To define saving faith apart from feelings...is futile. John Piper, Together 4 the Gospel (See: https://twitter.com/T4Gorg/status/1225592513165250561)
Yes, you read that correctly. Piper links saving faith with “affections or emotions—glad dependence, thankful trust, fervent admiration, pleased submission, contented resting, thrilled treasuring...heartfelt adoration...” (John Piper, www.t4g.org)
This came across my Twitter feed last night and I haven’t been able to shake the sense that once again the Calvinist or Reformed Baptist, in this case, places the cart before the horse.
He is looking at some fruits, thankful, submitted, content, etc. and making them a definition of saving faith. Friends, this places the burden of saving faith squarely on YOU. You better feel saved or you probably aren’t.
I woke up this morning remembering two (2) specific conversations I had a few years ago, when I was still a Calvinist, with two very different women. I’ll call one, Jane and the other Cathy (neither of which is their real names) and share their struggle on this very topic and then look at what the Bible calls saving faith.
I decided to read the whole “talk” he gave and it was summarized this way:
What is the fundamental quality that sets Christians apart from the world? John Piper looks to the affections, arguing that through the gospel, we are given a new gladness in a new God. Thus, “the most basic distinction and essential distinction between the church and the world is not new decisions of the will, new deeds of the hands, or new doctrines in the mind, but a new delight in the heart in the glory of God.”
Whoa! I didn’t think it could get worse. I really should use this in my thesis that deals with Pentecostalism’s rejection of doctrine and keys in on emotional/psychological experiences above even the written Word of God. However, here is a leader among the reformed as well as within charismatic circles, who is basically living out “Experience not Creeds” in which the early Pentecostals stated “the experience of God has absolute primacy over dogma and doctrine...” Pietism at its finest is works-oriented and feelings focused.
Let’s correct this speaker: The most basic distinction and essential distinction between the church and the world is Christ Jesus rose from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. He gives us a new will, we serve our neighbors because they need our good works, the faith of old is our creed and its result is in loving God, albeit imperfectly.
Bobby and I met Cathy through mutual friends when we were still coming out of the Reformed Charismatic (yes, there are some) movement into more of the Dutch Reformed tradition. It was shared with us that she struggled with assurance of salvation. We were able to drive her to a conference and had wonderful conversations in the car. She was coming out of a very large megachurch in Brooklyn which her family attended for decades but could not say whether she was saved or not. She would look at her sins and say, How can I be saved? One of her other go-to statements was, “But I don’t feel saved...” No matter how we tried, by looking at the Word of God with her, she could not understand that her feelings did not dictate whether or not she belonged to Christ and her sins were forgiven.
Now, we were already starting this discussion from a crippled stance because of the teachings of reprobation (God chose people for Hell) and election (God chose people for Heaven). The teaching of Double Predestination makes it impossible for you to know which group you belong to. I’ve shared in another post that even Calvin stated, in his Institutes, that you could have a faith that looks and acts like real faith but God has given you fake faith...which makes the whole idea of looking at your own fruit futile. However, for months I worked with her to try and tell her that feelings have nothing to do with whether or not you are saved, but Jesus died for her. What was her retort? How do I know that since He only died for the elect. Ugh! Just another damaging teaching which was wreaking havoc in her spiritual life because there is no assurance in double predestination. Over and over I would say, “But you love God and the reprobate don’t.” Her response? “How do I know my love is real?” Oh boy! I was using the same illogical and anti-Biblical reasoning that Piper is using in the above quote--Your feelings let you know if you’re saved. Hogwash! (Yup, I went there.)
Now for Jane: She was struggling with whether or not she was among the elect because she was struggling as a mom with her children and how to raise them. Her question was: I’m such a horrible mom, how can I possibly be saved? I don’t feel saved...
Yes, same struggle. Assurance of Salvation. Both of these women were looking inward for proof they were among the elect and not reprobated by God. Both looked at themselves for some signal they were saved. While not a bad thing at all to check, as St. Peter says, that the fruits of the Spirit are growing, that is not where our assurance lies. After all, Calvin says you might have the fruit and still have fake faith.
Back to Piper. He is a popular reformed minister (I think retired now) but he is so involved in the pietistic stream that he is more Baptist than reformed. He insists that your feelings inform your faith. Piper insists without these feelings, your faith is futile. So, let’s look at these feelings and you decide if you always FEEL saved or not.
Are you always glad? Do you always have glad dependence on God? Be honest. You don’t. So, you can’t check that box for whether your faith is true.
Thankful? Are you? Is every waking moment of your life one of thankfulness? When you get the cancer diagnosis, or lose your job, or wreck the car, can you honestly say you are thankful 100% of the time? You don’t and you can’t. So, another X in the box.
What about fervent admiration? Probably not all the time. Please submission? Contented resting? Heartfelt adoration? In Piper’s view, all of these need to be there to signal to you that through the means of your feelings you can determine if you’re saved. I don’t even know what to say about thrilled treasuring and what that even means. Reviewing these criteria, do you have all of them all the time? Definitely not. None of us do and for Piper to insist that they are to make your saving faith not futile is to lay burdens upon forgiven sinners that they cannot bear. It is cruel, tormenting and despicable that a preacher cripples Christians in this manner.
Piper places what is a fruit of the Spirit as saving faith. He says clearly that without these you do not have saving faith and your faith is futile. However, do you have all of these 100%, or even some of these 100% of the time? Absolutely not!
This, my friends, is what leads to, as Rev. Wolfmueller says, Pride and Despair.
Pride because if you’re telling others that you have this so your faith is not futile, well you’re first lying and second in danger of falling (pride comes before the fall).
Despair because every Christian, throughout all time, struggled with joy, thankfulness, admiration, submission, resting, adoration and whatever thrilled treasuring is.
Despair. That’s what happened with Cathy. Eventually she stopped going to church. She no longer answered my phone calls or emails and last I heard she had become so depressed that she’d given up on Christ.
Oh, how I wish I had the answer for her now which I now know from the Scriptures.
Jesus died for the world. Cathy, that’s how we know your sins are forgiven.
You’ve been baptized. Cathy, that’s how we know your sins are forgiven and washed away, His Name is placed on you and you belong to Him.
But, under Reformed teaching, Calvinism, reformed Baptists, Evangelicals, and Charismatic theology, that is not how you are given assurance. No. You have to feel saved, you have to have all these experiences inside of you in order to have assurance. You. You. You. Your experiences. Your feelings. Your decisions. Your surrender. Your private messages from God.
Not a one looks to Jesus Christ alone, given to us through the Means of Grace, as where our assurance lies. They all look to themselves, their feelings, their emotions, their experiences.
The Bible has a very different place to look:
Jesus Christ alone. His death, burial and resurrection tell us that Jesus has forgiven us. He died for the whole wide world. Through the Means of Grace, the Word, Baptism and Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us that faith.
To Piper, faith is futile unless these emotions and feelings abound. For the Biblical Christian saving faith is a gift and with it comes all the blessings, and yes, sometimes feelings and always fruit, of that gift of God. Christians do not always feel saved. That doesn’t matter. Feelings flow like the ocean. The come in like a flood but more often are like a trickle in a creek. We cannot judge our faith by our feelings because that puts the truth of Christianity in jeopardy.
We are not saved by feelings but by knowing Jesus died for us and rose again for our justification. We know that Jesus crushed sin, death and the devil. We know He rose again. Feelings are fleeting.
Next time a Christian says to you, I don’t feel saved, give them Christ who died, was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures. Remind them that He has given them the gift of salvation through Word and Sacrament and that their feelings don’t change the fact that they were given saving faith. Facts are facts.
Jesus died for sinners...of which each one of us is part of that group.
Look to Jesus who washed you in those holy waters of Baptism and feeds you, strengthening your faith, through His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper and His Word.
 John Piper, “Snippet of Talk at T4G,” Twitter account T4G.org, accessed February 7, 2020, https://twitter.com/T4Gorg/status/1225592513165250561.
 John Piper, “New God, New Gospel, New Gladness,” Together for the Gospel, accessed February 1, 2000, https://t4g.org/resources/john-piper/new-god-new-gospel-new-gladness-christian-joy-distinct/.
 Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 6.