We are not saved by the goodness of our works, but according to the riches of God's grace. By grace alone; through faith alone; on the Word alone; because of Christ alone; to the glory and praise of God alone. Our new life in Christ is all of grace and not by human works whereby any person can boast. One man can stand on the top of Mount Everest and other stand at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but neither may touch the stars. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Thus, what man could never do through human achievement, our Lord did by divine accomplishment! Salvation is the free gift of grace by God through Christ in the regenerating work of lost people through the Holy Spirit to quicken man, being dead in trespasses and sins unto new life (Ephesians 2:1-3, 8-9). This is our eternal heritage in the Lord Jesus Christ.
These doctrines of grace, referred to as the "The Five Points of Calvinism," are simply five key teachings on the nature of salvation found in the Bible that were written down as articles by the Synod of Dort in 1610. The Synod of Dordt was held in order to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius (Arminianism), a theological professor at Leiden University, questioned the teaching of Calvin and his followers on a number of important points. After Arminius's death, his own followers presented their views on five of these points in the Remonstrance of 1610.
In this document or in later more explicit writings, the Arminians taught election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. In the Canons the Synod of Dordt rejected these views and set forth the Reformed doctrine on these points, namely, unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints.
These five articles underline vitally important truths of redemption that:
- God is Sovereign over all things;
- God is the source of salvation;
- People can do nothing to save themselves;
- Salvation is for the glory of God;
- Emphasizes our total dependence as guilty sinners on the mercy and grace of God for salvation;
- And is our belief they form the foundation of true biblical Christianity.
(Much of the following is based with grateful acknowledgement, on an article written by Malcolm H. Watts that appeared in the February 1997 edition of the Evangelical Times.)
The photograph of the tulip to the above left is a helpful acronym-picture to assist us in easily remembering these biblical doctrines of grace:
TULIP:May this encourage you afresh to glorify God for the great work of salvation for sinful man that He has done.
Irresistable grace; and
Perseverence of the saints.
1. Total Depravity (or “Inability” – man cannot save himself)
The Scriptures clearly teach that the effects of sin have extended to all parts of our being, rendering us incapable of spiritual understanding and love towards God. Despite the heading of this first article, it does not indicate that all people are as wicked as they could possibly be in all areas of belief and practice. However, sin has so fully and deeply affected our lives that, spiritually speaking, we are in a totally hopeless condition, unable to do anything to get ourselves out of this fallen state.
Our natural spiritual incapacity prevents us from being able to respond by our own strength to the call of the gospel message, yet this does not remove our guilt. We choose to follow the natural inclinations of our depraved hearts because when left to ourselves that is all we want to do.
Scripture references: Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 1:30; John 15:25; Luke 19:14; John 5:40; Isaiah 5:20; Titus 1:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Hebrews 2:1; John 12:39; John 6:44+65; John 3:18.
2. Unconditional Election (God is no respecter of man nor influenced by man.)
God has shown us in his Word that from eternity past he has elected some sinners to be saved from the condemnation that is justly deserved by all, purely on account of his gracious mercy and love, not because of any foreseen merits in those sinners. Because of the fact of total depravity, salvation must originate with God, and we read in the Bible that it is God's sovereign will alone that has determined the recipients of that salvation.
This doctrine does not render God unjust, for all are guilty and all deserve to suffer God's judgement. Rather, it emphasizes the grace of God by the fact that he has chosen some for salvation.
Scripture references: Psalm 65:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:4,5,9,11; Romans 11:5; Romans 9:15,23; Psalm 103:11; 1 Peter 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Jonah 2:9.
3. Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption)
Put simply, Christ died only to save the elect, securing with absolute certainty their salvation. This is not to teach that there is anything lacking in the power of God, perhaps suggesting that he is not able to save all men. Rather, God's Word indicates that it was the Father's intention that his Son was to suffer and die only for his chosen people, atoning for their sins alone. Christ's atonement was limited only in extent, not in power, according to the sovereign will of God.
In the Bible we read that the Lord's servant (Jesus) would see the results of his work (his atoning sacrifice) and "be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). But also, Jesus stated plainly that there are many who are heading for eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13). We can only reconcile these two statements if we understand that Christ died only for a limited number of people - for God's elect.
Scripture references: Acts 20:28; John 3:14+15; Galatians 1:4+5; Revelation 13:8; John 6:38+39; John 17:9,10+24; John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:21; Romans 5:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 8:33+34; Luke 1:68; Revelation 5:9; Isaiah 53:11.
4. Irresistible Grace (All whom the Father draws, will come to Christ)
When the gospel is preached, an invitation is issued by the Lord to all people to come to him for salvation. However, as the first article clearly states, the natural state of all people renders them incapable of responding to this invitation, except to reject it. So when God calls an elect sinner to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, he does so by sending his Holy Spirit to work a great change in that sinner's heart, enabling them to see their sin and their need of a Saviour and leading them to put their faith in Christ alone for salvation. The Lord, by his Spirit, irresistibly draws his elect to himself, raising them to spiritual life and making them willing to trust in Jesus.
Scripture references: Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:37; Matthew 23:37; John 5:40; Ephesians 1:12,19; Ezekiel 11:19+20; Psalm 110:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
5. Perseverance of the Saints (or Preserved in Christ for Eternity)
Once God has saved elect sinners, he continues to keep and preserve them by his power and grace and will never let them go. Thus, they persevere to the end and can never be lost. If God did not do this, we would inevitably turn back again to the world, because of the sin that is around us and within us. Thus God enables his children to continue in faith and obedience throughout their earthly lives, then to pass into God's presence forever.
This doctrine is not to be taken as a license to go on sinning, as if the believer is free to act in any way he chooses now that he is eternally secure in Christ Jesus. The true believer will show signs of a growing desire for holiness and an increasing loathing of sin. The one who attempts to use the grace of God as an excuse for sinful living is in all probability not a true believer, for where there is spiritual life, the fruit of the Spirit will become evident.
Scripture references: 1 Peter 1:5; James 4:6; Philippians 1:6+19; John 6:39; John 10:28+29; Romans 8:38+39; Romans 8:8; Galatians 5:13-26.