May we call people to commitment, which contains surrender, and follow Christ with their lives. “The Bible never said you are what you say you are, but what you are will be known by the fruit you bear.”–Alistair Begg

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