The aim of my title is not to criticize the gospel of evangelicalism but to assume that it is biblical and true, and then to ask whether Jesus preached it. If I had it to do over again, I would use the title “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?”—the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, for the glory of God alone.
This week at Together for the Gospel, John Piper shared a message that many considered the highlight of the conference:
The full manuscript is available at Desiring God, but here are a couple of highlights:
Did Paul Get Jesus Right?
So the problem I am wrestling with is not whether evangelicalism gets Paul’s gospel right, but whether Paul got Jesus’ gospel right. Because I have a sense that among the reasons that some are losing a grip on the gospel today is not only the suspicion that we are forcing it into traditional doctrinal categories rather than biblical ones, but also that in our default to Pauline categories we are selling Jesus short. In other words, for some—perhaps many—there is the suspicion (or even conviction) that justification by faith alone is part of Paul’s gospel, but not part of Jesus’ gospel. And in feeling that way, our commitment to the doctrine is weakened, and we are thus less passionate to preach it and defend it as essential to the gospel. And we may even think that Jesus’ call to sacrificial kingdom obedience is more radical and more transforming than the gospel of justification by faith alone.
Only One Thing Missing
[W]hen it comes to justification, it doesn’t matter whether the rich ruler is right when he says, “All these I have kept from my youth.” What matters is what he is depending on. What he is trusting in. So Jesus says to him in Luke 18:22, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [. . .]
What is this “one thing”? It sounds like three things. Verse 22: 1) Sell what you possess, 2) give it to the poor, 3) follow me. How are these three demands really one? These demands may be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to me.” It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money, and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “one thing” he needs is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.
The poor are always the beneficiaries when this transaction happens—when a person treasures Jesus above money. That’s why Jesus mentions the poor. But the main point is what is happening between this man and Jesus. You lack one thing. You lack me. Stop treasuring money and start treasuring me. You want to inherit eternal life. You want to enter the kingdom of heaven. You want to be justified. Only by your attachment to me will you inherit eternal life, enter the kingdom, be justified. If you would be perfect—which is the only way into God’s kingdom—follow me. Be connected to me. Depend on all that I am for you.
Our Standing with God Is Based on Jesus, Not Us
Take heart in your struggle with indwelling sin, and remember that your standing as a cherished child of God is based not in yourself but in Christ alone. When you feel like a failure as a father or a husband or a pastor or a friend, where will you look if not to Christ for your righteousness? When Satan accuses us that we have never done a perfectly motivated deed in our life—not one—and then reminds us of God’s standards of perfection, how will we thrust Satan down but by this truth, this reality?
All Our Goodness Is Evidence and Confirmation, Not Grounds
Never forget that all your good attitudes, all your good intentions, and all your good works will serve at the judgment not as the ground of your acceptance, but only as the public fruit and evidence and confirmation that you were indeed born again, and that you did have faith, and that you were united to Christ, who is your sole justifying righteousness.
Settle it once and for all that the dozens of places in the Bible that make your good behavior the condition of your final salvation are a condition only as the fruit and confirmation of justification, not the ground of it. If you do not settle this, you will live in continual turmoil wondering what all those texts mean that say to Christians: “Those who do such things will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Don’t submit to that torment. Settle it. All the good that God requires of the justified is the fruit of justification by faith alone, never the ground of justification. Let the battle of your life be there. The battle to believe. Not the battle to perform.