John Piper on Whether Christians Can Understand Grace If They Were Saved as a Child

(Photo: Passion Conference)John Piper, founder of Desiring God and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, speaks from the book of Revelation at the Passion 2016 conference Sunday morning, January 3, 2016, in Duluth, Georgia.

In a blog post published Tuesday, influential theologian and author John Piper answered the question of whether a Christian can understand the "grace" behind God's salvation from their sins if they were saved at a very earlier age.

Piper, a Calvinist Baptist pastor and founder of DesingGod.org, took to the website to publish a post titled "Can I Sing 'Amazing Grace' If I Was Saved at Six?"

Considering the song is sung from the standpoint of a "wretch" who was saved by Christ's salvation, is it possible for someone who claims to have been saved at an early age, such as 6 years old, to understand what it means to be a wretch or a person who has lived a life of sin?

"If you were saved when you were six years old, can you feel the greatness of the sinfulness from which you were rescued?" Piper questioned. "Or to put the question even more pointedly: If you have no recollection of ever being an unbeliever, can you really sing, 'Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me'?"

Piper, who is the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, explained that his mother had told him that he professed his faith in Christ when he was 6 years old. Piper explained that he has no recollection of that pronunciation of faith.

"In fact, I have no recollection of anything when I was six. If memory is the measure of reality, my life is becoming more unreal every day! So my question is this: Does my experience at six dictate the measure of my amazement that God saved me?" Piper pondered.

Piper wrote that the answer to that question is "no."

"At age 71, with no memory of ever being an unbeliever, I am amazed that God saved me. I know of no season in my life that I would want to go back to when I felt more wonder and thankfulness at God's saving grace in my life," Piper reasoned. "The sinfulness from which I have been (and am being) saved is as appalling to me in this season of my life as it has ever been. I have no hesitation in singing, 'He saved a wretch like me.'"

Piper outlined six reasons why Christians who have no recollection of a time when they weren't saved "can feel the greatness of our sinfulness and the wonder of grace."

Piper's first argument is that the belief that Christians who have a longer life of "open decadence" have a deeper understanding of the sins from which they were saved is a "superficial belief." He stated that such an idea could be true for some and not true for others.

"Only those who see sin primarily as messing up human life, rather than seeing it primarily as demeaning God's glory, will assume that people whose lives were wrecked by sin will automatically have a greater sense of the seriousness of their sin than others," Piper stated. "But in fact, many who are rescued from debauchery and ruin never go deep in their grasp of what sin really is."

Piper also argued that the Holy Spirit could show Christians who were saved at an age as young as 6 the horrors of sin through the Scripture.

"In fact, there is no other way to know the exceeding sinfulness of sin than to see it revealed by God in his word (Romans 7:13)," Piper said. "We cannot know sin simply by looking in the mirror or at our past. We know the true nature of sin the same way we know the true nature of God's holiness. For sin is a falling short of the glory of that holiness. But the holiness of God is not discernible by the natural mind. Only the Holy Spirit reveals it. And he reveals it in the word of God."

Piper's third argument is that only God's word reveals the truth of "original sin," not being rescued from a life of debauchery. Piper cited Romans 5:18-19: "One trespass led to condemnation for all men. . . . By one man's disobedience the many were appointed sinners."

Piper also argued that the most "moving picture of our sin" is not the sin that one was saved from but rather the "picture of the Son of God nailed to the cross."

"The person who was saved at six years old is at no disadvantage in seeing the magnitude and horror of his own sin from which God saved him at six," he stated. "The picture of that sin is not some scrapbook photo of a grumpy, six-year-old face. The picture of that sin is blood running down the face of Jesus."

Piper's fifth line of reasoning is that a long history of sinning doesn't change "the horror and duration of Hell," which "show us the unspeakable greatness of our sin."

"No memory of any debauchery before my conversion could add anything significant to the seriousness of my sin which Hell does not tell," Piper wrote.

Piper's final point of argument is that a long history of sin is not required for a Christian to come to the realization of what his or her life would be like without the work of the Holy Spirit.

"I need no memories of pre-Christian wreckage in order to show me what I would be without sovereign grace," he stated.

Piper concluded by stating that memories can help a Christian only if they are "interpreted in the light of God's truth."

"But many people think they know the greatness of their sin because they remember a season of rebellion and ruin. That memory will never reveal the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Only God's word can do that," Piper wrote. "Therefore, though I was never a slave trader like John Newton, nevertheless I will lift my hands and sing with the fullest conviction, 'Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!'"

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