Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 1



Rachel Miller recently posted the article, “Salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone in Christ Alone,” wherein she critiques John Piper’s latest iteration of his doctrine of “Future Justification” according to works (yes, I’m sure that many think I have already misrepresented him with that description). The issue comes up yet again due to his 9/25/17 post, “Does God really Save us by Faith Alone?” To my lights, Rachel has simply reiterated the Reformation and (more importantly) Pauline doctrine that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).[1] She lists a host of passages from the Scripture as well as the most important statements found in the Reformed Confessions on the subject, my favorite being the following:

Q. 61. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only

Q. 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

But many have fired back—and quickly—arguing that Rachel does not understand the Reformed tradition, nor the Confessions, and is “part of a vocal minority” accusing Piper of “compromising the doctrine of Justification” (see Mark Jones HERE). What I have seen most in reaction to her critiques are (1) works are necessary to salvation due to a proper understanding of the doctrine of Union with Christ (principally Joe Carter); (2) “salvation” is a broader concept that includes more than just Justification, and works are necessary and instrumental to Sanctification and Glorification, therefore they are necessary and instrumental to the broader concept of Salvation (Raymond A. Blacketer and Mark Jones [by implication]); and (3) Piper’s teaching is in accord with the mass of 16th and 17th century Reformed scholarship; that is, Piper is in good company, and if we want to call him to the carpet, we must also call many other thoroughly orthodox Reformed authors to the same carpet (Mark Jones, Justin Taylor, Patrick Ramsey, Michael J. Lynch, etc. Indeed this is the most common).

While I hope to address each of these in turn (in separate posts), I would first like to address what exactly John Piper wrote in his recent article.  There seems to be some confusion here. I have read his presentation of these issues many times before, mostly in The Future of Justification, Future Grace, and various articles. I have found myself in knots before with his words on this subject, but always seemed to figure my way out; I mean, he’s done some fantastic work against the errors of N. T. Wright. But in this most recent post, he is arguing that the whole of the so called Five Solas relate only to Justification; in particular, one can only say that we are justified by faith alone. He writes,

If you substitute other clauses besides “We are justified . . .” such as “We are sanctified . . .” or “We will be finally saved at the last judgment . . .” then the meaning of some of these prepositional phrases must be changed in order to be faithful to Scripture. For example,

  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

He goes on to analyze James 2 and concludes that good works will be presented as evidences of true faith at the Last Judgement (Final Justification), and therefore “we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.”

There is much truth in this article of Piper’s, especially taken in light of his other work, but it is nevertheless my opinion that it is dead wrong to claim that the Five Solas apply only to Justification, but that salvation is by “faith and fruits.” And to be doubly clear going forward: this is in fact the claim and purpose of Piper’s article.

1) Union with Christ

I was surprised to see that in one of the early Twitter responses to Rachel’s article, Joe Carter referenced a blog post from Mere Orthodoxy, “Calvin: No Salvation without Sanctification,” as representative of his understanding of the relation of Justification and Sanctification, and therefore representative of why he agrees with Piper’s position on the Solas. This seemed curious to me given that I agree with nearly everything in the article linked.  I too understand Justification and Sanctification to both be conferred through Union with Christ. Being a Three Forms of Unity adherent, I think this is best summed up in Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 20:

Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have perished in Adam?

A. No, only those who by true faith are engrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.

I have written at some length on the meaning of this Q & A in “Union with Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism,” but will briefly summarize here.  In Questions 3 through 19, the Catechism has demonstrated that all of mankind is in a state of sin and misery, having fallen in Adam, and that the only possible redeemer must be one who is both true God and true and sinless man.  This perfect God/man mediator is our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, the question arises, is every man then saved in Christ as they have perished in Adam? Ursinus, the principle (or only) author of the Catechism, sees here a parallel between the guilt and corruption accrued to mankind through our “first parents” and the solution to both the guilt and the corruption that is found in Christ. Ursinus writes,

[…]by the death of Christ, who is the second Adam, we obtain a twofold grace: we mean justification and regeneration. It follows, therefore, that we must all have derived from the first Adam the twofold evil of guilt and corruption of nature, otherwise there had been no necessity for a twofold grace and remedy. (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism [CHC], pp. 99-100)

Hence, the “benefits” of this Union with Christ are principally Justification and Regeneration.  It must be noted up front that when Ursinus (and most early Reformers) use “regeneration,” they mean all that Christ works in us by the Spirit in answer to the corruption of our fallen nature.  Regeneration includes illumination, the death of the old man and resurrection of the new, sanctification, and ultimately glorification—the complete and final regeneration of our nature, the full and complete healing of our corruption.[2]  Justification on the other hand answers to the guilt imputed to us through union with Adam. Justification makes us righteous before God—forensically—having received the due punishment for sin in Christ and having received the active obedience of Christ laid to our account. The two-fold disgrace of Guilt and Corruption is answered by the two-fold grace of Justification and Regeneration. Both of these benefits are had only by vital, existential, and personal Union with Christ. Ursinus writes,

[W]e are quickened by the body and blood of Christ when we are united to him by the same Spirit, who works the same things in us, which he does in Christ [Regeneration/Sanctification answering to corruption]; for unless we are engrafted into Christ, we do not please God, who will receive us into his favor, and grant unto us the remission of our sins, only upon the condition, that we are engrafted into Christ and united to him by that faith, which the Holy Spirit works in us [Justification answering to guilt]. (CHC, p. 740)

(Some might question the formulation of the doctrine of Union as represented in the Heidelberg Catechism; but in the context of this debate, I don’t think Joe Carter or other defenders of Piper’s article would object.)

Further, the benefits of this Union, i.e., Justification and Regeneration, cannot be separated. Again, Urisnus:

[…]we are not to imagine that we can have remission of sins without regeneration; for no one that is not regenerated can obtain remission of sins. […]The desire to obey God can never be separated from an application of the death of Christ, nor can the benefit of regeneration be experienced without that of justification. All those that are justified are also regenerated, and all those that are regenerated are justified. (CHC, pp. 419-420)

[…]the benefit of justification is not given without regeneration: […] God bestows the benefit of justification upon none, but such as render true gratitude. But no one ever renders true gratitude except those who receive the benefit of regeneration. Therefore, neither of these can be separated from the other. (CHC, p. 829)

Justification and regeneration are benefits which are connected and knit together in such a way as never to be separated from each other. Christ obtained both for us at the same time, viz.: the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, who through faith excites in us the desire of good works and new obedience. (CHC, p. 857)

Justification or the remission of sin is not sufficient without regeneration, and a new life. (CHC, p. 437)

It is this point that I think Carter is appealing to, and it is a good point. But the linchpin is the clause in HC 20, “by faith.” The benefits of Justification and Regeneration/Sanctification are not only inseparably and of necessity always found and conferred together by Union with Christ, but they are “by faith.” Caspar Ovenianus sums up the whole of this nicely:

For those of us who are truly engrafted into Christ through faith begin to possess—in addition to that benefit of forgiveness with which the image of Satan is covered—another benefit at the same time: the restoration of the image of God, which consist in the dying away of the old self and coming to life of the spirit (Rom. 6). Both of these benefits are graciously given to us by the Father because of Christ. When the Father engrafts us into Christ by the Holy Spirit, He first covers our sins by the imputation of the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ. Then, by that same Spirit, He initiates in us that new obedience, which is a sure testimony of our incorporation into Christ and, therefore, of the forgiveness of our sins (Rom. 8[:1]). (An Exposition of the Apostles Creed, pp. 134-135)

Again, all of this is “by faith” as the engrafting itself is “by faith.” Faith is the instrumental cause of both Justification and Regeneration/Sanctification/Glorification since they are the inseparable benefits of Union with Christ.  Ursinus explains perfectly:

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF FAITH? The effects of justifying faith are, 1. Our justification before God. 2. Joy and delight in God, with peace of conscience. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Rom. 5:1) 3. Conversion, regeneration, and universal obedience. “Purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9) 4. The consequences which belong to the effects of faith, such as an increase of temporal and spiritual gifts, and the reception of these gifts by faith. The first effect, therefore, of justifying faith, is our justification. After this has once taken place, all the other benefits which follow faith are made over unto us, which benefits, we believe, are given unto us by faith, inasmuch as faith is the cause of them. For that which is the cause of a cause, is also the cause of the effect. If faith be, therefore, the last cause of our justification, it is likewise the cause of those things which follow our justification. “Your faith has made you whole.” (Luke 8:48) In a word, the effects of faith are justification, and regeneration which is begun in this life, and will be perfected in the life to come. (Rom. 3:28; 10:10; Acts 13:39) (CHC, p. 224)


The proper effects of the gospel are […] Through faith, our entire conversion to God, justification, regeneration and salvation; for through faith we receive Christ, with all his benefits. (CHC, p. 211)

It would seem that to find error in Rachel’s critique, we must find error in the above.  I cannot. Sola fide does not have reference to Justification alone, the benefit that answers our guilt; sola fide likewise applies to Regeneration/Sanctification/Glorification, the benefit that answers to our corruption, since faith itself is the instrumental cause of both.

Truly these benefits are what constitutes salvation in its fullest sense. If we cannot separate these benefits, and if they are strictly speaking the effects of justifying faith, conferred through Union with Christ, then there is no doubt that the Five Solas (sola fide in particular) cannot be restricted to just one benefit alone, viz., Justification. Either Piper and his defenders (1) must reject the doctrine of vital, existential, and personal Union as the sole means to all Christ’s benefits, Regeneration/Sanctification/Glorification included; or (2) must believe that these benefits are separable and can therefore have differing instrumental causes (contrary to Urisnus in the quote above); or (3) must believe that Union itself is conferred by both faith and works. Each of these options contradict the Reformed Confessions, and more importantly, the Scripture.

Though this post may look like my own effort at quote mining in order to justify my position, I certainly do not intend it as such. (I don’t so much care who said it all anyhow.) What I hoped here to do was to narrow the dispute (Five Solas only apply to Justification), answer Joe Carter[3] with reference to Union, show that I as well believe that Justification and Sanctification are necessarily inseparable benefits, show that these benefits are in fact Sola Fide, and lay out the theological underpinnings of what will come next. Much of the minutiae of the Doctrine of Good Works itself, its relation to the doctrine of Justification, and the so-called doctrine of “final justification,” will come out at length when we address #3 above, the cloud of witnesses. As a foretaste I will focus mainly on Calvin, Turretin, WItsius, and Pictet. I assure the results will be fascinating. But we turn next to objection #2: Piper is just pointing out that Salvation is a broader concept than Justification.


[1] Of course I know many other articles have been written on this subject, but Rachel’s is in response to the most recent of Piper’s presentation, and the response to her article has been notable and worthy of response.

[2] Some examples of this use in Ursinus:

The Holy Spirit regenerates us, when he creates in our hearts new feelings, desires and inclinations, or effects in us faith and repentance. (CHC 505)

[A]fter regeneration is begun in man, there is a proneness to choose partly the good, and partly the evil. There is a proneness to the good, because the mind and will being illuminated and changed, begin, in some measure, to be turned to the good, and to commence new obedience. There is a proneness to the evil, because the saints are only imperfectly renewed in this life—retain many infirmities and evil desires, on account of original sin, which still cleaves to them. (CHC 141)

Christ fulfills the law in us by his Spirit, when he by the same Spirit regenerates us, and by the law leads us to that obedience which is required from us, which is both external and internal, which we commence in this life, and which we shall perfectly and fully perform in the life to come. (CHC 179-180)

The restoration of this image of God in man, is effected by him alone, who first conferred it upon man; for he who gives life, and restores it when lost, is the same being. God the Father, restores this image through the Son; because he has “made him unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30) The Son, through the Holy Spirit, “changes us into the same image, from glory unto glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18) And the Holy Spirit carries forward and completes what is begun by the Word, and the use of the Sacraments. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16) This restoration, however, of the image of God in man, is effected in such a manner, that it is only begun, in this life, in such as believe, and is confirmed and carried forward in them, even to the end of life, as it concerns the soul—but as it concerns the whole man, it will be consummated in the resurrection of the body. (CHC 87-88)

[3] I do hope that none of this is taken to be an attack on Joe Carter’s character. I know little about him, but judging by his interaction on Twitter, he seems very open to discuss, to listen, and honestly engage in a fair and friendly manner.

12 thoughts on “Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 1

  1. Paul Duggan October 9, 2017 / 8:53 am

    Thanks Brad. If everyone agrees with ursinus that

    “Christ fulfills the law in us by his Spirit, when he by the same Spirit regenerates us, and BY THE LAW leads us to that obedience which is required from us”

    I’ll be surprised.


    • Steve White October 11, 2017 / 9:19 am


      That quote is a bit out of context, because Ursinus goes on to confirm that the obedience that is required isn’t performed perfectly until we’re in glory.


  2. Byrd Wyatt October 11, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    Hi Brad
    The following is a response to this article that I posted at the Aquila Report, and respectfully would appreciate any comments you may have.
    Byrd Wyatt I’m confused a bit here by Mason’s (and Ursinus’s) use of the word regeneration. It is my understanding that regeneration, as well as new birth, receiving a new heart/life, being born again, being saved, are all terms synonymous with justification. Further, that sanctification is the process whereby, again through faith and the enabling of the Holy Spirit, one becomes more and more dead to the flesh and alive in Christ. Any works done in the strength of one’s own will/flesh benefit him no more towards sactification than towards justification, which is to say, not at all. The ability to “work out one’s faith with fear and trembling” is as much a gift of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit as is saving faith. That is my understanding of the orthodox reformed teaching. Sola fide carries one from justification all the way through sanctification to glorification. Remember Luther’s anfechtung:”The righteous shall live by faith.”


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