The Trinity of Assurance: the Father, the Spirit, and Pete?

Last week on Desiring God’s podcast Ask Pastor John, John Piper responded to a question regarding assurance of salvation (the audio transcript is available here). Someone named Pete had asked the following question:

I understand the Bible to teach that a true Christian is one who perseveres to the end, and in the sad circumstances where someone professes faith but then falls away, they were never a true Christian. For myself, I fully believe that I have been saved by Christ, and I see the fruit of this in my life. However, as a long-time pastor, I am sure you know of people who would also have been convinced that they were truly born again, would have appeared to bear fruit in their lives, but later showed that they were not truly saved by abandoning the faith. So if my salvation is only truly and finally evidenced by my perseverance, how much weight can I attach to God’s promises?

Piper began his reply by acknowledging the significance of Pete’s question. How do we know that the biblical promises (of which Piper lists a few) apply directly and personally to us if they apply only to the elect?  To answer this, Piper directed Pete to two biblical texts in particular – 2 Peter 1:10 and Romans 8:13-16 – and then made the following comments:

So, the bottom-line answer to Pete’s question about being assured or being confirmed that we are among the elect, we are among the called, is that the Holy Spirit testifies, bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God…What witnesses do in a courtroom is give evidences. And two of them are mentioned here. What the Holy
Spirit is doing in us, creating the evidence and the testimony is number one…If the Holy Spirit is john-piperleading Pete into warfare with his sin so that he hates sin and looks to the Spirit to fight sin, this is the testimony of the Spirit that he belongs to God.

And the second evidence of the Spirit’s testimony is that he is crying from the heart, “Abba! Father!” …The point is when this cry — Daddy, Father — arises from a heart with the authentic, humble need of a helpless child, craving and desperately in need of a Father’s wisdom and a Father’s care and a Father’s provision and a Father’s rescue, a ready heart, ready to submit like a trusting child, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. No human being feels those affections for, “Abba! Father!” except the Spirit-wrought…

So, in the end, assurance that we belong to God, we are his child, we are in the promises, we are among the elect is a gift of God. It is a miracle. But as with other miracles in the Christian life, we don’t lie around on our sofa waiting for a bolt of lightning called assurance. We do what Peter says. We confirm our calling and election. This is war. There are reasons. There are seasons of doubt, reasons for doubt, seasons for doubt in the Christian life. That is why Peter said what he said when he said: Fight for it. Don’t coast. Confirm your calling and election.

Apart from the legitimacy of Piper’s interpretation of these two passages (from which I demur, but that’s a different post), there are two massive problems that immediately jump out to me here. First, it is startling to note that Piper nowhere (even in the unedited transcript) makes reference to Christ in his comments on the biblical texts or in his answer. Even on a cursory reading, the absence of Christ leaves, from my perspective, a gaping hole. Piper speaks of the Father as the object of our assurance and of the Holy Spirit as the agent in producing the evidence of assurance. But who is the third member of this Trinitarian work of assurance? Evidently, according to Piper, it is Pete himself (and all of us to whom Piper would presumably give the same reply). In other words, Piper has constructed a soteriological equation in which the divine, objective work of election and calling is carried out by the Father and the Spirit but, on the human, subjective side, the necessary work of appropriating and confirming that election and calling through faith and righteous living (and, since this is Piper, good affections) rests squarely on the shoulders of Pete.

The problem, in my view, is that this wholly neglects the One who not only accomplishes salvation from the divine side (in concert with the Father and the Spirit) but who also accomplishes the perfect reception and confirmation of that salvation through his own vicarious believing, working, and persevering for us: Jesus Christ. This is the second major problem with Piper’s answer. In neglecting Christ, Piper fails to see that assurance of salvation is not grounded in the quality of our faith, good works, and holy affections but rather in the quality of Christ’s faith, good works, and holy affections. This is indeed what is meant by the book of Hebrews’ (2:10-18) insistence that Jesus is our faithful (or faith-full) high priest who represents us before the Father as the perfect worshipper and believer. It is also what is meant by Paul when he exclaims: “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me! For the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith/faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me!” (Gal. 2:20)

This is why we Evangelical Calvinists, in line with Calvin himself, emphasize that assurance of salvation is of the very essence of faith. Indeed, in one sense we could say that for Evangelical Calvinists, the question of assurance does not even exist, because we look to Christ and Christ alone, not only as the Giver of salvation (with the Father and the Spirit) but also as the vicarious Receiver of salvation. As Athanasius so beautifully put it, Christ came not only to minister the things of God to us but also to minister the things of us to God. Christ is the Word of God to man, and he is also the Man who vicariously hears and fulfills that Word in our flesh and thus in our place and on our behalf.

This is the message that T.F. Torrance so earnestly sought to communicate, especially to self-designated ‘evangelicals’ whose teaching of the gospel – in relation to conversion all the way through final glorification – was (and is) extremely unevangelical. As Piper would have it in this podcast, it is apparently Pete’s human effort that replaces the efforts of Christ in living by the Spirit through the Father. This, however, is not good news. Torrance explains:

There is a kind of subtle Pelagianism in preaching and teaching which has the effect of throwing people back in the last resort on their own act of faith, so that in the last analysis responsibility for their salvation rests upon themselves, rather than on Christ. In far too much preaching of Christ the ultimate responsibility is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and put on the shoulders of the poor sinner, and he knows well in his heart that he cannot cope with it…

Hidden deep down beneath all that there is a failure to take the New Testament teaching about the power of the cross of Christ and his substitutionary role seriously, a reluctance to allow it to apply to the whole of their being and to all their human activity before God, even to their believing and praying and worshipping. We need to learn and learn again and again that salvation by grace alone is so radical that we have to rely upon Christ Jesus entirely in everything, and that it is only when we rely on him alone that we are really free to believe: “Not I but Christ” yet “Christ in me.” Because he came as man to take our place, in and through his humanity is radically transformed, and we become truly human and really free to believe, love, and serve him That is the wonderful message of the cross and resurrection.[1]

If ever there was a reason for becoming an Evangelical Calvinist, this is it. I would love to sit down with Pete and help him to realize that he is not, nor could ever be, the final member in the Triune God’s work of assurance. I would love to tell him that it is Christ’s vicarious humanity that surrounds him, enfolds him, uplifts him, and preserves him. This is not to downplay the importance of Pete’s faith; rather it is to direct him solely to the One who is the author and perfector of his faith (Heb. 12:2)! I would love to appropriate Paul’s words and assure him: “Pete, it is no longer you who live and persevere but Christ who lives and perseveres in you. And the life that you now live in the flesh, you live by the faith and the faithfulness of the Son of God who love you and gave himself for you!”

This, I suspect, would be truly reassuring for Pete, and I hope it is for you as well.

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[1] Torrance, T.F., 1994. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.35, 37.

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This entry was posted in American evangelicalism, Assurance, Athanasius, Biblical interpretation, Christology, Classic Calvinism, Election, Evangelical Calvinism, Evangelical theology, Five points of Calvinism, Gospel, Holy Spirit, John Calvin, John Piper, Patristic theology, Predestination, Protestant theology, Reformed theology, Soteriology, T.F. Torrance, Trinity, Vicarious humanity of Christ. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Trinity of Assurance: the Father, the Spirit, and Pete?

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I suspect that regarding the problem of assurance, Luther might be a better friend to have than Calvin. Not only did Luther understand the problem from the inside out, but he had a sacramental solution to the problem: https://goo.gl/4iEFWB.

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    • Hi Fr Kimel, thanks for your comment! I’ve seen some of your interactions with Bobby over at his blog and so I’m honored that you would stop by and comment here as well.

      Thanks for the link as well. There is much to appreciate about Luther in this regard. I especially like his emphasis on the external Word and its speaking to us an objective assurance. The reason I reference Calvin is because, at least in the Reformed tradition, he represents a departure from the Westminsterian view that is more commonly espoused on this issue. But clearly, as Bobby would also say, Evangelical Calvinists like Torrance would want to go even further than either Luther or Calvin in its emphasis on the objective/subjective fulfillment of salvation in Christ.

      Thanks, though, again for the link about Luther. I’m sure I have much more to learn!

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  2. Anthony says:

    This was always my struggle with the Reformed tradition until I started reading Barth, Torrance and others who followed a true trinitarian doctrine of assurance. I think this flows very logically from forms of Christianity that are not sacramental in their worship. Assurance is something that is given, not earned. Excellent post as always.

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  3. I agree whole heartedly with Fr. Kimel. In my time of life and in my circumstance I need all the assurance available. Better yet. Through Holy Baptism, the proclaimed Gospel and the Supper of Our Lord’s Body and Blood I have certainty rather than slippery assurance.

    I was raised in a Piper type of congregation and seen several of the older members fall into doubt and terror knowing their time was short. There was noting of any substance for them to grasp which Christ’s promises were attached. I thank Our Lord for directing me to a Christian Tradition which teaches the wonderful gifts we have in word and Sacraments.

    I really appreciate your article. It presents my discomfort with Brother Piper’s teaching.

    God’s peace. †

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    • Thanks David. I can relate to your upbringing. Although I was not raised in a Reformed(ish) church like Piper’s, I did grow up in a church that so heavily emphasized my response to the gospel that I was frequently frightened that I had not responded well enough. I can’t tell you how many times I “prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus into my heart”! As I mentioned to Fr. Kimel, I too appreciate Luther’s emphasis on the external means by which it is proclaimed to us over and over that God was in Christ reconciling us to himself even before we ever responded to him. I’m glad you are in a better place now! Thanks for your comment and encouragement. Much appreciated!

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      • David Cochrane says:

        I have not considered Piper as Reformed for several years. He has left the Reformed Tradition expressed by Calvin if he was ever in it. I have seen him say one must perform good works to enter heaven although one is saved. I think he tips his hat in Calvin’s direction in order to not lose his audience. I don’t think he has lost his salvation or shown himself as a false convert but some of his comments are concerning.

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      • Hi David, I agree that Piper is very far from Calvin, especially on this particular point.

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  4. Tim Shipman says:

    Thank you for such a reassuring look at His response for us. I like you have had much doubt in my past about my “conversion”, it is so good to lay my burdens at His feet. Something that helped me understand was when I heard Dr. Jeff McSwain of Reality Ministries speak of his working with special needs people in relation to their inability to respond to the Gospel like you or I. It made look again at my “response” and realize that it was Jesus response for me and these loved ones that counted. It just was a great joy when I saw how far our Triune God was willing to go in renewing His creation and this view lifted a great burden from me. I am especially grateful for this now that I have lost a son that was mad at God before he took his own life but had professed his faith in earlier years. It brings this all home to me now. I think that Father was gracious to me in this particular way. Helping me understand it much before this happened. Thanks again.

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    • Hi Tim, thanks for your encouraging comments! I appreciate the fact that you shared a bit of your story as well. It clearly illustrates that our theology isn’t some abstract notion that doesn’t have anything to do with our lives. Firmly clinging to what you yourself articulated makes all the difference! I’m glad that this post was helpful to you. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Mike H says:

    Perhaps I’m not understanding this correctly, but doesn’t this formula still articulate the sort of double-predestination theology that Piper espouses (however inconsistently he espouses it)?

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    • Hi Mike, thanks for your question! The short answer is no, it does not espouse the kind of predestinarian theology that Piper endorses, because it does not begin with a concept of elect (or reprobate) humanity in abstraction from and prior to Christ. Rather, pace Torrance and Barth, it concentrates election in the humanity of Christ himself, the Elect One in whom all humanity is represented. On the flip side, Christ is the Elect One who elects to vicariously suffer as the Reprobate One for all. Thus, unlike Calvin who wanted to direct people solely to Christ for assurance but undermined that assurance with his doctrine of predestination, what Torrance is saying, from the perspective of a Christ-conditioned view of predestination, is that the basic determination of God before the foundation of the earth (and in which human salvation is grounded) is primarily his self-determination to be “God with us” (Emmanuel) in Jesus Christ, a determination for which he will assume our self-reprobation by sin upon himself and make us truly free to be “us with God.” That many will not ultimately saved is, as Torrance would say, a “surd”, unexplainable and irrational as per the very nature of sin.

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      • Mike H says:

        Thanks for the response Jonathan. Very helpful.

        So if I’m understanding this correctly, you’re saying (per Torrance and Barth) that the semantic content of the term “predestination” cannot be used in the abstract manner in which Piper uses it, but must instead be applied to and understood in the life of Christ. So it might be fair to say, in this understanding, that “predestination” is the reason that some ARE saved but it is not the reason that some are NOT saved. Fair enough.

        But it appears to me (please correct if I’m wrong) that Piper’s predicament still exists in this context, even though things are framed a bit differently. If “many will ultimately not be saved” even in light of the predetermination of God to be “God with us” (leaving the range of meaning of “predestination” at that and going no further), then one is still left with two alternatives:
        (1)that God’s will to be “God with us” is NOT actually meant to be for ALL (a reality to which you won’t apply the term “predestination”, but a reality nonetheless)
        or
        (2) there is something within each individual person – whether choice, resistance, ontological disposition, a failure to participate in this trinitarian relationship, etc. – SOMETHING that provides for the ultimate triumph of the “inexplicable and irrational” nature of sin over and against salvation.

        Which would you say it is? Or do you hold to a 3rd option?

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      • Hi Mike, good questions! Let me preface my response by saying something about method that will hopefully help a bit. Something that I have struggled with myself in coming to where I am at today from a Piper-style Calvinism (and I’m still learning) is approaching biblical interpretation and theology in a more dialectical manner. I should probably do a post on this (and as I think about it, I probably will), but a dialectical approach seems to be pressed upon us by the nature of the object of investigation – the biblical witness. Bruce McCormack has a great essay on this, not to mention Torrance, so be on the lookout for a post about this in the days to come. Suffice it to say here that a dialectical approach is content to let tension be tension and doesn’t seek, like a scholastic or analytical method would, to piece the various aspects of Scripture together in a logically airtight system. For the classic Calvinist, the approach is usually unsatisfactory, but I think it is what is enjoined upon us by Scripture itself.

        Having said that, let me try and explain how I approach the predicament you have articulated. Against the first option you mention, I would say that God’s will to be God with us is actually meant for all and thus predestination (as it is focused exclusively in Christ) is likewise intended for all. The dialectical side comes into play when we acknowledge that Scripture does not seem to indicate that in the end, all will be saved. I want to affirm both of these things, however paradoxical they might seem. A possible way through this paradox (other than simply leaving it as paradoxical) is to say that predestination (as ultimately displayed in the incarnation and atonement) is actually the reason for both salvation and damnation, but not in the classic sense of the double decree. Rather, inasmuch as the cross and the resurrection of Christ involved judgment just as much as it did salvation, then those who persist in living under that which has been condemned, judged, and defeated by Christ are thus damned by the very thing which was intended to save them. Perhaps like a person who is drowning can sometimes fight against the person who is trying to save him/her. That is, it is the “grip” with which God laid hold of humanity in the incarnation and the destructive force brought to bear on sin and death in the atonement and resurrection means that those who persist in submitting themselves to sin and death are inadvertently destroyed by the very thing meant to save them. This is how I understand Paul’s teaching that it is by the gospel we are saved, but it is also by the gospel that we are damned if we don’t believe (2 Cor 2:15-16).

        Regarding the second option, I wouldn’t want to make it sound like there is a ‘thing’ that ultimately triumphs over the triumph of God in Christ. This is a bit where the dialectical mystery comes into play, but I would say along with Barth that sin and final damnation are the “impossible possibility.” It is impossible because God has defeated sin and death in Christ for all. Yet it is evidently possible that some (or many) inexplicably are lost. However strange and mysterious this may seem, we are always left with mystery in some sense. In the classic Calvinist view, the mystery is lodged in the pre-temporal decree of God: why did he only elect to save some and not all? In Barth and Torrance, the mystery is relocated into the inexplicable, irrational nature of sin that has already been defeated. In each case, the mystery remains, it’s just a matter of where we see that mystery as attested by Scripture. One thing I do not want to do, following Barth and Torrance, is to think in terms of an Aristotelian-Thomist chain of cause-and-effect whereby we reason, from the fact that not all will be saved, back through the sequence in order to determine what the pre-temporal decree of God must have been. In my view, this reduces God’s interaction with creation from what it is – a decidedly personal interaction between God as a Triune Being of interpersonal communion and love and the creation he intended to share in that communion – and a mechanistic process whereby the causes can be determined on the basis of the effects they produce.

        Perhaps this is helpful to you, perhaps not. At the end of the day, I think this ultimately remains a mystery, however we wish to account for it. I would pray that we might all be surprised one day to find out that the end result is far more glorious and wonderful than we ever could have imagined.

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      • Mike H says:

        Thanks for the thorough response Jonathan.

        Yeah, there are key terms that are defined differently (significantly so), but at the end of the day I guess just don’t see “assurance” as any less of a problem within this framework vs. Piper.

        It’s certainly true that one will always bump into “dialectical mystery” in these sort of things, but “mystery” doesn’t obscure the dilemma here – at least not for me. We can appeal to mystery at the level of the “why”, the “who” or the “how” but not the “what”.

        For Piper, predestination is the term by which he axiomatically asserts the rationale for damnation. God doesn’t elect all people; that is, God doesn’t want to save all people. The “who makes up the elect” may be a mystery, but the “what” is really quite clear. The reasons for this sovereign choice to predestine some for bliss and others for eternal torment may be a “mystery” but the assertion itself, for Piper, is sheer fact. What Piper considers to be “revealed truth” requires this doctrine. That’s not a mystery.

        In the case of Barth & Torrance, damnation as an “impossible possibility” is certainly a catchy play on words. But “impossibility” has a determinate meaning and it seems that the damnation being alluded to here is decidedly not “impossible”. That’s just not what “impossible” means. So the sheer fact of the assertion remains – “those who persist in submitting themselves to sin and death are inadvertently destroyed by the very thing meant to save them.” I have to try to understand “assurance” in the light of the things that are not mysterious about that particular statement.

        In any case, I’ll join you in praying for an end that is far more glorious and wonderful than we could ever have imagined! I’ll be on the lookout for your next post.

        Mike

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      • Mike, I am sympathetic to where you are on this, and I would be lying if I said that I’ve got it all figured out myself. Let me just say, in case the talk of predestination/damnation has obscured the issue, that ultimately for an EC, assurance of salvation is not really even a category of theology, even though we are pressed into addressing it for those for whom it is. What I mean (and I mentioned this in my post) is that Christ is the sum total of our salvation, from first to last. In EC, we can’t doubt our salvation any more than we can doubt that the incarnation is reversible, or that Jesus can somehow be unseated from the right hand of the Father and be unglorified. In other words, Christ does not only give salvation, he is salvation, and this means that it is not only his obedience but also by his faith and perseverance by which we are saved. In EC, our salvation is secure because, as Paul says in Eph. 2, we have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places with him. That others will be lost as a ‘surd’ in no way detracts from this fact.

        Just as a personal testimony, I have endured some difficult trials over the last year in which my faith was severely tested. While I can’t say that I seriously considered renouncing my faith, I was definitely pushed to my limit. The hope that carried me through was not my own ability to sustain my faith through these circumstances, but rather it was the faith of Christ. Many times I remember praying: “Lord, I feel my faith ebbing away. I don’t know how I can continue to believe and trust you in this. So I cling to Christ and his perseverant faith for me, knowing that in his vicarious humanity I am safe and secure.” Ironically, it was therefore precisely in relinquishing the burden of having to believe myself and looking solely to Christ that my faith was strengthened. As Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is assurance, EC-style.

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  6. Bobby Grow says:

    Great post, Jonathan! It’s all about the vicarious humanity.

    For anyone interested in this further, in our forthcoming EC book (vol 2) which Myk Habets and I have coedited, I have a personal chapter in there on assurance of salvation that takes a critical look at Calvin’s idea of assurance being the essence of saving faith. I am both critical and appreciative of Calvin as I offer corrective of some of his weaknesses on assurance, in re to his doctrine of double predestination and temporary faith, as I offer constructive corrective through the theologies of Barth and Torrance. I also touch on the exegetical issue of pistis Christou (I only highlight it).

    But it fits well with what Jonathan has touched upon here with his reference to TFT.

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    • Thanks Bobby, thanks for your encouragement. To everyone else, I have read Bobby’s chapter to which he is referring, and it is excellent. I would have liked to have quoted it in this post, but unfortunately I couldn’t because it hasn’t been published yet. Nevertheless, I can say that it is a definite must-read.

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    • Bobby Grow says:

      Thanks, Jonathan. For anyone interested further here is thesis 7 which Myk and I cowrote from our 1st EC book. It articulates the EC view on assurance (at least from my and Myk’s perspective, and I’m thinking Jonathan would agree with it). https://growrag.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/john-calvin-and-evangelical-calvinists-on-assurance-of-salvation-thesis-7-from-ec-book-prompted-by-derek-rishmawys-tgc-article/

      It is this thesis (which I quote in full in my forthcoming chapter) which I somewhat place under critical scrutiny. But at the end I think Calvin’s anecdote of ‘assurance is the essence of faith’ is right on (it just needs some help from Barth and Torrance).

      Piper, to me, Jonathan, is one of the worst proponents of neo-Purtianism today. I’ve heard him essentially communicate the practical syllogism and straight up experimental predestinarian theology multiple times. There’s no assurance available there!

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      • Yes, I do agree with this thesis. In fact, I consulted it just prior to writing this post! Regarding Piper, it is painful for me to recognize such faults in someone who has had a major impact on me in the past (much for the good I might add), yet as I’ve continued to learn and grow, I realize it’s important to point out the serious errors that he espouses. This last podcast is not an isolated instance, of course, but I thought it was particularly egregious not only due to its content but also due to the fact that it was given as pastoral counsel to someone apparently struggling with assurance. It’s heartbreaking.

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  7. Sam says:

    Oh dear. In no way does Piper espouse a theology of the Father, Spirit, and Pete.

    First of all, Christ is set forth. In all the promises he quotes, he is pointing him to the foundation: Christ and him crucified. Then, given the promises we have in Scripture, we have the eternal electing love of the Father to assure as, as well as the testimony of the Spirit to apply the promises that are yea and amen in Christ. Could Piper have technically done a better job of explaining and returning to the foundation of assurance than he did? Certainly, but his focus was on the believer’s perseverance since that is what Pete asked about.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-agonizing-problem-of-the-assurance-of-salvation
    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/complete-assurance-for-incomplete-people
    http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-full-assurance-of-hope-to-the-end

    There are many more examples than this, but it is clear that the ground and foundation of assurance in Piper’s teaching is found in Christ, not in Pete’s perseverance. We do well to avoid taking one little snippet of someone’s teaching and skew the whole of their message based on one point they made, especially because it is not a comprehensive statement.

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    • Sam, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Of course I realize that Piper doesn’t actually think that Pete is part of the Trinity. The title was meant to be provocative, since it was a blog post and such is the nature of the medium. However, there is a big difference between pointing to Christ as the foundation of assurance and grounding even our subjective faith and perseverance in Christ as well. All three of the articles to which you linked evidence the fundamental problem that I was addressing in this post, namely, that while Piper points to the objective work of Christ that accomplished salvation, he doesn’t emphasize, or even speak of for that matter, the way in which Christ also provides the subjective appropriation of that salvation through faith and perseverance. Another way of stating the problem is one that Piper himself acknowledges in these articles: Christ has secured and thus promises the salvation of the elect, but how can I know that I am one of the elect for whom those promises apply? It is at this point, without a robust understanding of the vicarious humanity of Christ that we are thrown back upon ourselves (even with the help of the Spirit) to discover whether this is so. Piper states repeatedly that we can know we are elect only if we have saving faith and the evidence of the Spirit’s working in sanctification. This leads inevitably to assurance that, although depending partly on Christ, also depends on ourselves inasmuch as we can only be assured of our salvation insofar as we manifest faith and the works of sanctification. But this is wholly contrary, not only to the great ‘solus Christus’ of the Reformation, but also to Scripture itself and, in particular, the very texts in Hebrews that Piper thinks support his view. Thus, Piper does not, and indeed cannot affirm given his underlying theological commitments that in accordance with Hebrews 12:2 we need only look to Jesus to run the race set before us, for according to Piper, we also need to keep at least one eye on ourselves.

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      • Wesley Grubb says:

        Hey Jonathan. You and I were discussing this article over on Facebook, as you may recall. The problem with the vicarious humanity of Christ (well, one of the problems) is that it implies everyone is elect. Is that accurate? Is that a fair statement? If not, please help me understand. But if it is, if everyone is elect in Christ’s vicarious humanity, and we still believe some will go to hell despite Christ’s subjective appropriation of faith and perseverance, how does this scheme really help me? How do I know I am not among those who will drop out and be lost?

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      • Hi Wesley, these are good questions, and you are not alone in asking them. I will be getting into this further as I write more entries in the “Reforming Calvinism” series, so stay tuned for that. I would also suggest if you haven’t done so to take a look at my interactions with Mike H in the comments on this post, where I address very similar questions to yours. Briefly, it is accurate to say that defining election as primarily the humanity of Christ means that all humanity is vicariously elected in him. Regarding your question about assurance, here’s what I wrote to Mike above:

        Christ is the sum total of our salvation, from first to last. In EC, we can’t doubt our salvation any more than we can doubt that the incarnation is reversible, or that Jesus can somehow be unseated from the right hand of the Father and be unglorified. In other words, Christ does not only give salvation, he is salvation, and this means that it is not only his obedience but also by his faith and perseverance by which we are saved. In EC, our salvation is secure because, as Paul says in Eph. 2, we have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places with him. That others will be lost is a ‘surd’ in no way detracts from this fact.

        What this last sentence means is that the fact that some/many may be lost in the end is not explicable. It can be no more understood than can the utter irrationality of sin and evil. Although I know this may not be satisfactory, it comes from the fact that we are attempting to avoid the typical logico-causal ways of thinking about these things: if A, then B. Scripture, I believe, points to both realities, and therefore we must affirm them both. Scripture is not clear on ‘why’ people will ultimately be damned. But the fact that they will in no way detracts from that the fact that in Christ alone we have all the assurance we need.

        Again to return to my answer to Mike: Just as a personal testimony, I have endured some difficult trials over the last year in which my faith was severely tested. While I can’t say that I seriously considered renouncing my faith, I was definitely pushed to my limit. The hope that carried me through was not my own ability to sustain my faith through these circumstances, but rather it was the faith of Christ. Many times I remember praying: “Lord, I feel my faith ebbing away. I don’t know how I can continue to believe and trust you in this. So I cling to Christ and his perseverant faith for me, knowing that in his vicarious humanity I am safe and secure.” Ironically, it was therefore precisely in relinquishing the burden of having to believe myself and looking solely to Christ that my faith was strengthened. As Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is assurance, EC-style.

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