(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] At desiringgod.org one can read the full article, “Brothers Save the Saints.”)
The Puritans believed that without perseverance in the obedience of faith the result would be eternal destruction, not lesser sanctification. Therefore, since preaching and the pastoral ministry in general are a great means to the saint’s perseverance, the goal of a pastor is not merely to edify the saints but to save the saints. What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation. It is not hard to see why the Puritans were so serious….
He wrote to Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). The “hearers” Paul has in mind are not people outside the church (as verse 12 shows). Our salvation and the salvation of those who hear us week after week depend in large measure on our faithful attention to personal holiness and sound teaching. More is at stake in our work than greater or lesser progress in sanctification. The salvation of the elect is on the line… (106).
The salvation of the elect is not automatic. It happens through God-appointed means. “I endure…that they also may obtain the salvation….”
Since Paul’s pastoral labor is a means of helping the elect endure, therefore he sees all his labor as instrumental in their salvation… (107).
It is the job of a pastor to labor so that none of his brothers and sisters is destroyed…. If a brother is destroyed, he is lost… (108).
Superficial appearances to the contrary, this does not imply that true saints can lose their salvation. Nor does it imply that Christ did not die for his elect in a way that is effectual in securing their eternal salvation. It does imply that one can be called a “brother” on the basis of appearances but in the end prove not to be a brother because of failing to persevere in faith (108-109).
Yes, Piper makes perseverance hinge on sanctification. It is unmistakably clear that he does not teach any form of an “eternal security” that amounts to easy believism, antinomianism, or any type of salvation in which Christ is not Lord over all areas and the entire length of one’s life. For Piper, if one does not continue in salvation, he is lost. So even the saints need saving.
Before we are tempted to criticize Piper’s theology, let’s be honest: No matter how many healthy marks your one, holy, apostolic local assembly has, there are people sitting in your pews who claim salvation but do not act like those who are saved by Christ. (The mark of Church Discipline attests to this.) They need to hear the truth about Gospel conversion and discipleship over and over again.
This chapter does not mark out an aberration or contradiction in Piper’s theology. On the contrary, in Future Grace he discusses the same in reference to believers’ need to gouge out an eye in order to defeat lust and avoid going to hell. There again, he reminds us that saints should not think of salvation as a free pass around daily, lifelong striving against sin and the Enemy and unto their Lord and personal holiness.
But this is a book for Brothers – pastors – as is this chapter. The onus of the salvation of the saints is on the pastor. We must preach in a manner that will save the saints.
The sense of urgency that should characterize my preaching wards off temptations to cut my sermon with humor, or to speak in code-words that make me acceptable in the sight of baby-boomer sorors, Generations X, Y2K, Digital, or Mobile, or those literate to everything in either pop- or high-culture. Out task is much more serious. Heaven and hell are at stake with every prayer, every counseling session, every hospitality opportunity, and each proclamation of the Gospel.
Don’t prepare a show for Sunday. Shows create crowds. Prepare acts that proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel saves saints.