Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members podcast. This is where I know that people who have been with us for a while are interested in taking it to the next level. You’re here to have a post-conversation. This is where the live button comes off and we may give some more opinionated thoughts or even some very personal takes too. Before we kick this in, I do want to answer some of our listener’s questions that they posted on the Facebook group. I will say that I struggled for a time.
I became a very strong proponent promoter of John Piper for many years and I fully embraced Desiring God. I listened to his sermons and there came a moment in my life where I read this book by Joseph Carroll called How to Worship Jesus Christ. The book really tries to take what John Piper is doing and push it to the next level where every experience of Jesus is an emotional experience. Not charismatic, but emotional; to worship him means to have this emotional experience with him. While in seminary, I would wake up at four in the morning and I would try to read and pray until that moment where I felt like I was in the very presence of Christ and there was like this emotional awe. It happened a couple of times.
Then came a time when I couldn’t get it to work anymore, mostly because when you wake up that early and you go to bed late, you become tired and you don’t do well emotionally. I would have these emotionally high days where all day long, I felt like it doesn’t matter what could happen to me because I’ve worshiped Jesus that day. And then there were days that were just a dredge and I felt guilty and ashamed. I felt like the desires I had, whether it was what a movie I watched or entertainment that I did or whatever, that those affections were drawing me away from the true affections that I should have had in Jesus. So there were the religious things I did, and then the secular things I did.
We’re going to be open and honest. Those are real struggles of mine that kicked me so far on my back. This is before I walked down the road of reformed theology. It was at that moment when I was finally saying, “Okay, I have embraced everything John Piper has said and I’m still left flat here.” And I’m even beginning to wonder maybe it’s my own salvation that’s an issue.
Justin Perdue: Which is the question that you’re really driven to answer.
Jimmy Buehler: Eventually the logical conclusion of this kind of approach to the Christian life does one of two things: one, it pushes a person to so much despair that, as Luther even describes in so much of his writing, they begin to see God as a beast rather than a loving Creator and sovereign God. And they begin to despise Him because something isn’t working for them; they’re not feeling the right things, they’re not having the right amount of affections. And so you almost, dare I say, become a beast in this brutish state: you’re angry, intolerable, and frustrated because you’re not getting the goods promised from this approach to the Christian life.
So that’s one. You become angry and perhaps even just despairing of an individual, or you’re in a depressive state. Two, the other thing that happens is you attain it. You have all of these emotional highs and you begin saying things like, “I find pleasure in God. And then often what so quickly accompanies that is you begin to look down on others who “don’t operate on your level,” who don’t feel the things that you feel or who don’t have the experience that you experience. And so you begin to look down on people because you’ve attained “true Christianity,” you’ve attained next level varsity Christianity.
Justin Perdue: They’re still drinking milk and you’re eating meat, you know?
Jimmy Buehler: That’s exactly right. Yeah. You’re eating T-bones while they’re just drinking skim milk.
Justin Perdue: Not even full fat. You’re exactly right, Jimmy.
The logical conclusion of this kind of thinking produces one of two things: pride and self-righteousness, which you alluded to, or despair and even resentment and bitterness toward God. I think you’re exactly right.
I want to pick up something from the Piper clip, he says that if you strip the adjectives away from the nouns, he says that you’re left with something that the Devil can do. And I take great exception to that. I think he is absolutely wrong because here’s the thing, when we define saving faith in Jesus that results in salvation – we did it from the confessions just a moment ago – we’re using words like trusting, hoping, resting, believing, and accepting. We’re hoping in Christ, trusting in Christ, resting in Christ, and accepting the work of Christ and all those things. We’re casting ourselves upon the mercy of God in Christ. The Devil does not do any of that. So give me a break. Because people will say, even the demons have good theology. They might know what’s true of God in Jesus, but they have not for one second ever hoped in Jesus. They have not for one second ever trusted him. They have not for one second ever put their hope in him and cast their selves on the mercy of God in him. That kind of rhetoric is wrong and harmful. I just wanted to say that in this area, not over in the other, but I think that’s just patently false.
Jon Moffitt: I think what’s hard is that there are so many questions unanswered and the foundation becomes, becomes wavering a little bit…
Justin Perdue: It’s not firm. How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord? Not so much, right?
Jon Moffitt: It’s very obvious that there is a transformation of life when someone goes from death to life. Now if you’re a child, you will see it in areas of affection towards one another. It’s not going to be transformation as far as you’re just, “I used to steal my brother’s cookies and now I don’t.” No, you’re still probably going to steal your brother’s cookies. That’s called being a sinner. But I would say that I don’t disagree when someone says, “But Jon, you do believe there’s transformation of life?” Yes. Absolutely.
And the evidence of that, Christ says specifically, “The world will know that I have come, that I am true based upon the affections that you have for one another.” Right? “The world will know that you’re my disciples” is another way of saying that. I do believe that if one claims to be a believer, the evidence of that will be seen in the way that they live. But that is not the ground of their salvation. This is where we keep going on and on about faith versus faithfulness. It is true that there will be moments of faithfulness – it’s hard to be an elder in a church or a pastor in a church if you don’t have a reputation of being faithful to your wife and faithful to your finances and faithful to control your anger – but when those things go away, and every single man on this microphone knows of a pastor or multiple pastors that have failed and miserably, we don’t call into question their salvation because their salvation is not based upon how well they can perform until they die. Their salvation is always grounded in something that’s outside of them, not barring a mistake. That would be a works-based salvation. Let’s get the foundation clear and then we can build good works on there.
Someone who had commented on the Facebook page that this sounds like Baptist Federal Vision, which if you don’t know what the Federal Vision movement is, we’re not going to get into that in this podcast. Piper is being influenced by the final justification or basically, God’s examining your life as the totality of your life to determine the legitimacy of your salvation. Mr. Piper, you have just left two things: you have left election and the perseverance of the saints because that’s the responsibility of God.
Justin Perdue: John Piper would deny the covenant of works and covenant of grace. He would deny the covenantal framework of Scripture categorically. What we mean here is that when we see that Jesus has accomplished everything, where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded and has secured everything for the elect, Piper’s not going to see it that same way.
Jimmy Buehler: I want to read something that Luther wrote. Luther said, “He who must enter the kingdom of Christ must pass beyond all feeling and be carried into a region where sensation is nothing. For we are not to judge by feeling. Therefore if conscience accuses you of sin, if it sets the wrath of God before your eyes, if it tears Christ, the Redeemer, from you, you must not assent but must judge against your conscience and feelings that God is not angry and that you are not damned. For Scripture says that the kingdom of Christ lies beyond the domain of feeling. Therefore we must judge against our feeling.”
Bookending what I began in the other session where we talked about Jeremiah 17:9, I want to use Jeremiah 17:9 properly that when conscience and when feelings condemn me, I want to realize that my feelings are fickle and they vacillate to the left and to the right. I want to base my hope on the objectivity that is found in Christ, not in the subjectivity that I find in myself.
Justin Perdue: Just a couple of thoughts for me. One – this is the members podcast so I’m happy to say this – when I saw this clip initially, I showed it to my wife, and she watched it. Her reaction to it immediately was, “Well, if what John Piper is saying is true then I don’t think I’ve been saved a single day of my life.” My wife battles depression. Like in Spurgeon’s era or eras gone by, she would definitely be a person that would have been described as battling melancholy. For her, her feelings have always been a battle. Sometimes it’s a lack of feeling that’s a battle. This observation was profound to me in listening to her talk for a few minutes about this clip. She said, “I’ve never really had a big problem doing the right stuff. My problem has always been feeling the way that I should feel.”
That was just interesting to me because a lot of times in the church, when we talk about obedience and sanctification, we’re talking about, “Well, what kind of works are you doing? Are you doing the right stuff?” And my wife’s like, “That part is actually pretty easy for me – doing the right stuff. I can toe the line all day. But I have always been haunted by my lack of feeling toward God or my lack of feeling about Jesus, though I know I’m trusting in him.” It was a very sweet conversation that we had. I think that it’s something worth mentioning that I trust that’s the experience of many people. If they’re honest with themselves, they’ve never felt the way they should and it haunts them.
Jon Moffitt: The New Testament does tell us, “Consider how to build one another up into love and good works.” Can you disconnect that from emotions? I don’t think so. The word stir is to prod. I would say to Piper’s point, there are times that we walk away from bible studies and it’s like, “Wow. That was fantastic. That was encouraging.” I walk away feeling good. I feel spiritual. It’s funny to say but you actually feel like, ”Wow, if that’s a taste of heaven, I cannot wait.” But then there are other moments where I’m angry and I’m mad and I’m upset and I’m hurting. And the question is: which one of those do I need to have more of? Does it need to be an increasing level? I know every single one of the men that I’ve talked to have had long periods of discouragement, long periods of anger. Long periods. If someone says, “How are you feeling about Christ right now?” And you answer, “I know the truth of Christ but my heart and mind just…” And it could because of defeat, of fatigue. It could be because of a long battle with depression. It could be for a number of reasons. And I would say if I sat down next to you and I was trying to get your emotions back up to where they need to be versus sitting down to you and saying, “Let me speak to you about the reality of Jesus Christ because that will sustain you until you die no matter how you feel” One’s going to give you a sense of hope where your emotions may stay low. And the other one is probably, if I try and bring you to emotional high and it doesn’t happen, just going to push you over the edge.
Justin Perdue: Another verse in the Old Testament that comes to mind here is Micah 6:8. This verse is often abused. This is in the context where Micah is indicting the people of Israel for their sin. And then they respond to Micah and they say kind of sarcastically, “Well, what should we do? Should we come before the Lord and bow ourselves before Him? Should we come with burnt offerings?” And then they say, “With thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil, what should we do? Shall I get my own firstborn for my transgression? Maybe God will forgive me.” Micah 6:8 he says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The way that’s often preached is this way: God is not interested in your ritualistic religion. God is after a religion of the heart. And so you need to examine your heart and determine if you are walking before him in an authentic, legitimate way like the prophet is describing. I would say that that kind of understanding of the passage like Micah 6 is a fundamental collapsing of categories between Law and gospel that we talk about all the time. That statement – do justice, love kindness, walk humbly before your God – is not the gospel that will damn you to hell because none of us ever do it.
Jimmy, you were talking about Jeremiah 17:9 and when you said that, I just think about how many times Micah 6 has been abused that I’ve heard. We’re told you need to get your heart right and then you will be right with God. That’s your message of Law and damnation, not gospel peace and hope.
The last thing I’ll say: you were both mentioning comfort and all those things and thinking about our feelings and them never being enough. Think about all of us on our deathbeds one day, should the Lord tarry and we’re dying physically in this world. And somebody was around us trying to comfort us at the end of our lives. They were to say, “Think about all the good things you did. Think about how you loved others. Think about how you loved God.” My thought at that moment is going to be, “Oh my gosh, I could have loved so much more. I could’ve sacrificed so much more. I could’ve loved God so much more intensely. I should have been more grateful and more humble.” Like there is no comfort if we’re being pointed to ourselves in any measure. But to say that Christ will do, that’s all the comfort that we need. That’s where we need to be pointed. That’s where I pray people around my deathbed are pointing me. “Justin, Jesus is your righteousness and he’s done it for you. Look to him.”
Jon Moffitt: This is why Paul says in Romans 8, “What can separate you from the love of God?” Nothing.
It’s been a great discussion guys. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you.
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We’ll see you guys next week.