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John Piper and Tim Keller Discuss: We Are Saved by Faith Alone, but What About Sanctification?

Tim Keller John Piper
Source: YouTube screen grab via Desiring God

John Piper sits down with Tim Keller to discuss the concept of justification by faith and the resulting sanctification that happens. There are a handful of common misconceptions Christians hold about sanctification and justification, which Piper and Keller seek to address in the following video.

The pair start off by kicking around the concept of obeying the law (which a sanctified person should be able to do). “I absolutely believe in what the reformed people call the ‘third use of the law’: that now that I’m a Christian and I’ve been saved by the gospel, I’m still obligated to obey the law, but the law demands both inner holiness—inner change—as well as external righteousness—behavior,” Keller says.

However, “I’d say what the gospel does is give me profoundly new motives” for obeying the law. Keller then quotes Walter Marshall, who says, “You need the comforts of the gospel in order to fulfill the law.”

Piper then poses this question to Keller: How is justification by faith alone different from sanctification? Are they both necessary for salvation?

Keller responds: “You’re really saved by faith, not by how sanctified you are. But if you’re not getting sanctified, then you don’t have saving faith.” “Sanctification is the signs of salvation, but not the cause.”

Keller then addresses a problematic way of thinking many Christians adhere to: Justification is just the pardon and then it’s up to the Christian to sanctify him or herself. Some simple Christians are caught in the thinking that sanctification is “what I do to keep God happy with me.”

So how exactly does faith work through love? Aren’t we just working out an obligation we now have to Christ?

Keller tells a story about a woman who was floored upon hearing the message of faith vs. works. She explained it was “scary” because “if you’re saved by works, there’s a limit to what God can ask of you. You’re like a taxpayer, you’ve paid your dues, and he can ask certain things of you, but not anything. But, if I’m really saved by grace, because of what Jesus has done, there’s no limit to what he can ask of me, and my obedience would have to be unconditional.”

And here is the crux of their discussion: We are saved by faith alone, therefore our response is gratitude that manifests in wanting to do things for the one who saved us.

This is when Piper throws a curveball by discussing a principle Paul talks about in the New Testament. When we are justified by faith, it makes us want to do more for Jesus. But as we take steps to work for him, we realize that we are still relying on his strength and grace to do the things we’re doing. So we’re essentially getting further and further into his debt.

So even after all that discussion: Justification by faith alone comes full circle. Not only is our salvation dependent on God’s mercy and grace toward us, but so also is the working out of our sanctification.