Living By Faith Blog


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Tchividjian and DeYoung on obedience — can Piper help?

How should we obey?

Recently Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung blogged about the right and wrong way to obey Christ (here’s a list of their posts, and some related articles).

Their discussion was helpful and gracious — but did not resolve the issue.

A summary

DeYoung says that obedience — while born of faith, dependent on faith, and powered by faith — also requires effort  Our effort does not earn or deserve anything from God.  But still — in addition to faith — we need effort.

Tchividjian agrees that we need effort.  But he says effort is not something separate from faith.  Effort should focus on strengthening faith — faith in our justification.  When we have faith in our justification we will automatically obey: “Good behavior happens when we daily rest in and receive Christ’s ‘It is finished’.”

DeYoung is not satisfied.  He says that while faith in justification is essential — it’s not enough.  We are not just called to trust in  justification — we are also called to obey commands like “put on, put off, put to death, strive, and make every effort.”  Trust — and obey.

Tchividjian disagrees.  “The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us.”  It’s not that we take one step of faith, and then a second step of obeying.  We strengthen our faith — and faith moves us to obey.

They cover a lot more.  But they clearly differ on this one point —

Tchividjian — obedience comes from faith alone — faith in our justification.  Our effort should go into strengthening faith in our justification.

DeYoung — obedience does not come from faith in justification alone.  We need effort in addition to faith.

Sounds like a stalemate.

Can Piper help?

John Piper gives another option.

Piper says obedience is by faith alone.  But for Piper, faith involves more than just trusting my justification.

For Piper, faith means trusting all that God promises to be to me in Christ Jesus, including both His promise that I am freely justified through Christ, and also His promise to fully satisfy me in Christ (Future Grace, p.27).

When I trust God’s promise that I have been justified through Christ alone — and that I will be satisfied in Christ alone — then I will obey.  (There’s other promises and motivations in Scripture– but for the sake of simplicity I’ll just focus on these.)

Prayer or TV?

Here’s an example.  If I’ve had no time at all in prayer, and am tempted to skip prayer and instead watch TV, that could be because —

  • I think I’ve sinned too much to be welcomed by Christ, or because
  • I’m trusting “American Idol” to satisfy me more than Christ.

So what can I do to obey?

Faith in justification is essential.  If I don’t understand that by faith alone in Christ alone I am forgiven and loved and welcomed by God, I won’t gladly turn to Him in prayer.

But faith in justification is not enough.  Because if I trust that TV will satisfy me more than Christ, then even if I know I can turn to Him, I won’t.  I’ll turn to TV (or I’ll pray begrudgingly — just as bad).

So to pray, I must fight the fight of faith.  Depending on my heart condition, that might mean fighting to trust that —

  • because of Jesus I can turn to God as I am and He will welcome me, or that
  • Jesus’ nearness is infinitely more satisfying than “American Idol.”

Either of these might require intense effort — fighting the fight of faith — through prayer and God’s Word.

But once I trust that I am completely forgiven and welcomed by God through Christ, and that Christ’s nearness is infinitely more satisfying than “American Idol” — I will pray.

Is this taught in God’s Word?

Yes, because dozens of biblical commands are motivated by the promise of greater heart-satisfaction in God.

Take John 14:21 —

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

Jesus promises that obedience will bring a greater experience of His love and heart-satisfying presence.

To respond to this promise I need to trust that I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone (otherwise I could think past sin disqualifies me from this promise, or that I need to be good enough to earn this promise).

But I will also need to trust that Jesus’ presence will be graciously given to me as I obey, and that His presence is more satisfying than anything else (otherwise the promise of His presence won’t motivate me).

When I trust that I have been justified by Christ alone — and that I will be fully satisfied in Christ alone — I will obey.

Back to DeYoung and Tchividjian

So DeYoung is right when he says it’s not enough to trust in my justification.

And Tchividjian is also right when he says obedience must be by faith alone.

But wouldn’t they end up agreeing if they also stressed Piper’s point — that obedience flows not just from faith in Jesus as our justification, but also from faith in Jesus as our heart-satisfaction?

Why this is important

One reason is because none of us has all the motivation we need for obeying Christ.

So — if Jesus and the apostles motivate us with both past justification through Christ, and with future satisfaction in Christ — wouldn’t it make sense to use both motivations?

Wouldn’t this produce more Gospel-centered obedience — for the glory of Christ?

I think it will.

What do YOU think?

Do you have any feedback, pushback, or comments?  Feel free to leave a reply below.  Thanks.

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Category: Motivation for Obedience


153 Responses

  1. Paul Walton says:

    Hey Steve,

    I agree that trusting in heart satisfaction is paramount in obedience. If we are honest with ourselves, seeking happiness is the motivation behind our actions, even for the man who hangs himself. He’s trusting that death will bring the peace that his soul is seeking, and that’s a whole other subject (we can know that peace here and now).

    But seeing Christ clearly in all that He is, as Savior, Lord, and perhaps most importantly as my heart’s treasure, causes me to trust Him with a warm hearty faith.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Paul. I love what you say — that happiness is the motive for all our actions. And what a grace that we can find all the happiness we desire in Christ.

      I’m so glad that we can be brothers committed to following Christ together. Onward!

  2. Wade says:

    So the fight for faith is a fight to trust in Jesus as Savior and the ultimate source of satisfaction through obedience to him.

    Why would a person fight for faith if he doesn’t have faith?

    Are you saying that the initial mustard seed of faith is a gift of God and that based on that mustard seed a person will (or perhaps might choose to) struggle to find more faith in Jesus as Savior and Guide? Or where does the faith to fight for faith come from?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good to hear from you, Wade. You raise some good questions.

      I believe we are all commanded to turn to Jesus and trust Him as our Savior, Lord, and Treasure. When we do so we will be completely forgiven, and He will satisfy all our heart hungers and thirsts (John 6:35).

      But our faith will be opposed by the world, the flesh, and the devil. That’s why we must fight the fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12) — praying over the Word of God until we feel the Holy Spirit strengthening our faith and satisfying our hearts in Christ.

      I do believe faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8-9). But we are never told to wait for God to give faith — we are commanded to repent, look to Jesus, and trust Him.

      I hope that makes sense. Let’s turn from all else to trust Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and all-satisfying Treasure.


      • Paul Walton says:

        Fighting the fight of faith as Steve mentioned in 1 Tim. 6:11-12 We are encouraged to
        Flee: From sin
        Pursue: The things of God
        Fight: For our faith
        Take hold: Of the gospel that leads to eternal life
        Confess: Speak to others concerning your faith

  3. Brandon says:

    I totally agree. I think I would add, too, that claiming and experiencing past, present, and future grace is essential to our faith… not just what Jesus wants to do for me only in “the heat of the moment,” so to speak

    I think you should bring these thoughts up with both men, in person, if you end up getting a chance. That’d be a very interesting conversation, I think.

  4. Richard FC says:

    Hi! My wife and I are from London UK, which is very dry in terms of grace-laden preaching! We too favour the Tullian/Piper line in your blog but our minister favours de Young. Can you say how the greek words/grammar in Rom 1v5 point to ‘the obedience OF (maintaining one’s) faith’, rather than to the ‘obedience TO (the works called for by one’s) faith’.
    May God make His countenance shine upon you and your flock!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good to meet you, Richard! Thank you for stopping by and introducing yourself.

      Regarding “the obedience of faith” in Rom 1:5, Schreiner’s commentary on Romans (p.35) says the Greek means either “the obedience that flows from faith,” or “the obedience that IS faith” (at the point of conversion). He says it probably means both.

      Heb 11:8 (and many other verses in Heb 11) shows that obedience flows from faith in God’s promises.

      May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to think through this crucial issue.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:


        thanks, Steve

        Sorry for not spotting yours earlier.

        If the grammar is ambiguous, I can see how one might only be able to check the (one) meaning from the context. But I do find it hard to see how it can have very different meanings just because there are two grammatical uses

        When I say ‘a breakfast of eggs’ I mean a breakfast comprising eggs; I don’t mean opening the fridge and checking to see what the eggs plan to eat that day, ie the eggs’ breakfast.

        Thus ‘obedience of faith’ means obedience comprising a position of faith.

        But when I say ‘the sound of the trumpet’ I mean the sound emerginig from the trumpet.

        Thus the ‘obedience of faith’ means the obedience that emerges from faith.

        Sometimes we can in fact have both ‘comprising’ and ‘emerging from’ as in ‘a leg of lamb’ which is a leg comprising of lamb meat, but also a leg coming from a lamb. But in this case the thing identified is clear – there is one meaning.

        However an obedience comprising faith and an obedience emerging from faith are totally different things. If the grammar is genuinely ambiguous (despite definite/indefinite articles etc), then the context must dictate. At this point I am puzzled why Schreiner does not opt for one context and meaning, or the other, but holds out for both?!

        Paul might be unclear but he is not illogical

        • Richard UK says:

          Then there is the FIGHT of faith!

          Is that the fight that ’emerges’ from faith(presumably the fight to endure or to go out and evangelise, or to grow in holiness ?

          Or is it the fight that ‘comprises’ faith (presumably the fight to maintain the faith, to continue to believe the gospel)?

  5. The problem seems to be the way they are defining faith. To make the object of faith justification, rather than Christ, strips our faith of its ethical implications. We trust (have faith in) Christ, and thus, we obey His commands because He is trustworthy.

    • C Edmisten says:

      Thanks, Johnny Walker. I think your statement would meet with full agreement by both Piper and DeYoung. Not sure Tchividjian would “fully” agree. But I think you summed it up in a way that we can get our hands around and truly be benefited by: Our faith (that both justifies and obeys) is in Christ who is Prophet, Priest, and King!

      • Richard UK says:

        Johnny hi – you say “we obey His commands because He is trustworthy”. I’m not quite sure of the logic here. I might have a friend who is trustworthy, but to say “I obey him because he is trustworthy’ doesn’t make sense to me.

        Edmisten hi – similarly you say “Our faith both justifies and obeys”. It is not our faith that obeys; it is us. We might obey because of our faith; we might even want to say we are justified because of our obedience, or because of our faith – but faith itself does not obey, surely

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for this helpful thought.

      The way I’ve put it is that faith means trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ. Justification is surely included in that, but so also are the promises of reward for obedience.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:

        Interesting, Steve

        We’ve been discussing Justification and Sanctification (ie being made holy whichever meaning of holiness you use).

        Now you introduce Blessings and see them as a ‘deal’ whereby God gives on certain conditions.

        Presumably you are NOT talking about salvation (which is already given) but about blessings in this life (biblical ?) or in the next.

        Either way it makes obedience a self-interested reward-motivated activity – not much love in that

  6. James W says:

    This is a great blog.

    I am inclined to say that it draws a bit of a false dichotomy, however. I think what Tullian would say is that his faith in justification through Christ re-orients his heart and naturally (yea, irresistibly?) draws him to satisfaction with Christ, because what could be more satisfying than understanding the reality that Jesus Christ died to draw me near to Him? For Tullian, then, I am willing to wager that faith in justification and faith in Christ as heart-satisfaction are not two different steps of faith–they are one and the same.

    However, I must admit that I have not read the blog posts between these two that you are commenting on; I could be wrong. At any rate, thanks for the insightful analysis of these men and the issues they discuss.

    • Richard UK says:

      I agree; I don’t think Tullian sees ‘faith in justification’ in some cold, cerebral way.

      If you did want something pithy it might be ‘faith in Christ justifies, and faith in justification sanctifies’ but only in the sense that our knowledge of God’s forgiving love towards us transforms/sanctifies us – one might almost say ‘despite ourselves’.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are so welcome, James. Thanks for your encouraging words.

      I would love it if Tullian was including faith-in-Christ-as-our-heart-satisfier when he talks about faith-in-Christ-as-our-justifier.

      i have not seen that in what he wrote, but maybe I’ve missed it somewhere.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:

        Golly, Steve

        I thought Tullian, Liberate, Steve Brown and T’s approval of Gerhard Forde’s affirmation of the Thomas Chalmers’ line ‘the expulsive power of the new affection’ gave a clear picture of ‘heart-satisfaction’.

        But I do agree that Liberate’s line is still less than fully developed in fleshing out this ‘relationality’ core of Augustinaian trinitarian theology

  7. Scott Leonard says:

    I love the writing of all these guys! One thing I have noticed about Tullian’s’ approach here and other places, is that his emphasis on justification seems to render Romans six seven and eight irrelevant. There is a ton of stuff in there that relates to the power AND the motivation to walk in obedience that goes way beyond justification.

    • Richard UK says:

      I’m puzzled. I think Tullian’s view makes more sense of Roms 6-8 as well as 4-5 than does Kevin’s!!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Scott.

      I agree that while faith-in-Christ-as-justifier is absolutely essential for obedience, it’s not enough. We also need faith-in-Christ-as-Treasure — which is why it’s emphasized so much in Scripture.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:

        Steve, agree totally

        This has, if I may say so, a much better complexion than your ‘rewards through obedience’

  8. Steve says:

    Hey Steve,
    Thanks for this post. Although I am a big fan of both Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung, on this issue my answer is driven by the answer to the question, “who get’s the credit for my sanctification?” I agree and understand that de Young is concerned with the sin of passivity. We cannot expect God to zap us into obedience or move for us our limbs and minds and hearts to obey. But how do we reconcile this fact with God’s glory. If I have a day of “perfect obedience” where I exercise great discipline in the exercise of my obligations before God, do I get to say, “See what I wonder I am that I have steeled my will and my mind and my body to obey God”. That’s why I think the work of Piper is so important. It acknowledges that the tap-root of all sin is unbelief. And that possibly, the most important prayer for the believers sanctification is “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”.

    • Richard UK says:

      Steve hi

      I agree there is a big question/issue at stake here; but I do not think one can actually agree with both Kevin and Tullian.

      I too like your idea of ‘credit’ as the criterion, but Kevin would get round that by saying it is still God who gets the credit because He is the one who gives us the renewed will to obey.

      The issue at stake is more foundational and concerns the ‘anthropology of the Christian’ – do we have an Adamic ‘free’ will restored to us on conversion? Kevin would say yes, in which case the follow-up question is can we use that free will to apostasise?

      Kevin must believe this is possible and so argues for obedience instead of passivity or apostasy. But this concept is a nonsense – how can anyone who is saved become unsaved? Only an Arminian can maintain that view, and I don’t think Kevin wants to see himself as one.

      So, yes, the question is about ‘credit’ but behind that is the question of the perseverance of the saints (other than of course in its tautologous sense)

      Kevin’s emphasis on active obedience rather than passivity sounds, at its core, to be more Arminian than Reformed to me. But he is not alone.

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Hi Richard UK,

        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

        I’m not sure the issue is whether we do or do not exercise effort.

        But the difference is where we focus that effort — on trusting all that God has promised to be to us in Christ, or on trying to will ourselves to obey.

        In Christ,

        Steve Fuller

        • Richard UK says:

          Yes, I’m not actually advocating passivity but I was – like you I think – concerned that KdY’s emphasis on activity = effort reopened the door to moralism if not covenantal nomisim or even legalism.

          So yes, I agree it is a question of where we focus our attention, or our gaze (I prefer that to ‘effort’ – attention/gaze is a heart focus, but effort is a focus on the ‘will’ – thus my comments on ‘free will’)

          I certainly agree we are called (passive language!) to focus on Christ – both His Promises but also His Person. We do not focus (our will) on Our Sin and Our Progress – which seems KdY’s line

          Your initial post helped enormously in seeing that we need not chase fleeting pleasures now because Jesus has Promised to be our eternal Pleasure (though we must see that relationally not as a mechanistic ‘obedience -> reward’). I had not previously been able to find a suitable motivator for resisting sin that which did not have a harsh view of God at its core

          But I think we can also draw ‘motivation’ from an appreciation of the sheer loveliness of Jesus in the life and teaching that came from him as a Person independent even of the Promises made to us.

          As CS Lewis once said, ‘I’m as happy that Heaven exists as I am that I will be there’. He could equally have said Perfection, or the Perfect Person.

        • Richard UK says:


          Mine above was about FREE WILL (which is ultimately about soteriological ‘credit’)

          but you replied in terms of EFFORT (which is more of a biblical-anthropology term).

          Although I may be almost alone (though calling Luther in aid) in believing that Christians do not have free will in the sense of the power of contrary choice (in matters of morality or indeed IMHO elsewhere), I do acknowledge Paul’s calls to ‘make every effort’ etc.

          Such commands however simply cannot be read in any volition sense – as if we had a choice – because Phil 2. v13 makes it quite clear that “it is God who works in you to will (want, desire, choose) and to do (work, effect, achieve) according to His good pleasure”.

          The ‘good’ volitions ‘in’ us are not ours – they are God’s. We err when we slip into thinking that God gives us ‘good power’ (the Holy Spirit’) but that it is us that then converts that into good volitions and good actions – even though that is how Paul might sound to us. By thinking that, we would otherwise allow in ‘something of which we might boast over and against another man who apparently resists the Holy Spirit’.

          Incidentally ‘effort’ is not actually about willing or desiring something, but about what happens when the initial desire is impeded. Floating downstream does not require effort, but paddling upstream does because the river is impeding you.

          The call to make every effort has therefore much in common with the ‘fight of faith’. Faith was impossible and then it is given supernaturally. But the world seeks to impede that faith. So there is then the fight and the effort. But when we then find our desires impeded, and indeed thwarted, by a stronger counter-force, we are not to conjure up some other force to ally with our (God’s) desires in us. Such allies can only come from the flesh or worse, and they belittle the power of the gospel unto salvation.

          The only solution is to have those God-given desires strengthened while maintaining their unalloyed solitary, purity. It is contrary to, not supportive of, the gospel to indulge in a sort of Stoic muscular Christianity whereby we drive ourselves further forward. That is a theology of glory, which is no theology at all.

          Someone may still say that I have not closed the door on ‘our effort’ but I have simply relocated it to our effort to maintain within ourselves a fresh picture of the gospel by bible reading, fellowship, hearing the word and enjoying the sacraments.

          To this I offer two possible answers (i) those four activities are the activities of a beggar in need of nourishment and no sane beggar boasts of his need, or in the bread tossed to him, or (ii) Pauline commands indicate culpa-bility but they do not imply a-bility. There is nothing we can take into ourselves from Paul’s commands, or even Jesus’ when he speak as the full and final Law-Giver, other than a renewed appreciation of our need and an enhanced ability to rejoice when God works such things in us.

          Attempts to water down Phil 2 v13 by setting v12 against it and creating some tension/paradox, are not Paul’s purposes. There should be no hint of the ‘leaven’ of ‘because God, now we’ synergisms.

          V12 is effectively to be taken to be ‘As you live your life ever conscious of your salvation, remember with fear and trembling that it is not you but God who works every sinew and hair of your saved life’. That is a hair-tingling sort of message.

        • sajme says:

          Hi! This is a good conversation. One question: Is it not “focusing the effort” an act of obedience in itself ? What brought that obedient act ? Does it not initiated from the believer’s will ? Are you saying that believers once, open-eyed from the Spirit, are able to will (or not) to “focus the efforts” ?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Yes! Well said, Steve. Thank you.

  9. frank Pontillo says:

    Peter instructs us to ADD to our FAITH….. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1: 5-7

  10. Brian Valentine says:

    Thanks for this exciting insight, pulling a lot of things together. I was encouraged. John 14.21 is one of my favorites. The following is also similar and relevant:
    John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

    • Richard UK says:

      It depends on whether you see Jn 15.10 and similar as

      (i) Descriptive of someone who IS a Christian, or

      (ii) Prescriptive for someone who wants to secure his status as a Christian (‘secure’ in the sense of carry though to completion – but without which salvation is not assured; effectively the FV view)

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for bringing John 15:10 into the discussion, Brian. That’s helpful support.

      • Richard UK says:


        Are you seeing Jn 15.10 as helpful support because it has a Descriptive or Prescriptive meaning?

  11. mark says:

    I`m a no-body but i think we can pray and watch TV, at the same time. A Friend was watching football with me, one time, and He would say, See Jesus, Mark. Think about Jesus while you are watching. Amen.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are right, Mark — we can talk with Jesus while watching TV. But I’m sure you would agree that it’s also important to have time where all I’m doing is talking with him.

      I can talk with my wife while watching TV, but if that’s all I do, there won’t be much of a relationship.

      I hope that explains what I was trying to say. Thanks for raising the question.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  12. Stephen says:

    It’s good to simplify, but sometimes we risk confusion by personification. I like Herman Bavinck’s treatment of faith and sanctification in his Systematic Theology.

  13. Bryan says:

    I am amazed that the Holy Spirit is completely left out of the conversation. These discussions would be very different if we modern evangelicals did not almost completely ignore God the Spirit who indwells us. He promises to lead, guide, convict, comfort and empower us but you wouldn’t know it from the way we talk about the christian life.

    • Frank Pontillo says:

      amen brother

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Bryan,

      I totally agree that we too often leave the Holy Spirit out of our obedience.

      My understanding is that the Holy Spirit does what I’m unable to do by myself — and that is so reveal Christ to me that I am fully satisfied in him, and desire him more than anything else. When that happens, I will want to obey.

      This does not happen automatically, or when I am passive. I need to pray for the work of the Spirit, and set my eyes on the truth of Christ as revealed in God’s Word.

      But it’s only by the Spirit that I can see and feel Christ as my all-satisfying Treasure.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  14. Laura says:

    My desire to know this One who takes away my sin motivates me. Yes I trust in “my justification,” Jesus, but my desire to know Him and obey is love, a fruit of the Spirit. Justification, grace through faith, has put Spirit within and Spirit love compels me. Faith then love? or love then faith? He first loved and He is love so Love then faith. When the Spirit is quenched, grieved or dampened, I then “feel” the role of effort, which is essential, which is faith (faith working through love); otherwise, it is effortless: faith rooted and grounded in Love, the Root of David. He is the source and originator even of our ability to love and obey and believe. He is all in all and all satisfying. So everyone’s right, because love is awesome. Love y’all!

  15. David Candel says:

    I agree with John Piper about a heart satisfaction behind one’s obedience and faith. When we understand the relative leverage scripture puts on the attributes of God and knowing God experientially through Jesus Christ and a relationship then obedience is a fruit of that relationship and not a root as Holy Spirit’s guidance by umpiring peace in every decision creates heart satisfaction in our minds and spirits. When we are aware of Who God is and scriptures definition of who we are created in God’s image we become willing vessels satisfied in our hearts to surrender to God’s way. Faith is grown in problems we’re forced to depend on God for for solutions and outgrowths of obedience confirm the close relationship of real obedience to faith because our heart’s become at rest in the Finished Works of Christ and the implicit and explicit Magnificent Love of God for us! Being then is still about Character rather than doing to disturb grace if we see a root that has fruit and God’s sanctifying us as Hebrews says, “they that are sanctified and the Sanctifier are one!”

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Well said, David. Thank you.

    • Anonymous says:

      To add to what I said, Steve, Holiness is a state of being and working out my salvation with respect and trembling involves a next step for we are in a walk with God through Christ that has point blank blindness because we trust God for heart satisfaction and experiential knowledge of God to keep walking in faith and/or obedience through possible hesitations ( before God tells you what to do after that.)

  16. frank pontillo says:

    DeYoung — obedience does not come from faith in justification alone. We need effort in addition to faith. – Peter Therefore, brothers be all the more” diligent” to “confirm” your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10 Diligence is characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort DeYoung’s teaching lines up better with Peters teaching. Peter is teaching to look to the qualities he described and if they are present then you know by the evidence you “confirm” your justification. Paul teaches to Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1 If we are “in Christ” we are justified. How do we confirm we are justified? If we are diligent putting forth effort to obey Him stemming from a heart of love. A man who is not born again will have no desire, love or ability to obey Jesus. We cannot just look to the doctrine of justification say we trust it- rest in it and apply it to ourselves unless we have been born again. We need to look to all the teaching of scripture.

    • Richard UK says:

      Frank hi

      If Kevin’s position is essentially ‘Faith + Effort = Everything’ then one can understand why Tullian believes (rightly or wrongly) that the Reformed faith is better summed up in the title of his book ‘Faith + Nothing = Everything’.

      Leaving Peter to one side initially, would you not agree that Paul’s sola fide seems to support Tullian’s encapsulation?

      I’m not quite sure whether you are attributing a narrow/passive/descriptive meaning or a broad/active/prescriptive meaning to the word ‘confirm’. You write

      “Diligence is characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort…Peter is teaching to look to the qualities he described and if they are present then you know by the evidence you “confirm” your justification.”

      By juxtaposing these two sentences you imply that we ‘confirm’ our saved status by diligent effort – the idea of inking in something so far only pencilled in. This would leave Peter’s view at odds with Paul’s solafideism (in the way many often think Paul and James also disagree)

      But I think Peter is using the narrow/passive/descriptive meaning; if your lives do not suggest lives lived out on the basis of the joy of one’s salvation, then check whether ye are of the faith and if not then, as in Rom 7, cry to God that He might save and give faith.

      Peter does NOT intend that you should do good works in order to turn a dead faith into a living one (buying apples at Walmart and tying them to pretend that an apple tree is alive – which is of course Pharisaism).

      I fear that that is however what Kevin is advocating

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Just one thought, Richard UK — Paul’s sola fide would support one aspect of Tullian’s view, that obedience flows from faith. But Paul’s sola fide is different from Tullians, in that it focuses on ALL that God promises to be to us in Christ — justification AND heart-satisfaction.

        • Richard UK says:

          Yes, I think this might be an interesting issue if I’m understanding you correctly, viz:

          Tullian sees saving faith as justification, to which ‘needs’ to be ‘added’ heart-satisfaction. Paul however sees saving faith as trusting in Christ as (legal) justifier and also as (heart) satisfier.

          In which case, Paul’s ‘enlargement’ of the content of saving faith could (wrongly) be thought to make saving faith ‘harder’ (more ‘stuff’ to be believed; or ‘more’ that we need to understand Jesus to be doing for us, etc).

          But I don’t think this need follow. Indeed at heart such a fear is based on the idea of faith as purely mental assent. Since faith has a heart component too, Paul’s ‘larger’ picture of faith can simply be seen as a greater recognition of a total not just judicial dependence on Christ – we throw ALL being on Him.

          Maybe Tullian is separating the mental and heart components seemingly borrowing from Luther’s emphasis on justification. But Luther faced a different battle. He needed to separate justification from obedience since these were intertwined in the Roman church. Arguably the heart component of faith was not addressed.

          Therefore, if we turn to the heart component of faith (heart satisfaction), it is not a problem to see that as part of justification, in the way that it would be dangerous to see obedience as part of justification as the Roman church did.

          Is that what you are saying?!

      • frank pontillo says:

        Richard UK Of course we know that works and fruit do not save but they definitely are evidence of one being justified which is why Peter advises to look to those things being present in your life as well as looking to your former sins being forgiven to make sure you really do believe it. If fruits are not there then yes you should be driven to repentance and to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Only a true believer will do that. Affections and satisfaction come from what people believe which is what Piper was driving at and why De Young notes that effort is necessary (as it is a any successful relationship). Tullian seems to have more of a narrow systematic theology to come to his conclusion. The danger in that teaching is people cling to a teaching rather than a relationship which often results in a dead faith because the person has never been born again and made a new creation and lacks proper love to abide in Christ. I believe that we must take scripture as a whole and we cannot trade “abiding” in Christ who is alive which is relational for resting in a theological doctrine. Just read Matthew 25:31-46. The goats were deceived. I am sure if you would have asked them if they believed their sins were forgiven they would have answered yes. If they would have looked both at what they were doing and not doing to confirm their belief and position instead of just what they believed they would have had a proper understanding of their spiritual condition and known they had never experienced the new birth and had a nature change.

        • Richard UK says:

          Thanks, Frank

          I agree 100% with your latest comment, and with any notion that Tullian’s view is inadequately developed especially on the question of relationality. Piper has the edge. But I am still confused. Your preceding comments had

          “Diligence is characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort. DeYoung’s teaching lines up better [than Tullian’s] with Peters teaching”

          Tullian may be confused, but KdY seems to veer far too much towards a muscular moralist Christianity that has even less relationality in it.

          KdY has said ‘law-gospel-law’ and although this is a common interpretation of Calvin’s Third use of the law, I think it smacks too much of a focus away from Christ and back on to our self-sanctification (however much we chant that it is God at work in us).

          The alternative, which is to stay with just ‘law-gospel’, leaves us uneasy because it seems to approve of licence. But that does not make it wrong. Because we are not (yet) clear enough about how the gospel works its power, that does not mean we have to say it cannot and that the power must come from man’s effort (albeit with a power pack given to him by God)

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Frank.

      One thought in response: I think everyone would agree that we need diligent effort. The question is — what is the focus of that effort?

      I believe the biblical approach is to fight to trust all that God promises to be to us in Christ, including our Righteousness and our All-satisfying Treasure.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Frank Pontillo says:

        Jesus clearly says that obedience stems from love for Him.
        Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. John 14:23 I really do not see the need for this controversy. It seems a very simple truth that any loving relationship involves effort and the focus of this effort is love.

        • Richard UK says:

          I agree Frank

          but I don’t see any hint of the centrality of ‘loving relationship’ in KdY’s position; for him, the core seems to be adherence to a moral law.

          God loves and He is just. If you put His love central (and His justice, and wrath, as arising from the blocking of love) then you will get relationality of love. If, as is common, you makes God’s purity central (and His love and mercy as His means of restoring what is ‘right’), then you may still get relationality but it will sadly be based on fear, the moral law and conditionality – it will also put man’s happiness well down on the pecking order as items of concerns to God)

  17. Collin Coats says:

    I wonder if Tullian might agree with Piper’s way by saying that faith in justification is simultaneously faith in the superior satisfaction God brings. They are different, but inseparable. Maybe he would say the following:

    If obedience follows not just faith that justification is by grace alone, but faith that Jesus alone fully satisfies, how do we find ourselves resting in the reality that Jesus alone will satisfy?

    Piper would probably say by beholding the glory of God. We look to what is superior in beauty, so that the things of the world grow dim.

    But where do we look to see the glory of God? Piper, I think, would also say that the glory of God shines brightest at the cross of Jesus, where He died for sinners (I think he lays that out in Don’t Waste Your Life).

    However, this beholding the glory of God at the cross is simultaneously looking at our justification. For the heart of the cross is the finished work of Christ for the justification of sinners, to the glory of God.

    So, meditating on justification by grace alone, founded upon the cross of Christ alone, is simultaneously meditating on the glory of God.

    Just some thoughts.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good thoughts, Collin. And I would love it if what Tullian means is that obedience flows from faith in Christ as both our Justifier and our all-satisfying Treasure. But unfortunately, I have not seen that emphasis in his writing (although I might have missed it).

  18. Richard UK says:

    Steve hi, and a big thank you

    Although I have chipped on individual comments, when I now reread your original blog of two years ago, I think you have offered a big way forward, and incidentally have given me a more favorable impression of Future Grace than I had had.

    I’m not suggesting you do, but I think however that we need to avoid taking Jn 14.21 too mechanistically – ‘I obey, I get more of Jesus’. I preferred it when you said more generally that our trust that Jesus WILL be (rather than is) our ultimate satisfaction provides a motive for obedience not so much because of some mercantile ‘deal’ offered to us in the here and now, but because we become like the bride rushing towards her bridegroom (rather than lingering polishing her nails, or watching QVC or any other type of TV)

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are so welcome, Richard UK. And thanks for all you’ve added to the discussion.

      And I’ll do some more thinking about the dangers of being too mechanistic regarding John 14:21.

      I do believe the promise relates to both the present and the future. And I do believe Jesus is offering me more of his all-satisfying presence as incentive for obeying him. And if I trust his promise, then I will certainly be rushing toward him.


      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:

        Steve thanks

        Can I unpack your “I do believe Jesus is offering me more of his all-satisfying presence as incentive for obeying him”

        I don’t think Jesus’ goal is to get us to obey Him. I think His sole goal and delight is to offer and share more of His all-satisfying Presence with us, Period.

        The root of ‘obey’ is to hear in an attentive way – the idea of someone on the fringe of a crowd drawing closer to hear what the speaker says, and staying, lapping it up. We instead give it a military sense of hearing one’s orders and turning away and going to do them. At that point the commander’s commands take over from the commander Himself.

        Similarly ‘disciple’ is a ‘follower’ not a ‘do-er’.

        In other words, it would be IMHO wrong to say that the END is to obey Jesus, and His MEANS are to offer us sweeties along the way (!) We would only ever be concerned with the gifts not the Giver.

        By contrast, the gifts are to lead us to the Giver (who gives His Presence, the ultimate Gift and Pleasure). We are to look from the well-lit delights back up the sunbeam to see the sun.

        Obedience as rule-keeping doesn’t really come into it. Even obedience as listening is not an End but a means by which we are drawn into the Presence of the Speaker. Mary was praised more than Martha.

        – See more at:

      • Richard UK says:

        Steve thanks

        Can I unpack your “I do believe Jesus is offering me more of his all-satisfying presence as incentive for obeying him”

        I don’t think Jesus’ goal is to get us to obey Him. I think His sole goal and delight is to offer and share more of His all-satisfying Presence with us, Period.

        The root of ‘obey’ is to hear in an attentive way – the idea of someone on the fringe of a crowd drawing closer to hear what the speaker says, and staying, lapping it up. We instead give it a military sense of hearing one’s orders and turning away and going to do them. At that point the commander’s commands take over from the commander Himself.

        Similarly ‘disciple’ is a ‘follower’ not a ‘do-er’.

        In other words, it would be IMHO wrong to say that the END is to obey Jesus, and His MEANS are to offer us sweeties along the way (!) We would only ever be concerned with the gifts not the Giver.

        By contrast, the gifts are to lead us to the Giver (who gives His Presence, the ultimate Gift and Pleasure). We are to look from the well-lit delights back up the sunbeam to see the sun.

        Obedience as rule-keeping doesn’t really come into it. Even obedience as listening is not an End but a means by which we are drawn into the Presence of the Speaker. Mary was praised more than Martha.

        • Steve Fuller says:

          Just one thought in response — the only gift from Christ I am talking about is the gift of himself, his nearness and presence.

          That’s what he emphasizes in passages like John 14:21,23. So the goal of obeying Christ would be to know Christ. Which is why it doesn’t trouble me to see Jesus as wanting us to obey him — because the only kind of obedience he wants is an obedience that longs to be with him on the road of discipleship.

          I hope that helps some.

          In Christ,

          Steve Fuller

  19. Scott Leonard says:

    Hi, Richard, and sayings. I have to ask it. Does Jesus reveal himself more and more to the person who continues to obey Him more and more through faith?

    • Richard UK says:

      In reply

      1. If you take ‘obedience’ to mean adherence (in faith) to the rules of the Rule-giver, then – not necessarily, in fact probably not (especially if it is at the expense of their ‘initial love’).

      2. If you take ‘obedience’ to mean the one who strives to come to know more of Jesus, then not necessarily, but probably yes (Mary not Martha)

      The more we see obedience as a mechanistic activity, even one jot, the more we move towards the Pharisees.

      thanks for your comment

  20. Dustin says:

    This post brings such clarity to the discussion and it’s written with grace. I am encouraged. Thank you.

    Here’s a thought I have about Tullian’s emphasis:

    In Galatians 3, Paul makes it clear that they experienced the perfecting power of the Spirit through justifying faith—and that they were to continue to. That last fact is key, I think. And it may be that fact that Tullian is trying to bring to light: when I look to Christ in faith, I am transformed (2 Cor. 3), I am perfected (Gal. 3), not just in the beginning, but every day, every minute. In those passages, “perfect” and “transform” are written in the passive tense, like we are passively receiving something.

    This becomes more interesting when you consider *what* is said of the “promised Spirit” whom Paul speaks of (Gal. 3:14): Ezekiel 36:27. In that passage, the Lord says He will “cause” us to obey Him.

    And what does the Spirit perfecting us look like? I think Gal. 5: the fruits of the Spirit, which interestingly are not outward fruits, but inward ones: love, joy, peace, etc…the very attitudes that make our outward deeds beautiful and non-hypocritical.

    And Gal. 3:14 says we received the promised Spirit through faith. We might say “this also includes faith that God will satisfy me” but the context doesn’t teach that. The context is justifying faith, or confidence in Christ alone for justification, and not our works.

    And it’s in that context, with that kind of faith, that the Spirit perfects, according to Paul. That’s a powerful fact. It’s like Paul is saying, “Do you want to continue to be perfected into the image of Christ by the Spirit? Continue to exercise the faith you did at the beginning. If you do, the promised Spirit will continue to minister to and serve you.”

    So I think Tullian is on to something. To experience the very love and peace of the Spirit is unlike anything man can give. It transforms, it perfects. We behold God’s uncreated glory.

    That said, maybe in ten years Tullian will think a little differently and see more dimensions to the life of faith. I don’t know. Piper’s teaching is powerful. We all probably need some help in our understanding and expression of these things.

    Yet I think there is something about the truths in Galatians 3, something to see as it relates to being ongoingly perfected by the Spirit.

    For my own life, it’s by remembering these truths and setting my eyes on Christ alone again that I experience Life and peace beyond what any other activity of my soul produces. When I set my eyes on Him, temptation falls to the ground and peace fills me. It’s glorious. I think it’s what Paul is talking about here.

    Any thoughts?

    God bless!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks so much for your helpful thoughts, Dustin.

      Here’s a couple of thoughts in response –

      While it’s crucial to emphasize that we are justified by faith alone, I’m not sure the faith that justifies is only trusting Christ for justification.

      The reason I say that is because Abraham is Paul’s example of justifying faith (Gal 3:6), and his faith included trusting God’s promise of a child.

      Therefore I think “faith” in Galatians 3 (and other passages) means “trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus,” which includes trusting him to be our justification AND our heart-satisfaction.

      When I look to him and trust him as my justification and my satisfaction — then the Spirit changes my heart so I experience him as my all-satisfying Treasure. As a result, my heart is changed, sin’s temptations lose their power, and the fruit of the Spirit grows in my heart.

      I hope that helps explain what I’m trying to say — and thanks again for your helpful thoughts!

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:


        Thanks again; as you can see from my posts, your position is becoming persuasive for me!

        So now, following dustin below, a fast ball! Would you say that someone who believes on Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins is not a Christian unless they also believe in something else too !! Yes or No, please !!

        Dustin below –

        I did comment above that one way round this would be to see it from the obverse. Someone who casts their whole ‘life’ on Jesus (the goods and the bads), is more dependent than the one who only casts his bads (sins) on Jesus but believes that he himself, with his idols, can provide for his own ‘goods’.

        Jesus effectively says you can have all of me or none of me (an in having all of me, you can have nothing of anything else)

        • Steve Fuller says:

          Hi Richard UK,

          Another crucial question.

          I believe we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

          But faith means trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus — his promises to forgive our sins, and his promises to satisfy us more than anything.

          That’s the point of Hebrews 11:6, where we read that the only faith that pleases God is a faith that includes trusting him as our all-satisfying reward.

          That’s the point of John 6:35, where saving faith is described as coming to Jesus and trusting him to satisfy my heart hungers and thirsts.

          And that’s the point of Mark 8:34ff, where following Christ depends on trusting that we will gain more in him than the whole world.

          So to be saved we must believe in Jesus Christ himself, which means all that God promises to be to us in him, including forgiveness of sins, and heart-satisfying reward.

          In Christ,

          Steve Fuller

          • Richard UK says:


            thanks for making this so much clearer for me

          • Richard UK says:

            On rereading yours, you write

            “But faith means trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus — his promises to forgive our sins, AND his promises to satisfy us more than anything”

            As eschatolgy, it is perhaps worth asking whether Jesus’ ‘second’ promise is only really a promise fulfilled in heaven, or whether He will satisfy us while in prison, pain, grief, more than….? anything else would satisfy (pain-killers), or whether He will satisfy you with His peace more the degree of your tribulation? Slightly different

  21. Dustin says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. You are easy to talk with.

    I just wanted to clarify something first: are you saying that in order to be justified, men must do more than trust in Christ alone as the One who paid for sin and provided righteousness? Are you saying that we are justified by trusting in Jesus as both our justification and our sanctification, or are you merely saying that one truly born of God trusts God for more than justification?

    A while ago I read an article from Piper about what we must believe in order to be saved, and I don’t think he said anything about trusting Jesus as our sanctification:

    God bless!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Dustin,

      That’s a very good and quite important question.

      You can see my answer to Richard UK above.

      I believe we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone — but we can’t believe just a part of Christ.

      We have to believe all that God promises to be to us in Christ, which includes his promise to be our all-satisfying treasure.

      In addition to the passages I mention above, I’d also include John 5:44, where Jesus says that if we receive the glory of men, and do not seek the glory of God, we are not believing.

      I’d also include Philippians 3:8-9, where Paul says he counts everything else to be loss for the sake of knowing Christ (that’s saving faith), so that he may be found justified in Christ.

      Not that we ever perfectly trust Jesus as our treasure. We don’t. But that’s OK, because it’s his perfection that saves us, not our own.

      But we can turn our hearts from the other things we’ve treasured, and trust Christ to forgive us, change us, and satisfy us in himself. That’s saving faith.

      Thanks for the dialog.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Dustin says:

        Steve, I think there are a number of things I could address in response to you, but I think I will say simply this:

        Paul says that *in Christ* we have every spiritual blessing, and that *in Him* all the promises are yes. I think the natural way to interpret that is this: being in Christ *becomes the ground* for confidence in God’s promises and blessing. That is to say, “Now that you are forgiven, counted righteous and adopted, all that is your Father’s is yours.” So trusting in Christ alone *leads to* confidence in God’s promises and blessings.

        But what I hear you saying is that we are to try to have confidence in all of His promises *in order to* be in Christ. Needless to say, it is very different to seek to have confidence in God’s promises and blessings *because you are a son* as opposed to doing it *in order to become* a son. In the former, your confidence is strong. In the latter, your confidence can easily waver.

        The verses you have cited, in my estimation, do not prove your premise that we are justified by a faith that requires that we trust *in more than* Christ’s death and resurrection as the sole reason why God justifies. I think you need stronger support. I see it like J.C. Ryle. Christ’s work justifies and faith is the hand that lays hold of that gift [1].

        Yes, a born again child of God has more aspects than that to his faith, but, as stated above, I see being in Christ as the ground for greater growing faith.

        I think it is worth noting again that it’s Piper’s teaching we are calling upon to understand sanctification, yet when Piper specifically discusses the faith that saves, he doesn’t describe it as you do [2].

        Thank you, brother, for taking the time to discuss this. May God bless our understanding of these things.



        • Richard UK says:


          In part I agree with your challenge to Steve F about how ‘much’ we need to believe; there is a danger of including too much.

          But I also agree with Steve where I think he is making the point that our dependence on Christ needs to be total – not just for our justification (leaving us to work out our sanctification) but also for our sanctification. Steve seems rightly to want to exclude the Galatian heresy.

          Where I disagree with both of you is the man-centredness of it all, especially where you say “I see it like J.C. Ryle. Christ’s work justifies and faith is the hand that lays hold of that gift”

          “Christ’s work justifies AND He provides the faith by which we are drawn to lay hold” would IMHO be a much more Christocentric view of the work done.

        • Steve Fuller says:

          Hi Dustin,

          I’m doing some more thinking about this.

          And maybe I was not clear, but I think you are misunderstanding me.

          I am NOT saying “we are justified by a faith that requires that we trust *in more than* Christ’s death and resurrection as the sole reason why God justifies.”

          I agree with you that the ONLY basis for my justification is Christ’s blood and righteousness.

          My question is, what is the nature of justifying faith? For example, can I trust Christ for my justification, and be justified, while loving sin more than Christ?

          I believe the answer to that has to be No.

          BUT — it’s not that I have to stop loving sin before I am saved. I can only be freed from loving sin BY being saved.

          So I believe we are saved by looking to Jesus in faith, trusting him to forgive me for all my sins, clothe me with his perfect righteousness, change my heart so I love him more than sin, and satisfy me fully in himself.

          That means I must WANT to be freed from loving sin, which I do believe must be part of saving faith.

          I’d love to hear more of your thoughts, and thanks for the helpful dialog.

          In Christ,

          Steve Fuller

          • Dustin says:

            Steve, sorry to get back late and thanks for taking the time to respond.

            Well, I think we agree, but there is one point where I want to make sure:

            You ended your thought saying, “That means I must WANT to be freed from loving sin, which I do believe must be part of saving faith.”

            Are you saying that our desire to not sin/our desire for righteousness is something we look to and rely on as a ground for justification, or are you saying it is a fruit of someone who is saved? The reason I ask is because you call it “part of saving faith”.

            As far as I can see, looking to my willingness not to sin as any ground of confidence to look to Christ *for justification* would be extremely dangerous, a mixture of faith in Christ and in the quality of my heart.

            But you may not be saying that at all.

            A couple articles from Piper, especially the first one, I think speak into this:



            God bless!


  22. Richard UK says:

    Steve hi again

    Your “But we can turn our hearts from the other things we’ve treasured, and trust Christ to forgive us, change us, and satisfy us in himself. That’s saving faith”

    Do you mean that? That “we CAN turn our trust in Christ..saving faith”

    That sounds almost Pelagian to me!

    Surely what we do is rejoice that God changes our hearts

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Richard,

      Good questions.

      The only reason we “can” change our hearts is by God’s sovereign, particular, individual grace alone.

      And we should rejoice that God changes our hearts.

      But I do not believe we wait for God to change our hearts. That does not do justice to the commands in God’s Word.

      I think Paul’s paradigm in Phil 2:12-13 is helpful — we are commanded to do something (work out out salvation), but in a Calvinist way (knowing that God is the one enabling us to do whatever we do).

      Does that work for you?

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

      • Richard UK says:

        You are right to come to Phil 2 and ‘agency’.

        With justification, we are happy to recognise God as the sole agent of change, with our faith as the instrument of change. Thus it might be said either that the builder or the hammer drove in the nail. So with sanctification, but again we must beware apparent language of agency when instrumentality is intended.

        It is easy to avoid co-agency in justification by saying that ‘faith’ is not a work; but harder with sanctification when faced with the word ‘effort’.

        So we slide into some notion of a still-sovereign God giving us an essential power pack (grace) which we must deploy but somehow without any credit accruing to us – all rather messy and very like Catholic ‘infused’ grace.

        But Phil 2:12 does not mean that. First the salvation is assumed (it says ‘work out’ not ‘work for’), and secondly v12 is there to serve v13 not vv.

        The ‘fear and trembling’ is not there to increase our focus on ourselves and our ‘work’ in case our co-agency might be too weak! By no means! It is there to remind us that, as we live out the life of a rejoicing, saved person, it is God who then and still now is in us at work and even in His will in or over our ‘wills’

        That has more of the picture of the bridegroom coming to his bride than we might like, but we must once and for all leave behind the Aristotelian notion of man as a mini unMoved Mover who has the power of contrary choice in some independent substance called his ‘will’.

        Luther argued with Erasmus for a different doctrine of man as a creaturely responder to what
        ever, good or bad, was in his heart. Luther reclaimed these key insights of Augustine, but the Enlightenment is causing us to lose that Reformation truth fast.

        Although even modern science is against the Enlightenment’s doctrine of man, an emotional reason for maintaining man as as mini unmoved mover is the spectre of antinomianism – because we fear God cannot handle our post-regeneration sin; we don’t have a rounded view of the New Birth – what it means and doesn’t mean

  23. Scott Leonard says:

    Richard, I think there may be too many angels dancing on this pinhead, but the fact is we only rejoice AFTER “we turn our trust in Christ..with saving faith”!

  24. Richard UK says:

    I counted 34 angels but, yes, let’s cut to the chase!

    Whenever we say ‘we can’ or ‘we should’, we are talking law and the idea of free will that we can fulfil the law

    We are then going down track the wrong

  25. Scott Leonard says:

    Richard, my burden in all of this is slightly different. For nearly 40 years now I have been concerned that there is a glaring deficiency in teaching the incredible ramifications of our union with Christ, revealed in Romans 6 7 & 8. It seems that wherever I look, I see encouraging signs of more and more focus on the riches of our justification that need to be embraced, but I don’t see much exposition nor application of all that Paul says in these chapters and other places about the fact that we have now received Christ as our very life. We are in him and he is in us. That is an actual union that affects not only are nature, which is now his completely new, but it is the reason that we can fulfill the law. If you look at Romans 8:1-4, it is amazing amazing what comes after the word “for” in verse 2! You would think that Paul says there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because they been declared righteous for ever. But that is not what he says! Take a good look and tell me my reformed brothers are not neglecting an incredible amount of wealth there. It somewhat culminates in verse 13 when he says, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Because God has chosen us and justified us and regenerated us by placing us in his Son, it is now to be no longer I who lives, but I am to see Christ living in and through me as I depend on him moment by moment to be my very life. There’s so little teaching on this in reformed churches, and it staggers me.

    • Richard UK says:


      I agree the Reformed folk have little notion of ‘crucified with Christ’ and new birth and union with Christ.

      Despite other strange notions, Lutherans have that much clearer, but they still do not go down your path.

      What you say sounds very much like theoretical Perfectionism whereas Lutheranism rightly IMHO sticks with the two simuls.

      In short, if we have a new nature in us in the way you maintain, why on earth do we, or would we, sin? We would be even more robust than Adam.

      It all depends, in Rom 8 v1-4, how you interpret ‘might’ and ‘live by the Spirit’ in v4. You seem to read it as saying that Christ’s death means that we can (might) be/live righteously.

      But the verb is passive not active. It does not say ‘so that we might (in future) meet the righteous requirements of the law’ – a sort of muscular ‘go forth’ Christianity. It says that (for us who live in the Spirit, ie trust in who Jesus is for us) these righteous requirements are (past/present tense) met in us BY HIM.

      There are two elements in justification – one is the forensic doctrine and the other, the doctrine of union.

      The doctrine of forensics without union leaves man somehow clean but going nowhere (as you rightly say); but the doctrine of union without forensics implies something too buddhist, too close to enlightenment – that we are sufficiently deified (the deification concept of the orthodox church) that we can live 100% holy lives, which 1 John firmly asserts we cannot.

      As Gerhard Forde and now Steve Paulson put it, the kingdom, the New Aeon, the new creation, has exploded in on us and achieved for us in heaven a weight of glory. But there is a time lag (fascinating to consider why) during which our weight, our concupiscence pulls us back.

      We become a battleground for a spiritual civil war, but there is no controlling ‘us’ to decide which way to go – that is a Stoic/Aristotelian/Thomist notion which restores to us, as Erasmus claimed, some gross sort of Adamic free will. But (even if Adam had that free will) we are certainly not that free. We still do not have the power of contrary choice against our ‘members’. Only God rides us forth – and then only as his donkey.

      Amen to that; rather a gatekeeper in the house of the Lord than..

  26. Scott Leonard says:

    Richard, good stuff! The understanding of who “we” are and what the flesh/body of sin/body of death is in Paul’s discussions is key. A passage most teachers don’t seem to like to talk about is Romans 7:17-20,where Paul says twice in two verses that “it is no longer I who sins”. Additionally, he says that we are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit (Romans 8:9). The reason we still sin, even though we are new creations with one brand new righteous nature, is, as John MacArthur and many other astute teachers have put it, that we live in dead, unredeemed bodies. There are some things here that a growing number of solid, biblical teachers are not going to allow to go out from under the spotlight, even if those of us who are determined to cling to every one of our traditions go kicking and screaming!

    I believe that a lot of what Paul says in Romans 6 through 8 has been relegated to an unreal world that some want to label “positional truth” (a term no one in Scripture uses) because it simply seems too good to be true. If you consider who Paul was writing to and what their understanding would have been, it is not out of place to simply allow Paul to say what he says and take it at face value. And so when Paul says in Colossians two that we have been “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ”, he may in fact be saying that the real you is in fact a brand new creation (wouldn’t anyone in union with Christ made alive from the dead be exactly that?) completely separate from the flesh which is “the body of sin”. Amazingly, Paul says in Romans 8 that the body is dead and in 8:23 he says that the thing we are all waiting for is the redemption of our (what?) …. the redemption of our BODIES!

    I don’t mean to give you vertigo, but these clearly laid out truths in these chapters are honestly not being addressed thoroughly by my dear reformed comrades!

    We are much more righteous than many want to admit, but we never reach a state of perfection this side of heaven because we live with a relentless enemy that Paul calls the law of sin and the flesh and this body of death. But nevertheless we are told that we can walk in daily victory over this enemy if we “put to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13) He says “Let not sin reign in your mortal body” and “If you walk in the Spirit you will NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh”, and so this does imply that we choose to live out daily victory, but it is in a new way. It is by absolute helpless dependence on the Spirit within us, with whom we are in an actual, vital union!

    I have studied this for almost 40 years now and interacted with a lot of people on both sides of this issue, and I am fully convinced that if one is forced to deal honestly with all of the relevant passages, they cannot remain in the traditional view of the nature of the believer and the process of sanctification.

    • Richard UK says:

      I fear I still have to disagree with you on several fundamentals.

      Luther’s two ‘simuls’ are of course that we are 100% righteous awhile remaining 100% (yes 100%) sinner. MacArthur et al present a sort of 50%-50% picture. They say this continues till death with perhaps the good % rising.

      You are more optimistic and go into theoretical Perfectionism – I say ‘theoretical’ because you rightly say we cannot achieve it, but I still call it Perfectionism because you haven’t explained WHY we cannot achieve given what God gives us on conversion.

      I go with Luther, not MacArthur, and there is a difference. Luther’s view suggests two planes – an earthly and a heavenly one; this is all something much bigger than us. MacArthur’s has no real (‘positional’) heavenly plane; it is a civil war here on the earthly plane. This suggests a role for us to play, even if it is just to weight the skateboard to go in one direction.

      For Luther one might almost say that the new creation (of us) is stored up in heaven except of course we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us now. Eventually ‘redeemed bodies’ will catch up with our new creation. For MacArthur the new creation (of us) is distinctly on earth but since this new creation seems to achieve little in terms of transformation, the Reformed camp have to make some compromise, viz we have to cooperate on our santification; we must not grieve the Holy spirit in his work etc. The magnificence of the new creation then becomes subject to man’s rather suburban efforts

      Against all this, what do we make first of the ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Gal)? I am not sure what MacArthur would make of this, other than theoretically achievable Perfectionism, but Luther would see it as ‘positional’ but that would not concern him since that positional reality is the real reality even though we do not see it yet (only through the eyes of faith – Heb 11).

      Then similarly MacArthur would take ‘it is not I but the sin living in me’ to mean it is the bad, unredeemed part of me, in which case what part of me has been redeemed?! Not only does this not sit with the Judaeo-Christian sense of holistic wholeness/peace, but it sounds Aristotelian in its division of man, and Manichean in its sense of a couple of demi-urges slugging it out down here.

      ‘Christ living in me’ and ‘sin living in me’ cause no problem for Luther since they relate, if you like, to two rooms, one above the other. MacArthur has two rooms, both on the ground floor, with me as either a passive (or more active in your interpretation) person tugged by the demi-urges in each room (even though we know which will win)

      PS – Rom 8.13 does not say that we ‘can’ do any such thing. It is a common but serious mistake to believe that OT or NT commands and responsi-bilities imply a-bilities. The story of redemptive history is that man cannot but God can, and the commands whether from Jesus or Paul are there – as with pain – to drive us to him.

      God’s gifts and commands are less for the taking and doing, as they are for the showing us the Source of them. We should back up the sunbeam at the radiance of the sun (son).

      PPS – none of us live in “absolute helpless dependence on the Spirit”. fortunately God does not need our dependence to do what He proposes to do

    • Richard UK says:


      I wrote a long reply which hung and then disappeared!

      I hope I will have the energy to write it again!

      • Steve Fuller says:

        Hi Scott and Richard UK,

        I am receiving much benefit from your interaction. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

        Am I wrong in believing that our old self has been mortally wounded through Christ’s work on the Cross, and that we have received a new self by faith in Christ?

        Since the old self has been mortally wounded, and since God promises that I will never be tempted beyond what I (by his sovereign grace alone) am able to overcome (1 Cor 10:13), doesn’t that mean that I never have to sin?

        And yet God’s Word is clear that I will not be sinless until heaven.

        I am comfortable saying that I still am a sinner, by which I mean that apart from God’s past and sustaining grace all I would be is a sinner.

        But it’s also true that by God’s grace I am a born-again sinner, a redeemed sinner, a sanctified sinner — which means that by God’s sovereign grace I can fight the fight of faith and as I do so he will enable me to overcome sin.

        The fact that God’s Word gives us commands implies, I believe, that by God’s grace alone we are able to obey these commands. It’s important to understand these commands as commands for the obedience that flows from faith (Rom 1:5; Heb 11:8). But they still are commands that we are to obey.

        Anyway — just thought I’d share my appreciation for the dialog. It’s been helpful to me —

        In Christ,

        Steve Fuller

        • Richard UK says:

          My other comments moments ago covers much of this. In short

          1. Commands bring Responsibility; but they do not imply Ability (That is just the corollary of our daft enlightenment sense of natural justice that suggests it is wrong to punish someone who could not do the right thing)

          2. Grace is not a power pack by which ‘I’ fight sin. It is not ‘I’ but Christ who lives in me. Grace is a God’s Posture towards us and is also the Person of Christ indwelling us. We must not think ‘mini umoved mover me’

  27. frank pontillo says:

    since we get rewards for obedience here is a perspective regarding effort that should be considered.

    • Richard UK says:

      any appeal to rewards to motivate obedience is essentially an appeal to the selfishness of the Old Adam in us (even though I know Jesus appeared to speak like this, just as He appeared to suggest we should pluck out our eyes if..)

      • Frank Pontillo says:

        The motivation for the reward is to glorify God and should not be viewed as selfish. Similar to an Olympic athlete wanting to win a gold for their country. We cannot just explain away scripture. The The Tullian position in my opinion is too cut and dry and does not consider the whole of scripture. The same Holy Spirit lives in every born again believer. We are called to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. The Spirit does not do it for us. It requires effort by the believer which explains why every believer indwelled by the Holy Spirit does not attain to the same level of obedience.

        • Richard UK says:

          sorry; can’t agree; too Arminian

        • Steve Fuller says:

          I appreciate your emphasis on biblical rewards, Frank. I think this is a massively neglected aspect of God’s Word — one that’s crucial for obedience.

          And Richard UK, isn’t there a way for non-Arminians to seek to obey commands? Doesn’t Paul command us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, while calling us to do it in a Calvinistic way — which means knowing that it is God who causes us to will whatever we will to do (Phil 2:12f)?

          Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but it sounds like you think we should be passive and wait for God to cause us to obey — which I do not think takes into account the fact that Scripture does tell us to do certain things.

          Thanks for the dialog, brothers.

          In Christ,

          Steve Fuller

          • Frank Pontillo says:

            Yes Steve God enables us to fight sin but we have to put sin to death “by the Spirit” and that requires effort. The motivation to do so is not just one thing but for many reasons which are taught in the whole of scripture. I do not see this as a Calvinistic or Arminian issue although some Calvinists may take Gods sovereignty to an extreme (negating mans responsibility) and this thinking leads them to a passive dead faith. Often these circles emphasize studying Gods word to the exclusion of action.

  28. Scott Leonard says:

    Frank, that was a spot on comment.

    • Richard UK says:


      ‘Extreme’ Calvinists may negate man’s ability, but they never negate man’s responsibility

      • Frank Pontillo says:

        Richard if you are saying that God is sovereign and that means he will do all the work of our salvation, then why do some saints attain to different states of holiness than others? We all have the same Holy Spirit then why do we see differences between different men?

        My answer that I derive from scripture is once a man becomes a Christian he has the ability to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. One of the reasons we see differences between men is because men have different degrees of love towards our Savior. Those who are forgiven much love much. Jesus says if you love me you will obey me. Love us a great motivator.

        • Richard UK says:

          ‘attain different states of holiness’ is a phrase I feel very uneasy about, although it is one used in catholic circles.

          Holiness means set apart-ness and God does that with us when He saves us. Holiness is often used to mean ‘Christlike-ness’ but I don’t think it is of much concern why some are more Christlike; the more Christlike ones would not like that description of themselves.

          God is sovereign. Do you disagree? What do you make of Romans 9.

          Have you personally put to death the deeds of the flesh? Do you know anyone who has? If you have not, why not? Is His Holy Spirit not enough? Are you resisting and grieving? Will you be saved?

          • frank pontillo says:

            Richard, I am not sure what you think Romans 9 has to do with the subject. I am not arguing Gods sovereignty regarding salvation. The question being discussed is mans effort regarding growing more and more like Christ in holiness. It is not optional for a Christian to put to death the deeds of the flesh and this is a daily and hourly task. It is evident that there are different degrees of people being full of the Holy Spirit. Obviously it is a noticeable trait or the Apostles would not have instructed people to pick deacons based on they being full of the Holy Spirit. There is a pattern of life in which walking in the Spirit is evident. As Charles Spurgeon says: The man who is as other men are, having experienced no change of nature and knowing no change of life, is not yet acquainted with Scriptural holiness. We are to obey God that we may grow like God. The question to be asked is, ‘What would the Lord have me do?’ or, ‘What would Christ Himself have done under the circumstances?’ Not, what is my wish, but what will please Him.

  29. Richard UK says:


    There are two types of dead faith

    I. the dead faith that is articulated but produces no fruit (cf James)

    II. the faith that apparently produces lots of ‘fruit’ but is ‘dead fruit’ because it comes from a faith that sees itself as needing to do produce fruit as part of salvation, failing to realise that living faith is faith in Christ for all things without man’s deeds. (cf Pharisees).

    The latter view is the Catholic view of ‘faith plus works’; the correct view is ‘faith leading naturally to works’.

  30. frank pontillo says:

    Richard Of course motives of the heart are important no argument here. However, this post is not about motives for works or fruit to earn salvation, but mans effort along with the Holy Spirit needed to obey Christ. Christians are indwelled with the Holy Spirit so we have a new nature that actually is capable of putting to death the deeds of the flesh. We put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. This is so we may grow to be more like Christ and his holiness and has nothing to do with a Catholic view this is a biblical teaching.

    • Richard UK says:

      The original post was whether Piper’s insight into motives could help resolve a contradiction between the views of KdY and TT. The comments have subsequently become all about what we do, but the original was about what are the right motives – you might even say avoiding Pharisaism which is doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

      As for the rest, I have already disagreed with the notion of ‘man’s effort along with the Holy Spirit’ and ‘we put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit’ IN THE SYNERGISTIC SENSE THAT I BELIEVE YOU TO MEAN THEM.

      There is a difference between Catholic and Protestant views on the place for works. Catholics maintain ‘faith plus works’ and Protestants maintain ‘faith leading naturally to works’.

  31. Scott Leonard says:

    And back to the original issue: Justification alone is not what God provides in the Gospel. He provides a new, righteous nature, killed the old man, leaves us in a dead, unsaved body (Romans 8:10;7:24), but breaks the power of sin over us, puts his Spirit (Christ in you) in us, in actual union with us, and tells us to “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body”. Boom!

  32. Scott Leonard says:

    Justification is one of the greatest biblical words of all, along with Sanctification and Glorification!

  33. Richard UK says:


    Romans 9 is about God’s total sovereignty including over man’s actions. If you therefore say that God gives a power to man to use, or not to use, then God has shared with men part of His power to bring them to salvation. That is the standard picture in other religions

    First we need to resolve the issue of sovereignty; then we can study how biblical commands fit into that paradigm. If you start with biblical commands (eg at the end of Paul’s letters) and assume that responsibility = ability, then you will have to compromise God’s sovereignty

    • Anonymous says:

      Richard the post started because Tullian says “When we have faith in our justification we will automatically obey.” This is the statement I have been addressing because I do not believe that obedience is “automatic” but requires much effort and varies from person to person depending on a number of reasons which are clearly stated in scripture and have been addressed here.

  34. Frank Pontillo says:

    Richard, the post started because Tullian said: When we have faith in our justification we will automatically obey. I do not believe that obedience is “automatic” and it varies from person to person depending on a number of reasons which are clearly taught in scripture. Piper and Deyoung correctly added their input as have others on this post.

    • Richard UK says:

      Sorry guys (Frank and Mr Anon) for not coming back earlier

      When Tullian says ‘we automatically obey’ he of course does not mean we become perfect; he means that our obedience flows naturally as a fruit, from our rejoicing; it is not forced. A ‘forced’ work that is without faith in the ultimate goodness and love of God is a waste of time – the angels yawn when seeing it – it will be burnt up.

      What did Piper and de Young have to say on this?

  35. Frank Pontillo says:

    If all Tullian said is what you quoted then there would not be much of a discussion. He goes on to say much more which muddies the water as much as what he does not say. His simplistic approach is what is the problem. For instance he leaves out guilt, shame, fear, duty as means of having anything to do with loyalty to our King. There are various reasons why we obey which is why we are to preach the whole council of God. He also has made statements such that “Gods commandments are not burdensome because we do not carry them”. This is not a proper interpretation of 1 John 5:3-4. We are to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. God does not do it for us. Many times this involves much effort on the part of the believer and the believer that best tends to working out his salvation with fear and trembling is understanding the whole council,of God and it is the preachers job to preach it.

  36. Scott Leonard says:

    Guys, if you simply walk through Romans six, seven and eight and let them say what they say, rather than forcing old traditions on them, it actually becomes quite clear. Paul says that he who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with. Like it or not, that is exactly what he says and that is exactly what happened to every believer the moment they were regenerated. In John 14:20 Jesus makes an astounding statement, and notice that what he says all in one breath: (Do we know this or do we only place it into certain workable categories?): “In that day you will know that I am in the Father and you are in me and I am in you.” Let me ask you a question. Is the Holy Spirit only in you in a positional or forensic sense, or his he actually in you? Brothers, be honest with that verse in John 14 and you will have to conclude that you are in him in the same way that he is in the father and he is in you. When Paul speaks about the fact that he no longer sins, he is referring to his true self, his inner man, who, according to Romans 8:9, is no longer in the flesh at all, but is actually in the Spirit. The true Paul– the Paul you cannot see because we look on the things that are eternal and unseen–is incapable of sin and is no longer the source of sin. This is why he says that we are brand new creations where the old things have, yes, past tense, have passed away. For those who care to take his words at face value, he explains why we still sin. (But you have to understand he just said he doesn’t sin, Rom 7:17,20!) It is right there in Romans 8:10. The body is dead because of sin. That is correct, we live in dead bodies. Please don’t leave that verse until you can be truly honest with it. Study what else Paul says about the power of sin in his body in Chapters 6 through 8 and you will see that although our spirit was saved and we became new creatures in Christ, our bodies were not saved and that is why we still sin. But we cannot ignore the fact that Paul says twice within four verses in Romans 7 that it is no longer I who sins. I would urge you not to go any further until you can honestly and thoroughly harmonize these facts. I amazed at how many pastors and teachers jump over these chapters with little successful harmonization, because either they don’t understand them or they don’t like them, or both!

    • Frank Pontillo says:

      Scott not sure what your point is with your sins in the flesh comments. If we are practicing sin in the flesh we have no reason to be assured of salvation. 1 John 3:4-10

      4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

  37. frank pontillo says:

    For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 Who puts the deeds to death? YOU!! We do it by the Spirit but it requires a conscious effort by the individual to kill the sin by the power of the Spirit. If a person finds they are still in bondage and do not have the power to kill the sin then they have no reason to claim they have been born again and are new creations in Christ. When a person is born again they: have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:18

  38. Richard UK says:

    Now please answer honestly

    Have you, Frank, put to death the deeds of the body (as you enjoin others to do)

    Have you, Frank, killed the sin in you?

    • frank pontillo says:

      Richard it is not I who enjoins others to put to death the deeds of the flesh it is Gods word that commands this action. As far as my personal fight goes, the mortification of sin is by degrees renewing my inward man day by day-some days more or less but trying everyday to be advancing towards the goal of perfection all days of my life.

      • Richard UK says:


        You wrote
        “If a person finds they are still in bondage and do not have the power to kill the sin then they have no reason to claim they have been born again and are new creations in Christ”.

        It therefore seems you would go to hell if you died today because God does not command just effort; He commands complete success, which you have not achieved. You have not killed sin because you still sin – we all do. So why do you think you are a new creation? Because you are getting ‘better’? Many non-Christians get better as they rue their earlier wild lives. And is your heart better, or just your external behavior?

        The idea that God will accept our best efforts towards killing sin is unscriptural. It lowers God’s standards of perfection which He will not do. And the idea that it is the general trend of our lives that matters still does not amount to perfection.

        There is sin in you, Frank, which you have not put to death, and yet you wrote
        “When a person is born again they: have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness”.

        And that is your fault, not your ‘flesh’s’; you also wrote
        “Who puts the deeds to death? YOU!! We do it by the Spirit but it requires a conscious effort by the individual to kill the sin by the power of the Spirit”.

        And if you have the power to kill sin but do not do so, then that presumably is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Or are you saying that the Spirit has not equipped you enough?

        So again I ask you, Frank, to answer these questions out of your own life, not in general terms.

        • Frank Pontillo says:

          Richard are you disagreeing that a person must be born again to enter heaven? Are you disagreeing that when a person is born again they are no longer slaves to sin. What does that mean to you? When someone is born again their affections change and instead of desiring and practicing sin we fight it because we do not like it. I did explain to you that sin is killed off in degrees and we can be advancing towards holiness so your statement that I have not killed sin is not entirely true. It is a process and sin can be put in such a subdued state that it is not active which we call mortification or killing sin. I was once an alcoholic and drug addict. Those sins will still be in me as long as I walk around in this body of flesh but I do experience victory over these sins because the desire is gone and by the Spirit I put to death any resurfacing of those sins. It has been 15 years of sobriety. Now I consider the sin of addiction dead in me because I do not use drugs or alcohol but I am alert that the fight is never over. We may just be quibbling over definitions of the word dead or mortification and how it applies to sin. Occasionally a thought will pop up that could cause me to stumble back into that sin of addiction but it is then that by the Spirit I do not entertain it but I kill it so it does not strengthen and grow to where it might manifest itself. A cat and a pig are walking down the road. They both fall into a ditch full of mud. The cat quickly gets out of the mud and cleans itself off and gets on the other side of the road and is careful next time it gets to that part of the road. The pig on the other hand stays down there and sloshes around and next time he gets to that side of the road he jumps in. These are both animals with free will but they act according to their nature because they are slaves to their nature. Just because the cat fell into the mud does not mean it likes mud. Such is the same with the Christian. The fight against sin is natural when they are born again because their nature changes. My point in my last post was that if one does not experience this change in nature with regards to sin and is not taking action to subdue their sins there is a problem with their profession because their nature has not changed and they are not born again. Jesus says we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.

          • Richard UK says:

            I’m sorry, Frank

            I’m not even going to read your post until I see you are addressing your own state of sin against the criterion for entry into heaven as you see it in scripture

            I found another one of yours
            “If we are practicing sin in the flesh we have no reason to be assured of salvation”

            Again I ask ‘do you sin?’ What are the consequences?

          • Anonymous says:

            1 John 3:8 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you think sanctification is an instant overnight thing?

          • frank pontillo says:

            Mortification of sin is often attained by degrees by the one dealing with sin seriously. Taking the ax to the root of sin takes many blows and each blow deprives the sin of its vigor and power so as overtime the sin is still alive but in a subdued state.

          • Richard UK says:

            Frank, yours of 11.28

            In terms of your progress in mortification, how are you in

            1. mortifying pride?

            2. mortifying covetousness of fame?

          • Frank Pontillo says:

            Richard these sound like a catch 22 questions: well regarding pride according to my wife who knows me best I have come a long way from who I was especially before conversion. I do consciously repent when this sin raises its head and take the axe to the root. Fame is not something I think about or desire.

          • Richard UK says:


            Apart from the ESV, ERV and GNB, 1 John 3 v8 does not have the notion of ‘continues’ or ‘makes an [ongoing] practice of’ sinning in any English, Greek or Latin bible version

            It is an interpretative inclusion

          • Richard UK says:


            I am increasingly conscious of my pride and repent of it with deep groanings.

            I guess that means I am not born again

          • Richard UK says:

            PS – Frank

            You ‘take an axe to the root’. Can you help me understand and do likewise

            One of the dangers for all bloggers is wanting to be proved right. This is what I meant by ‘fame’

  39. David C says:

    I believe being led of the Spirit is life and peace. Romans eight confirms this. We cannot hope to perfectly stop sinning but faithfully we can not have the habit of sinning and stay in fellowship of the relationship with God making progress if we keep accounts short with God confessing sin as we go and asking, “is there a way of pain in me God? And would you remove it?!” Anyone who thinks they’re perfect needs a head examined but those who practice humility calling themselves sinners saved by grace and nothing without Christ and with Him everything have a foothold! Honest frank candidness with God, get the picture? Depending on Him in trust and obedience then by the Spirit.

  40. Scott Leonard says:

    So here are what I believe are the vital truths to remember about that: John is talking about a lifestyle. He is not talking about what Paul describes when he says, “The things I don’t want to do, I do! The things I want to do…. Oh wretched man….” This is why John says, “I write that you might not sin. BUT, if anyone sins, we have an Advocate…” Lifestyle and direction change is the key. But Paul also makes it clear that we can, in fact, experience the practical victory of Romans 8, rather than being doomed to Romans 7! I am amazed at how the reality of this verse is neglected: “….so that the requirement of the Law might be FULFILLED in us, who do not WALK according to the flesh but ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT.” It is really quite simple to understand. Paul says our flesh is horrific, but that we are no longer in the flesh. He says we are IN the spirit (Romans 8:9) and that is the miracle of the new birth that took place when God took us out of Adam and placed us in Christ. We are brand new creations and if we walk by faith in the One who came to live through us, the righteousness of the Law will be progressively fulfilled in us. That is sanctification.

  41. Scott Leonard says:

    Guys, the cross deals with the issue of my standing, once and for all settled for eternity by faith in Christ. But get this–Romans 5 says we are saved by His…… LIFE! It is the LIFE of Christ IN me that produces the experiential righteousness which improves day by day as I choose to walk in the Spirit of Christ in me. And yes, God works in me both to will and to do. He instructs and chastens and loves so that I am motivated to make the hard choices to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit.

    • Frank Pontillo says:

      Yes Scott you are correct. The problem is those that are not grasping justification and sanctification. Your last sentence sums this debate up pretty well. If one is not making the choices which involves mortifying sin then they have no reason at all to believe they are justified born again believers. Head knowledge without heart change means no justification or sanctification.

  42. Richard UK says:

    “as I choose to walk in the Spirit of Christ in me”

    “God works in me both to will and to do”

    Can you say how you see these synthesizing? (Please don’t say they are a tension we can’t understand!!)

    • Frank Pontillo says:

      I have no problem with that. If someone is not willing and doing (fighting sin) then the Holy Spirit is not in them. If the Holy Spirit is not in them they are not justified.

  43. Scott Leonard says:

    I agree, Frank. I’m actually surprised that this much ink has to be spilled over something that looks pretty simple in Scripture.

  44. frank pontillo says:

    Amen Scott!

  45. Steve Fuller says:

    Dear Richard UK, Frank, and Scott —

    I apologize for not being able to engage in your discussion.

    I believe it would be most helpful to take this discussion off-line, since the space limitations in this Comments section don’t allow for the in-depth back-and-forth your questions deserve.

    So if you’d like to continue, let me know below and I will email each of you the other’s email addresses (but only if you give me permission).

    In Christ,

    Steve Fuller

  46. Scott Leonard says:

    I’m fine with that!

  47. frank pontillo says:

    I think we pretty much beat the subject to death. im going to bow out here thanks

    • Richard UK says:

      Steve Fuller

      Thanks for your gracious sentiment.

      I think, like Frank, we have gone far enough in utilizing your good offices

  48. Clayton Hutchins says:

    Hey Steve. I appreciate the post. I don’t think there is a single living writer who has had a greater impact on my faith than John Piper. I love the man and his ministry. But I do have some questions regarding things he brings up in his “Future Grace” book, which is at the heart of what you mention in this blog post.

    My essential question is this: Is “trusting all that God is and will be for me in Christ” the only valid motive for obedience? That is the take-away I get from Piper in FG: all other motives to obey are futile. But I have been wondering: are there other valid, Scriptural motives? Kevin DeYoung has written on this subject often (e.g., and in his book *The Hole In Our Holiness* he puts forth many different motives in Scripture for obedience – some of which could conceivably fall under “faith-in-future-grace,” but others which don’t really seem to fit that category. For instance: fear of future judgment (Heb 10:26-27); we were created for good works (Eph 2:10); duty (Ecc 12:13; Luke 17:10); being “in sync” with God’s love (1 John 4:11); gratitude for grace (Rom 12:1); imitating God’s character (Lev 11:44a); love for Christ (John 14:15); our union with Christ (Rom 6:5-6). None of these seem to me to neatly fit under the category of “trusting all that God promises to be to me in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes it is the opposite – trusting in God’s future judgment. Or sometimes the “trust” element seems to not take the center stage, as when we are to consider, as Christians, the mere fact of Christ’s love for us, and see the fittingness that we should also love one another (1 John 4:11). If I am right, and DeYoung has in fact pointed out some Scriptural motives for obedience that don’t fall neatly into Piper’s “trust in future grace” method, I think that Piper is being too exclusive when he puts forth his future grace method as the only method (or only useful or worthwhile method) for the Christian to use in fighting sin. What are your thoughts on this, Steve? Thanks for bearing with the long comment, but I would appreciate a response!

  49. Scott Leonard says:

    Clayton, I have not read much of the book, but I am thinking that in all of the motives you listed above, another motivating or empowering factor in each of those is the trust that in Christ I have the ability to actually carry out that obedience. Jesus said that apart from Him we can do zero. I don’t know how many people actually believe that! To me, future grace encompasses the fact that Christ literally is my life, not just my helper for life, and that everything I do that counts and pleases God has him as the source as well as the direction, and must be lived in helpless dependence on him, just as He was helplessly dependent on the Father when He was here demonstrating how a true human lives.

  50. Ray Fowler says:

    Clayton – When Piper first published Future Grace back in 1995 he used the phrase: “Faith is primarily future oriented.” However for the 2012 revised edition, he changed the word “primarily” to “profoundly and pervasively.” You can read his reasons for the change here: I think this would indicate that Piper sees other motivations at play, and that is one of the reasons he made the change.

  51. Richard UK says:

    There are many motives for good works including terror and Piper’s ‘What will I get out of it’.

    But many of these are not faith-driven. Faith is believing that God exists and that he earnestly rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

    Real holiness, real sanctification, real heart change, and real ‘good’ works come from the Holy Spirit. There is no ‘motive’ for them other than the Holy Spirit’s desire to honor the Son and Father.

    ‘We’ do not have ‘motives’ in this, although we may see our life accompanied by various things including, I suggest, our delight in the Son in and of His own loveliness, and – very much secondarily – our gratitude for what He has done

  52. Clayton Hutchins says:

    Richard, while it is true that our good works come from the Holy Spirit, that does not mean that the Spirit doesn’t make use of motivations. He doesn’t merely make us willing to do good, but he brings holy and good considerations to mind and then motivates us to act on the basis of the truth of those considerations. At issue is whether or not all of these considerations are future-oriented gracious promises God makes, or other mental considerations as well.

    • Richard UK says:

      Might it be that you are talking about motives for ‘good works’ and I am talking about ‘good motives’. I agree that we have ‘motives’ in the sense of mental states such gratitude but I wanted to point out that gratitude, even though this seems to be ‘ours’, flows from the new heart placed within us by, and indeed of the essence of, the Holy Spirit – it is ‘in’ us but not ‘of us’. (hate etc is ‘ours’ as is ungodly fear, noting also, of course, that good works not performed in faith are of course not good)

      When you write “He doesn’t merely make us willing to do good”, but “he brings holy and good considerations to mind and then motivates us to act on the basis of the truth of those considerations”, I’m not sure how the second part adds to the first part.

      I think Piper’s point about ‘future-orientated’ is interesting but in danger of being tautologous. God has and is acting in history to bring about His redemptive plan of which, by faith, we are part. That is good news for us and, since it is not yet fully realised, we have certain ‘hope’ for it in the future. But there is also a sense in which we can be caught up in wonder, love and praise for the God who is God, in and of His loveliness. That can and indeed should lead to good works but that sense of wonder can not IMHO really be said to be a motive.

  53. Redeeme3d says:

    Any relationship, to include our relationship with God, requires faith PLUS work/effort. I understand Tullian’s point: that if we just let the Gospel indwell us, fill us, that we would naturally want to obey God and follow His commandments. The problem comes, at least for me, in that I don’t always let the Gospel fully indwell my thoughts and actions … that I find myself rebelling and, at times, being outright disobedient. And that when I find myself in that selfish, flesh-driven mindset, that I must make a conscientious effort to return to that place where the Holy Spirit is able to in me the work/intercession that God brought Him to earth to do. It’s work!!

    Do I know some who seem to be on auto pilot in their walks as believers? (Meaning that they seem not to struggle with obedience and their walk with God one iota.) Yes. And, to be frank, they really tick me off!! 🙂 Seriously, I feel more envy then anger, because I don’t understand how they seem to be at ease with something that I struggle so mightily with at times. But the truth be known, I also find those folks to have filled their lives/days with worship, praise, prayer and study … all of which allows God to work fully and completely in their lives. That’s hard for me to write … hard for me to admit to.

    So, where do I go from here? I believe that all the gentlemen you mention here who have written as to their conviction regarding whether our walk is due to work or simply faith, are correct in their assessments – but not in a one-size-fits-all sense that they seem to want to make. I believe that for some folks, like me, it takes a lot of work and effort to get myself into the position where God can best use me … while others simply slide into that position and stay locked in without such work. God’s approach to us is on a personal basis … a one-on-one encounter … not group think or application. Of course, I could be wrong.

  54. Richard UK says:


    Thank you for yours – which is one of the few which is not shouting one’s own brittle view from the rooftops (of which I get guilty)

    You are right that the only way forward is the way back to our heart before Jesus and His Father and our Father.

    It is not therefore a question of let go and let God, but even so, to talk of effort or work is perhaps a little dangerous – it speaks of ‘will’ language, whereas we should speak of heart language.

    If we talk of opening our heart or softening our heart, this is more the language of the bride in the Song of Solomon, which is much more appropriate for us than the male language of strive, effort, will, work which is the language, and mindset, of the pre-Christian Stoics

    The men of faith in the OT had a heart for God (none more than David); their noteworthiness was the uplifted eye, not the clenched muscle of a Greek athlete (yes, Paul does use that imagery once)

    an y thoughts?

  55. Frank Pontillo says:

    We cannot pick and choose which bible verses we like and frame our theology around those which fit our position. The bible does use words like strive and so we should not be against using that language as well. Jesus says strive to enter through the narrow door. We are to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. This language is used so we do not think we just coast into heaven. Faith without obedience is not saving faith. Jesus says that only those who do the will of his Father will enter into heaven. If someone really has been born again these things will be a reality in their life because they love God because their nature has been changed.

  56. Richard UK says:

    I put it to you that you too are choosing bible verses

    Paul explains the theology behind the OT and NT and indeed makes us realize that many of the things we are commanded to do, we simply cannot do. To assume we can do them because they are commanded is, just that, simply an assumption coming from outside Christianity.

    The bible does not say ‘faith without obedience is not saving faith’. James says the faith without action is dead faith. But action and fruit come from abiding in Christ. You don’t make dead faith into living faith by ‘obedience’ any more that you make a dead apple live by buying apples at Walmart and sticking them on the tree – that is what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.

    Catholics believe in faith plus deeds whereas Protestants believe in faith alone – although it must be the right type of faith – the faith that leads to fruit. There is a mighty difference as Luther saw. To fail to recognize that is to make Christianity and Islam the same.

    To anyone who says they have put to death the deeds of the flesh (by the Spirit) and who now do the will of their Father, I ask if they ever sin and, if so, why? Why, if they love God? Do you, Frank, love God 24/7? If not, why talk in such terms for others?

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