John Piper explains how the doctrines of grace encourage and stimulate his Christian faith
The five points of Calvinism are not unimportant.
Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship and missions.
Somewhere along the way (nobody knows for sure when or how), the five points came to be summarised in English under the acronym TULIP. T — Total depravity (that we are all helpless sinners unable to save ourselves). U — Unconditional election (that God chose a number that no man can number of sinners to be saved, not for any good in them but totally of his grace). L — Limited atonement (that Christ died specifically for these sinners and atoned for their sin). I — Irresistible grace (that those whom God has chosen will inevitably be brought to faith in Christ). P — Perseverance of the saints (that none of these shall be lost).
Let me explain something of how these biblical truths impact my spiritual life.
These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.
I can hardly read the newspaper or a Google news article or look at a TV ad or a billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing. When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I am still able to be shocked. Are you? Many Christians are sedated with the same God-ignoring drug as the world. Some think it is a virtue that God be neglected, and invent cynical names for people who speak of God in relation to everything.
These teachings are a great antidote against that neglect and that cynicism. Christians exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life. We are therefore in need of a great awakening. These truths keep me aware of that and impel me to pray toward it. For only a sovereign work of God can make it happen.
These truths make me conﬁdent that the work which God planned and began, he will ﬁnish — both globally and personally.
The truth that God will use all his sovereign power to keep me for himself is supremely precious. I know my heart. Left to itself my heart is proud and self-centred and an idol factory. Few prayers are more needful for me than these words from a hymn: ‘Let thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee’. Yes, I need — and I want — him to chain me to himself everyday. To seal me. Capture me. Keep me. Hold on to me.
And the doctrines of grace are the perfect satisfaction for these desires. This is exactly what God has promised to do for me. ‘I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me’ (Jeremiah 32.40). ‘I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41.10). I go to bed at night quietly confident that I will be a secure believer in the morning not because of my free will, but because of God’s free grace. This is worth more than millions of dollars. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes — that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.
Through the lens of these doctrines I see that all of life relates to God and that he is the beginning, the middle, and the end of it all. There’s no compartment where he is not all-important. He is the one who gives meaning to everything (1 Corinthians 10.31). Seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that ‘[he] works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 1.11) make me see the world this way. Reality becomes supercharged with God. He is the all-pervading glory in all that is. Everything is from him and for him.
These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.
The warrant for prayer is that God may break in and change things — including the human heart. He can turn the will around. ‘Hallowed be your name’ (Matthew 6.9) means: cause people who are not hallowing your name to hallow your name. ‘May your word run and be glorified’ (2 Thessalonians 3.1) means: cause hearts to be opened to the gospel. This is what God did for me in answer to my parents’ prayers. It is what I now gladly do for others. I take the new covenant promises and plead with God to bring them to pass in people’s lives and among all the mission frontiers of the world. And the reason I pray this way is that God has the right and the power to do these things. No human autonomy stands in the way.
Prayer is where most Christians sound like Calvinists. Most sincere Christians pray with the assumption that he has the right and power not only to heal human bodies and alter natural circumstances, but also to sov-ereignly transform human hearts. In other words prayer is based on God’s ability to overcome human resistance. That is what we ask him to do. Which means that the doctrine of irresistible grace is the great hope of answered prayer in the lives of people for whose salvation I plead.
These truths remind me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not ﬁnally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.
The doctrines of grace make evangelism among spiritually dead sinners possible. Without the sovereign grace of God we may as well be preaching in a cemetery. Because we are preaching in a cemetery. That is what this world is. The truth of total depravity means that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the natural man, and ‘he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2.14). So evangelism only makes sense in the light of the doctrines of grace. We really believe God can raise the dead. And we know he uses the human means to do it. ‘You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God’ (1 Peter 1.23). The sovereign work of God in giving new life to the dead human heart is ‘through the word of God.’ And Peter adds, ‘This word is the good news that was preached to you’ (1 Peter 1.25). It’s the gospel. This is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1.16).
Therefore the doctrines of grace give hope for evangelism in the hardest places. Dead is dead. Muslims or Hindus or hardened European post-Christian secularists are not more dead than any other ‘natural man.’ And God does the impossible. He raises the dead (Ephesians 2.1-6). When faced with the hardheartedness of the rich young ruler Jesus said: ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19.26). As I look out on the remaining task of world missions, I do not despair. Rather I hear Jesus say: ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice’ (John 10.16). Not: they may. But: they will. So I say: this cannot fail. The doctrines of grace enflamed world missions in the lives of William Carey and David Livingston and Adoniram Judson and Henry Martyn and John Paton and thousands of others. And that is the effect it has had on me, as I have tried to do my part in promoting the great work of frontier missions.
These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.
‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”’ (Isaiah 46.9-10). The sum of the matter is that God is God. He is absolutely sovereign. And he is gracious beyond all human analogy. He has planned, is performing and will complete a great salvation for his people and his creation. He has done it so that he gets the glory in us and we get the joy in him. And it cannot fail. ‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever’ (Psalm 33.11).
To find out more about how these doctrines have changed John Piper’s life, read the book Five Points (ISBN 978 1 781 912 522, £5.99. Christian Focus).