Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Francis Pieper's Doctrine of Sanctification and Good Works

One of the figures that is essential to examine in the ongoing debates over sanctification and good works is Francis Pieper. If one studies Pieper's Dogmatics, it becomes immediately apparent that he is not afraid of emphasizing the importance of justification and good works. He writes:

"The fact that sanctification in this life will always be imperfect must not be put forward as an excuse for the neglect of sanctification. On the contrary, it is God's will and the will of the Christian that he strive after perfection; he wants to be fruitful, not only in some, but in all good works. It is the characteristic of the Christian life and the will of the new man that he refrain from every sin. The Christian is eager to serve God in all good works...The Christian who does not strive to serve God alone is perilously close to losing his Christianity...Unsparing self-denial marks the Christian life." CD III, 33

After this, Pieper talks about how the drive to perfection (which is of course not achievable) should not cause us to despair, but should point us again to the grace of God found in the Gospel. It's something of a circle. We see our sin, look to the Gospel, then in light of that message strive to live holy lives. When we fail at leading such holy lives, we are once again pointed to the Gospel. But note that Pieper continually emphasizes our "striving," and not neglecting sanctification. In other words, the Christian should not simply be content to be "weak on sanctification," but should pray and strive for holiness. This is not to be done, of course, for the sake of gaining or retaining salvation, but because the Christian desires to live a God-pleasing life.

Pieper questions which evil is greater, "perfectionism or indifference to sanctification?" and he argues that both are equally bad. Pieper writes that "The Bible says to the 'Christian worldling': 'This ye know that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them." (CD III, 34) It is clear that Pieper is concerned with both legalism and indifference to sanctification. Some in the debate today seem to think that legalism is the only real problem the church has to face, and that indifference to sanctification is almost a virtue, because it shows one's trust in justification.

Good works need to be preached, and one should strive for them. These works are to be in accord with God's law. Pieper writes that, "everything which the Christian performs in obedience to God's will is good and great, whether me prize it or not." (CD III, 39) He argues that "Christians should not be satisfied with having performed this or that good work, but they should become rich in good works...They should not sit and home and wait to be importuned to do good works, but they should go out and seek opportunities to do good works; they should be 'zealous of good works.'" (CD III, 47) Clearly, for Pieper, good works are not purely spontaneous, but one has to actually try and do them.

Preachers have a duty to proclaim the importance of good works. "Secondly, in urging members of their churches to become 'rich in good works,' pastors should not be deterred from doing this boldly and resolutely, without any fear or faltering, by the thought that this insistence on good works might crowd out its central position on the doctrine of justification without works. Only if one does not know the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith will he be timid in asking for a multitude of good works." (CD III, 48) Pieper then makes the necessary point that encouragement unto good works should always be done in light of the gospel. In one place, Pieper urges: "In addition, God has instructed the teachers and watchmen in His Church to give attention not only to the quality but also the quantity of works performed by Christians." (CD III, 48) He cites Titus 3:8 for justification in doing so. What all of this makes apparent is that Pieper saw encouragement unto good works as a necessary part of the pastoral office. He did not view this as somehow minimizing the truth of simul iustus et peccator or the centrality of justification.

Pieper did not shy away from discussing the doctrine of sanctification and the importance of good works. These are central to the Christian life, the teaching of Scripture, and the pastoral office.


the Old Adam said...

Good works naturally flow from the life of the believer.

If they don't…and they have to be told to do them…then they aren't a "good work". They are merely filthy rags. You have, in fact, made matters worse for yourself.
Even though they may help the neighbor.

mahlon said...

I think Bro. Jordon's article was spot on. What Francis Pieper wrote is one of the finest pieces I read in a while on sanctification.

As a Pastor I need to give heed to myself and my teaching. (1 Timothy 4:16) Likewise I am to be an example to the flock entrusted under my care. (1 Peter 5:1-4) To not exhort myself nor my people to good works in dependence upon God's grace would be a dereliction of duty on my part.

Why would the great Apostles Paul and Peter urge the inclusion of exhortation unto good works if it were not part and parcel of God's will in our sanctification? Without exhortation, sanctification will become stunted. Good works that flow from grace necessarily feed on the means of grace afforded by God: His word, preaching, the sacraments and the local church.

No doubt, good works do and should flow from the lives of born again people. However Christ has ordained pastors and teachers, preaching, the ordinances (sacraments), the local church and spiritual disciplines as guard rails and encouragements to the Christian pilgrim.

Anonymous said...

A endless circle indeed,and I despair over it. "Does this describe you"? No, no it does not. I believe in Christ and all that scripture teaches. However,I see no progress. Do I desire and pray for holiness and growth? Indeed I do. But sin and failure is a breath away. How much of this Christian life depends on me and how much depends on Christ seems to be a mystery the way pastors, teachers and theologians go round and round. What is the simpleton to do? I seem to find myself in continual tension as to my standing with God. And it is tiresome. I am 47, a member of the LCMS for the last 5yrs, many besetting sins and at my wits end I think.

Anonymous said...

Judas & King Saul: two characters I fear I will end up like the most. Lord have mercy,Christ have mercy.

Jordan Cooper said...

Anyonymous commenter,

If you are worried about your standing with God, don't look to your sanctification. Look to Christ alone and his promises. Your salvation is ultimately not dependent on how far you have come, but on what Jesus has done for you. Sanctification is a reality, and so we need to talk about it. But it is true that some of us just don't see it in our own lives. I don't always see it in my life! Part of our sanctification is understanding our sin even more, so one can actually feel that they are getting worse. The best thing we can do is to trust that God is working in us even when we don't see any evidence of it, because oftentimes we won't. I would urge you not to despair, but look to Christ and his promises, given to you in Word and Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Cooper, I thank you for your words of comfort. I am sorry to despair,and I have been pretty depressed lately. Reading comments like Pieper's about how one should this and that, and I go into a tailspin. But I know he is right and I want to do better. Thank you for your blog and publications. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

J. Dean said...

Would it be fair to say, Jordan, that it's about the intent rather than the result, meaning that it's about understanding that I ought to do good works and strive to do them rather than trying to quantify whether or not I have done "X" work(s) today?

the Old Adam said...

"Reading comments like Pieper's about how one should this and that, and I go into a tailspin. But I know he is right…"

Says who?

He is not right. You don't leave the sinner with the burden of the law!

You hand over Christ and the forgiveness of sins!

None of us (that's right)…none of us are up to the legal scheme.

It is there to expose us and drive us to our Savior.

Tim Rossow said...

Anonymous: Be wary of listening to someone drone on about good works who has Geneva college forhis pedigree. You can go here and see that Geneva college is steeped in the law with little Gospel in view.

Jordan Cooper said...

Tim Rossow,

I became a Lutheran while studying at Geneva College. Sorry if my not being a lifelong Lutheran doesn't make me part of the in-crowd. Should we only listen to those pastors that go to Lutheran colleges? And if you actually knew anything about me (which you clearly do not), you would know that I am quite critical of many in the Reformed world who confuse law and gospel.

Besides, this post is just citations from Pieper. It's surprising that the founder of BJS would be so critical of such an important LCMS theologian.

Jordan Cooper said...


After Pieper says all of these things, he reminds the reader that they are always to go back to the Gospel. If you don't "live up" to whatever standard you feel you are falling short of, God's promise is there for you! Your standing before God is never dependent on your sanctification, but only on what Christ has done for you. You have no reason to despair.

terriergal said...

"Be wary of listening to someone drone on about good works who has Geneva college forhis pedigree. You can go here and see that Geneva college is steeped in the law with little Gospel in view."

Tim, Pieper went to Geneva College? WHO KNEW!?

Anonymous said...

In other news, Martin Luther, who talks constantly about good works, used to be a Roman Catholic monk.


Tim Rossow said...


Luther constantly talks about good works is true and about the vast majority of that time he is rebuking an emphasis on works.

Please amend your claim. It is an overstatement and not helpful in this discussion.

Tim Rossow said...


Mr. Cooper claims that there is an antinomian problem among confessional Lutherans. He wants more talking about good works adn beleives that wil bring about more good works. (As you know but may have forgotten, preaching about good works does not bring about God-pleasing good works.)

Mr. Cooper matured in the faith at a college steeped in American Evangelicalsim that elevates works and experience over salvation extra nos. His desire for more preaching of good works makes perfect sense because of his background.

Tim Rossow said...

Mr. Cooper,

Where did you go to seminary?

Tim Rossow said...


That is an interesting reference you make to Luther's biography. Here is the difference.

Luther was steeped in silly, useless good works in his youth adn ended up reforming the church by negating the false promise of good works by preaching the pure Gospel.

Mr. Cooper was steeped in silly. useless good works in his youth and is now rebuking the church for not preaching enough about good works and begging the church to emphasize works more.

Tim Rossow said...


I am a big fan of Pieper. His dogmatics is within arm reach of my computer in my study. He is my go to guy for doctrinal proof-texting and I use him almost weekly for sermon and Bible study prep.

Here are my thoughts on Pieper and good works.

I do not know a single confessional Lutheran, me included, who denies what Pieper says about good works.

There is a problem of emphasis here. Mr. Cooper has given us several quotes about good works from Pieper but Pieper is some 1,000 pages or so.

As much as I love Pieper, it also needs to be understood that he falls a bit short of the mature, sacramental and liturgical Luther and spirit of true Lutheranism. There is not a shred of false doctrine in Pieper but his dogmatics does not drip with Christ, the sacraments and the liturgy like the theology of the mature Luther.

There is also a simple logical and semantic problem here. Pieper does not say we need more good works preaching in the church. This is Mr. Cooper's basic claim.

There is no antinomian problem among confessional Lutherans. Antinomians deny the power of the law and claim it should not be preached. The only people denying the power of the law are the liberal Lutherans in the ELCA.

Amongst confessional Lutherans there is a zealous commitment to preach the pure Gospel because as Pieper teaches from Scripture, it is only the preaching of the Gospel that brings about the new life.

There is all sorts of teaching of good works going on among the Lutherans that Mr. Cooper claims do not preach enough good works. Everyone of those confessional Lutherans that he attacks train their children and adult catechumens in the six chief parts of Luther's small catechism including the first chief part - the ten commandments.

BTW - the ratios in the small catechism are probably a good palce to turn to for guidance. One part law, five parts Gospel. :)

Jordan Cooper said...

Pieper: ""Secondly, in urging members of their churches to become 'rich in good works,' pastors should not be deterred from doing this boldly and resolutely, without any fear or faltering, by the thought that this insistence on good works might crowd out its central position on the doctrine of justification without works. Only if one does not know the Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith will he be timid in asking for a multitude of good works." (CD III, 48)"

Rossow: "Pieper does not say we need more good works preaching in the church. This is Mr. Cooper's basic claim."

Jordan Cooper said...

"Mr. Cooper matured in the faith at a college steeped in American Evangelicalsim that elevates works and experience over salvation extra nos. His desire for more preaching of good works makes perfect sense because of his background."

Are you aware of the Confessional Reformed tradition? I would hardly call an exclusive Psalmist Reformed Presbyterian college "American Evangelicalism."

J. Dean said...

Pastor Tim,
I have been following Jordan's blog and podcasts for quite some time now, and I think I can assert with the utmost confidence that Jordan is in NO way advocating the third use of the law as meritorious for our salvation, as some seem to think he is getting at.

I would invite you, Pastor Tim, to listen to Jordan's previous podcasts concerning Antinomianism (and the first one in particular, dealing with Mark Jones' book), and his treatment of Wesleyanism and Lordship Salvation. He is quite clear about the law NOT being a saving element in those podcasts. I have never heard him advocate the third use of the law in terms of meritorious value or in terms of looking to it as the test of assurance. On the contrary, he has condemned spiritual "navel gazing" through looking at one's one works, something that many of us in the ex-Arminian movement can staunchly sympathize with and value, as it was this strong and real emphasis on grace alone which drew so many of us to Lutheranism.

That being said, however, Jordan has voluminously quoted from Lutheran theologians about the third use of the law, because it DOES exist in Lutheranism. Yes, it does not (and should not) hold the same degree of influence as it does in quarters of the Reformed, Arminian, Romanist, and Orthodox camps, but that's not the same as saying it does not exist at all. Lutheranism talks about the "new obedience," and there's no dispute that this new obedience is fueled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And this new obedience does indeed put the third use of the law into perspective, as it is something not brought about by our own efforts (Philippians 2:12-13). But it does not change the fact that there really is a third use of the law, which Paul himself uses MANY times in the epistles.

And as you yourself are probably very familiar with, Luther did not like Antinomianism--at all. Nor did he ever to my knowledge throw out the third use of the law (If he did, I'd be happy to see where he said this).

As far as your comment concerning Pieper falling short of mature, sacramental Lutheranism, fair enough: he was human and apt to imperfection. I could, however, say the same thing about Gerhard Forde, who has been looked upon by good Lutherans as being questionable as well in some of his writings. That's the drawback of running to theologians for full and final support rather than running to the Scriptures first and foremost, with the theologians as an additional structural support at best.

Believe me, Pastor Rossow, I came from the "do more, try harder" school of American evangelicalism. I heard the moralism that made Christ into little more than a moral example for us to follow, with the gospel as an afterthought at best on the occasional Sunday. I sat through the "sacrament" of the altar call that made me feel like God was apparently deaf if I did not run down to the front of the church and bawl my eyes out. I sat through Bible studies and sermons that would say something about grace and then turn around and say "But ya gotta be living it!" and forget about any mercy or grace brought up only moments earlier. I understand fully why you and so many Lutherans (and even Reformed pastors like Tullian Tchividjian) are reluctant to even bring up a third use of the law. And when the law replaces grace, I will be as vehement as you in opposing it.

But the misuse of the third use of the law does not mean there is no third use at all. I believe this is Jordan's point, and as I recall it is the point of confessional Lutheranism too, correct? Yes, it can be abused; yes, it can be misunderstood and distorted. But so can ANY sound doctrine not properly handled--and that includes the gospel itself as well.

So please give Jordan's stuff a full listen and careful read. Be careful: you might end up liking him :D

BTW, speaking of confession, good win against Michigan... *grumble, grumble*

Jordan Cooper said...

J. Dean, thanks for explaining to Pr. Rossow what I try and do through the writings and podcast. Pr. Rossow seems to be under the impression that all I do on this blog is harp on the necessity of good works, which anyone who reads/listen to me would know to be false. Pr. Rossow claims that I am trying to "harp on good works," and trying to force the church to preach more on good works. I am concerned that Pastors preach the text. When the text being proclaimed contains admonitions to perform good works, we should do the same (though of course never without the Gospel in view!). So what I am concerned about is that some pastors seem to be afraid of preaching on good works AT ALL. That is the issue I have. Of course, the Gospel should be primary! Of course justification is far more central to our faith than sanctification! Of course our assurance is to be found in Christ's promises rather than our works! Of course the second use of the Law is more primary than the third! What I fear is that we have overreacted against evangelicalism (I did the same when coming out of that movement), and in that sense have gone to the other extreme. If you think me to be legalistic, I would urge you to listen to my sermons and tell me if my preaching is pietistic or legalistic.

Pr. Rossow also asked where I attended Seminary. I did work at the Wittenberg Institute, and the American Lutheran Theological Seminary. Neither are a Concordia Seminary but both are great Confessional Lutheran schools.

Anonymous said...

I for one am disgusted by Pr. Rossow's generalizations. The responses have been more than kind in dealing with his flimsy accusations. This has become far too common with those who fancy themselves to be so Christ-centered that bringing up the Law at all automatically brands you as being not as Jesus-focused as the next guy. It is a particularly dangerous form of spiritual pride.

All Lutherans agree that legalism is a problem, both within Lutheran circles and without. For some Lutherans to deny that there could ever be a problem with antinomianism within our midst-- that says something.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Rossow,
I attended Geneva College at the same time as Pr. Cooper, and I can assure you that our education was not steeped in American Evangelicalism in the way you insist. Geneva College is affiliated with the RPCNA, and despite having poor Chapel messages (that everyone, including Pr. Cooper complained about), the Bible teaching was definitively Reformed. Geneva college is extremely conservative, Biblically-based, and gospel-centered in its teaching. There is not this "law-focus" that you claim operating there aside from the unfortunate chapel messages (that pretty much no one agreed with).
This being the case, Pr. Cooper, having converted to Lutheranism in his Junior year, became very critical of the Reformed teaching at the college. He often asked questions in class and challenged the professors about their Reformed beliefs in light of his new Lutheran convictions. Many of these distinctions were vital to developing his theology, and you can read about the particulars on the blog here. I suggest you read some of his past posts against Calvinism.
Pr. Cooper also did an interview on Issues Etc. where he discusses his conversion to Lutheranism while at Geneva College. You might find this helpful in seeking to understand his theological training as well.
I think it is neither helpful, nor accurate to mark Pr. Cooper as law-focused, but I think J. Dean did a good job covering that topic.
Please be aware that people are not simply their undergraduate training, neither are they their graduate training. There is much room for growth, especially after so many years. Pr. Cooper has been through a B.A at Geneva College, a MTH at the Wittenberg Institute, and has almost completed a MTS with the TAALC Seminary. This means a lot of reading, a lot of study, and a lot of influence from all areas of Christianity.
There are many, many examples of how Pr. Cooper benefitted from his theological training at Geneva College, but there are also very distinctive proofs that he disagreed with the teaching there. I hope that you will see that such claims about him being uncritically influenced by his undergraduate education are not accurate.

In Christ,

David Gray said...

I think it could be argued that in many respects the RPCNA is more Puritanist than Calvinist. Calvin, when he had his desire, had absolution following public confession in worship. Try selling that in the RPCNA. Might be a challenge.

J. Dean said...


That's one of the things I've found most interesting in recent years about Calvinism, namely, that the Calvinism of the Puritans is significantly different than what Calvin himself laid out. There was a period of time where I thought that the Psalms-only notion and the strict Sunday-Sabbath doctrine came from Calvin himself, when the truth is that Calvin was not nearly as strict on these matters as the Puritains were.

David Gray said...

It may seem ironic to some readers but a sound confessional Lutheran approach. is more appealing in some ways to a thorough Calvinist than the Puritanist approach. It makes sense as Calvin didn't have the issues with Lutherans that later Lutherans (as opposed to Luther and Melanchthon) had with Calvin.

Anonymous said...

I am disappointed to read Pr. Rossow's comments here. He has clearly misrepresented Pr. Cooper. Nothing that Jordan has said on his blog or podcast on this subject is contradictory to the Holy Scriptures or our Confessions.

I wonder if Tim has listened to Jordan's critique of Paul Washer?