I think the clear division between the two is something imposed on the message of the Bible. In the NT to be saved was to live the Christian life. The “Plan of Salvation” stuff is a construct we have imposed on the message. In NT times, being baptized into the faith was being made a member of the Christian community and the community had lifestyle standards. There wasn’t this concept of an individualistic “personal relationship with God” outside of belonging to the body of Christ. Ex-communication meant more.
True. But that is not what I or Scot McKnight are doing. We are saying that real faith produces fruit. This is a biblical concept.
Grace is free and unconditional. Salvation is a gift. But, the Christian life is hard and we are specifically told to count the cost. So I would say, salvation is free but the Christian life is costly. We are justified by faith, but Scripture also says we will be judged according to our works, so there is a tension there.
Here is an explanation of the theological terrain pertinent to this thread: (From Alan Stanley’s intro the the Zondervan book Four Views on The Role of Works at the Final Judgment)
Fast-forwarding to the latter half of the twentieth century, many have sought to reconcile the juxtaposing themes of justification by faith and judgment according to works. Invariably these studies have tended to focus on Paul for it is there that we see the contrast most starkly. Furthermore, E. P. Sanders’ 1977 watershed book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, marked a new era in Pauline studies. Arguing that Judaism was not in fact characterized by works-righteousness (i.e., salvation by works), as Martin Luther and most of us had thought from our readings of Romans and Galatians, Sanders’ work inevitably spawned a flurry of literature on Paul in what came to be known as the New Perspective.
Since the New Perspective impinges on the role of works at the final
judgment, much of what has been written has also addressed this issue in relation to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Nevertheless the last century still brought with it no coherent thought on the subject. The IVP Bible Dictionaries that came out in the last decade of the twentieth century — and have as their subtitle, “A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship” — confirm this point. In the 1992 and 1993 volumes Stephen Travis argued that at the final judgment works provide evidence as to whether “the basic direction of one’s life” has been toward God or away from him. But according to Mark Seifrid, in the 1997 volume, works cannot be reduced to mere evidence.
Rather just recompense best describes a judgment that is in accordance
with each person’s works. This does not deny justification by grace since
believers must not presume upon grace, for “where saving realities are present they manifest themselves in persevering faith and obedience,
which secure the believer in the final judgment.”
Admittedly, this is a simplified portrayal of things. The reality is that while there are a limited number of ways of explaining the role of works at the judgment, there are many nuances. Others view the final judgment as the place where divine commendation will be given or withheld. Either way, the believer is saved (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:10 – 15), and a passage like Romans 2:5 – 16 is theoretical/hypothetical rather than actual. For others, while rewards and not eternal life is the issue, believers will not be at the final judgment.
John Piper and N. T. Wright
However, many of these debates have occurred in scholarly journals and monographs. This doesn’t mean they are not accessible, of course, but generally speaking they have remained in scholarly circles. Yet as one of my former students, now a pastor, said when hearing about this book, “This is not just a scholarly debate . . . to get this wrong is serious.” Indeed. True, blogs are undoubtedly making a difference, yet most Christians I know are completely unaware of the issues. However, two prominent figures in evangelicalism have brought these issues out into the open in recent years. I am referring to British New Testament scholar N. T. Wright and American pastor John Piper. While the role of works at the final judgment was not the main point of disagreement between the two, it was indeed a major one. The problem was that Wright, one of the leading proponents of the New Perspective, kept on saying — or at least we all thought he did — that at the final judgment the believer’s final justification will be on the basis of the whole life lived or something to that effect (e.g., “Justification, at the last, will be on the basis of performance”).
Piper tackled Wright head-on in The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. One of Piper’s central concerns was that “Wright makes startling statements to the effect that our future justification will be on the basis of works.” Piper believed that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real… . . Our deeds are not the basis of our salvation, they are the evidence of our salvation. They are not foundation, they are demonstration. All our salvation will be by grace through faith. . . . So when Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5:10) that each “[will] be recompensed . . . according to what he has done,” he not only means that our rewards will accord with our deeds, but also our salvation will accord with our deeds.
So what was Piper’s beef with Wright? Actually, it was more that Wright was simply ambiguous on the issue of “faith alone,”(pp. 130 – 31), leaving the door open for a “Catholic” interpretation of justification. (p. 183). According to Piper, “it may be that Wright means nothing more here than what I mean when I say that our good works are the necessary evidence of faith in Christ at the last day. Perhaps. But it is not so simple.” Thus, “I would be happy,” wrote Piper, “for Wright to clarify for his reading public that this, in fact, is not what he believes.” Piper, as we have seen, does not have a problem with judgment and even with works being necessary for one’s final salvation.
His central concern was that for Wright the ultimate basis or ground
of final salvation appeared to be works rather than faith alone in Jesus
Christ and his finished work on the cross. For Piper, “Christians are free from law-keeping as the ground of our justification” (italics mine).
Wright responded with Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, and he qualified that he didn’t mean salvation is earned or that a perfect life was required. What he did mean was that because of our union with Christ (Rom. 6:1 – 11), the presence of the Spirit (2:25 – 29) and God’s work in us, we are now able to live a new life (6:6 – 11), obey the law (8:4), put to death the misdeeds of the flesh (8:13), and live eternally (8:13). Hence, “humans become genuinely human, genuinely free, when the spirit is at work within them so that they choose to act . . . in ways which reflect God’s image, which give him pleasure, which bring glory to his name, which do what the law had in mind all along. That is the life that leads to the final verdict, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ ” This is not to do away with faith for “if God justifies people in the present, ahead of the final judgment, faith must be the characteristic of those thus justified.”
Wright’s response, however, was not enough to stave off his critics. Still ambiguous was the ground of final salvation. Wright and Piper were then scheduled to go head to head as plenary speakers at the 2010 Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta. Piper couldn’t make it and Tom Schreiner, the second contributor in this volume, took his place. Schreiner called for a more thoughtful explanation on this issue:
“I think what Wright says about justification by works or judgment according to works could be explained in a more satisfactory way since he occasionally describes good works as the final basis of justification. On the other hand, Wright reminds us of a critical theme that is often ignored in evangelical circles. Paul does teach that good works are necessary for justification and for salvation, and Wright rightly says that those texts are not just about rewards.”
Wright helpfully clarified that “justification is anchored firmly and squarely in Jesus the Messiah, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” More specifically, “When I,” says Wright, “have spoken of ‘basis’ . . . I have not at all meant by that to suggest that this is an independent basis from the finished work of Christ and the powerful work of the Spirit, but that within that solid and utterly of-grace structure the particular evidence offered on the last day will be the tenor and direction of the life that has been lived.” And again:
"The future justification, then, will be in accordance with the life lived, but the glorious conclusion of [Rom.] chapter 8 makes it clear that this is no ground for anxiety. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” This is looking to the future, trusting that the Jesus who died, who rose, and who now intercedes for us will remain at the heart of the unbreakable bond of love with which God has loved us. Thus, “the final, future justification, then, is assured for all who are ‘in the Messiah.’ ” As a result, “this future justification, though it will be in accordance with the life lived, is not for that reason in any way putting in jeopardy the present verdict issued over faith and faith alone. . . . All that I have said looks back to the finished work of the Messiah.”
Tom Schreiner responded: “I am delighted that Tom [Wright] now speaks of the final judgment as one that will be in accordance with our works instead of on the basis of our works. I think this adjustment and clarification is exactly right. . . . I am in full agreement with his formulation: we are judged according to our works, but not on the basis of our works.”
However, Wright wrote into one blog cautioning such excitement:
". . . don’t get too excited. I haven’t retracted anything that I meant in my many, many earlier statements on this subject. How could I, since I was simply stating what Paul states rather than trying to squash him into a dogmatic framework? . . . Clearly I did say “basis.” But . . . I have always made it clear . . . that I did not mean or intend the kind of thing that clearly some theologians think that word “must” mean. Since the word “basis” is not itself a biblical word I’m not claiming any great status for it. Obviously people have read it without reading the other things I say and then jumped to conclusions which are not warranted by the fuller exposition I give. . . . Let me say it again: all I am saying is what Paul says in Romans 2 (and elsewhere). Our own technical terms (“basis,” etc.) are fluid and flexible in our discourse and, like all summary terms, need to be teased out in terms of the larger discourse — Paul’s, and mine. . . .The point, again, is that by the Spirit those who are already justified by faith have their lives transformed, and the final verdict will be in accordance with that transformation, imperfect though it remains.
See the original for all the footnotes and citations