DOCTRINES OF GRACE: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION (1 of 6)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
The Doctrines of Grace were developed as a response to counter the spread of a false doctrinal position that had made it's way into the Church and was gaining acceptance. It was a form of an heretical movement from the 4th Century known as Pelagianism. A man by the name of Jacobus Arminius introduced the concept of God's "predestination" of individuals to salvation based on His foreknowledge of whether or not an individual will freely choose to accept or reject Christ. This doctrine was immediately recognized as an unbiblical view that severely restricted God's absolute and complete sovereignty.
A few years after Jacobus Arminius died, the Protestant Churches became so concerned about the spread of his false teaching that they called for an international gathering of clergy which met at Dort in the Netherlands in 1618. This meeting came to be known as the Synod of Dort. This synod identified the five major points of Jacobus Arminius's teaching, which has since come to be known as Arminianism. The synod countered each point as they were clearly contradictory to Scripture. In order to correct his teaching they developed counter points to each of his points, which later came to be recognized as “Calvinism” because John Calvin had already been teaching them for so many years. The Doctrines of Grace, or the five points developed by the council, eventually developed into the acronym of TULIP (one letter for each point of doctrine). It's important to note that although the terms “Doctrines of Grace,” “Calvinism,” “The 5 Points of Calvinism,” and “TULIP” have become virtually synonymous with each other, Calvin himself taught far more than just these five points.
Calvin was certainly not the only one to strongly denounce Arminianism. Nearly all of the great reformers, and even the different Reformation Statements of Faith and Confessions that were produced (such as, The Westminster Confession, The Longer and Shorter Westminster Catechisms, The 39 Articles of the Church of England, The Heidelberg Catechism, etc.) all firmly rejected Arminianism as it was determined not to be properly aligned with the teachings of the Scripture.
As was previously mentioned, the acronym used to describe Calvinism is known as “TULIP.” This is the first sermon in a six part series on this doctrine and acts as an introduction. Each of the next sermons will address a specific letter of “TULIP.” For instance, the next sermon, sermon two in this series, will focus on the “T” of “TULIP.” The third sermon will tackle the “U” of “TULIP,” and so on.
For now, let's take a brief look at what each of the letters in TULIP stand for:
As a result of Adam's sin, the entire human race is affected; all humanity is dead in trespasses and sins. Humanity is unable to save themselves (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18).
Because humanity is dead in sin, we are unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, in eternity past God elected (or chose) certain individuals for salvation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not conditioned, or based, on our response (Romans 8:29-30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6, 11-12) because we are unable to respond, nor do we desire to.
Because God determined that certain individuals should be saved as a result of God's unconditional election, He planned for Jesus Christ to die only for the elect. All whom God has elected and for whom Jesus died will be saved (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).
Those whom God elected He draws to Himself by grace which cannot be resisted. God is the one who makes humanity willing to come to Him. When God calls, we respond (John 6:37, 44; 10:16).
P-Perseverance of the Saints:
The specific ones which God has elected and drawn to Himself by the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. No one God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure. A common saying for this position is “Once saved always saved” (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-14).
How About 4 our of 5?
While all of these doctrines have a biblical foundation, there are a number of people that have difficulty accepting one of these five points in particular. This group typically refers to themselves as “four-point Calvinists.” They adhere to Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. But they reject, or at the very least take issue with, Limited Atonement. They agree that humanity is definitely sinful and cannot believe in God on their own; God elects people by His will alone – election is not based on any worth in the person God chooses; all of those God has chosen will come to faith; and all those who are truly born-again, or regenerated, will persevere in their faith (remain eternally secure by God). However, when it comes to atonement four-point Calvinists believe that it is unlimited, claiming that Jesus died for the sins of the the entire world (literally), and not just for the sins of the elect. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (NIV). Some other verses used to oppose limited atonement are John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; and 2 Peter 2:1.
Five-point Calvinists see problems with four-point Calvinism. They argue, if Total Depravity is true, then Unlimited Atonement cannot be true because if Jesus died for the sins of every person in the world, then whether or not His death can be applied to an individual would depend on whether or not the person “accepts” Christ. But we have seen in the brief description of Total Depravity, humanity in their (our) natural state has no ability whatsoever to choose God nor would we desire to. Also, if Unlimited Atonement is true, then hell is full of people that Christ died for. If so, He shed His blood in vain for them. To five-point Calvinists, this is unimaginable.