5 Doctrines of Grace, Why Do They Matter Today?

5 Doctrines of Grace, Why Do They Matter Today?

In our series up to now, we have explained the five points of Calvinism, also known as the five doctrines of grace. But you may still wonder, “Why does this matter to me in the 21st century?”

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern culture, family dynamics, and even within the walls of the church, the five doctrines of grace remain an essential foundation for understanding who we are and who God is. These five doctrines—total depravity, unconditional election, limited (definite) atonement, irresistible grace, and preserving grace—serve as a summary of God’s saving grace that points us toward the unchanging truth of God’s glory.

In this post, we will explore the critical relevance of these doctrines in our contemporary world, addressing issues in modern culture, family life, and combating heresies in the church while emphasizing why they matter to each of us today.

Modern Culture: Rediscovering Identity and Purpose

In a world where confusion about identity reigns supreme, the doctrines of grace provide an unwavering foundation for us. Our culture grapples with ever-shifting definitions of self, struggling to understand what it means to be human. Reformed theology reminds us that God is sovereign over everything, and His creation is inherently good. Meaning who God created you to be is who you are. This foundational truth confronts the modern trend of self-identification based on feelings and desires and redirects us to God’s intentional design.

The doctrine of total depravity underscores our human inability to do good apart from God, revealing our inherent need for His grace. It is through His unconditional electing love, atonement for our sins, irresistible grace, and persevering power that we find our true humanness by serving Him. Modern culture may question our identity at every turn, but the five doctrines of grace remind us that our true identity is rooted in our relationship with the sovereign Creator.

Families: Understanding and Living God’s Love

We all have unique family dynamics. Some are harder to deal with than others. The doctrines of Grace offer a blueprint for understanding and living out God’s love within our diverse family situations. God’s love for us is the ultimate model for the love we should extend to one another. These doctrines teach us that just as God sovereignly elects and loves His people, we too can choose to love and serve one another unconditionally.

The saving grace of God summarized in the five points challenges the self-centered tendencies that often undermine family relationships. When we recognize that our love should mirror God’s, it encourages us to put the needs of our family members above our own. In a world where selfishness and individualism are rampant, the doctrines of grace serve as a counterbalance, promoting the idea that God’s love flows through us to those around us.

Heresy: Guarding Against False Teachings

The Five Doctrines of Grace serve as a fortress against heresies that dilute the pure grace of God. In a culture that often asserts that humans are naturally good or can earn God’s favor through good deeds, these doctrines challenge such misconceptions. Any compromise on these five points diminishes the grace of God, impacting His glory.

For instance, to propose a partial corruption of humanity instead of a totally depraved humanity misdiagnoses the depth of human evil and consequently downplays the extent of God’s grace. Similarly, suggesting a conditional election based on God’s foresight of human faith undermines the sovereign power of God’s will. By contrast, the doctrines of grace assert that salvation is all of God and brings to light the glory that is rightfully His. Holding to them will give the church a foundation to uphold God’s truth in all seasons.

Freedom: Trusting in God’s Grace

The doctrines of grace offer us the freedom to trust in God completely. They reassure us that all His promises are “yes and amen” in Christ, allowing us to relinquish our obsession with self and our striving for greatness. Our greatness, as these doctrines emphasize, is found in Christ alone. With this understanding, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

To God Be the Glory: The Ultimate Purpose

The primary reason the doctrines of grace should be indispensable in our lives, families, and churches is that they give glory to God alone. They proclaim that salvation is entirely the work of God, and when this truth is grasped, God receives all the glory.

But they also guide us to rediscover our true identity in God’s design, nurture loving relationships within our families, guard us against false teachings, and grant us the freedom to rest in God’s grace.

Their relevance today is undeniable, as they provide the firm foundation we need in a world that is constantly shifting. Embracing the doctrines of grace is not just an exercise in theological understanding; it’s an opportunity to experience the transformative power of God’s sovereign grace and to give Him the glory He rightfully deserves.

The Five Points of Calvinism – Perseverance of the Saints

The Five Points of Calvinism – Perseverance of the Saints

The Last of the Five Points of Calvinism

We have finally made it to the last point of the Five Points of Calvinism, the perseverance of the saints. This Reformed teaching can easily be summed up in a nutshell: if God saved you, no one can separate you from His grasp.

Perseverance of the Saints

To paraphrase John Calvin, the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective it MUST keep us on a continual path of faithfulness to God (Calvin’s Commentary on 1 John 3:9). That’s a truth we can firmly hold on to.

Who is a Saint?

Before we go further into explaining the beautiful doctrine of perseverance, we must address the elephant in the room. When we say the “perseverance of the saints,” we don’t mean the kind of saints you see being honored in the Roman Catholic church with their halos and candles.

Rather saint here merely refers to any member of God’s people, past or present. The words Christian and Saint have often been used synonymously throughout history. Think of the doctrine more as “the perseverance of Christians.” If you are a Christian, you are a saint. This means that God has and will protect and preserve His people throughout the ages till eternity.

What Does it Mean to Persevere?

Often when we think of persevering, we think of the human determination to stay the course and win the race. But in Reformed theology, perseverance is something God does, not something that we do.

The Apostle Paul tells us that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6). This means that when God starts something, He makes sure to finish it. It means that once you become a Christian through God’s irresistible graceand divine election, He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

This act of preserving is totally an act of God and not of man. As the Westminster Confession of Faith explains, “This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit,” (WCF 17.2). It is all Him, not us.

What About People Who Used to Be Christians?

We all know someone who used to go to Church and now doesn’t. Does that mean they weren’t preserved? This is a difficult question, and Reformed theologians have had debates about it for centuries.

Instead of trying to give a complete answer, we must remember two principles. First, final salvation is in God’s hands alone. Perhaps that person you knew who left the Church may one day, by God’s grace, return to the Faith. This in itself is an act of God’s preserving them.

Second, we must remember that while those who God elects, He will preserve, and those who fall away were predestined to fall away (1 Peter 2:8), we must handle this truth with extreme caution. In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul rebukes those who try to play God and speculate from an eternal perspective. Some things are for God to know and not us. Instead of trying to figure out who is really saved and who is not, we are called to live by faith in God and His promises alone.

When God saves us, when we are baptized into His people, when He bestows His grace upon us, we can be sure that His promise to persevere us is also given to us. He has given us nothing less than Himself, which is the greatest gift of all. So instead of worrying, cling to Him and His promises.

What Does This Mean for You?

The Bible tells us that if we abide in Jesus, He will abide in us (John 15:4). Jesus says, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:28).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t simply promise a temporal life, rather, He promises eternal life. This means that as long as we are in the hands of God, nothing can separate us from Him even death (Romans 8:38-39).

The sole reason for our perseverance in faith lies in God’s promises to us. This should give us great confidence. It is Christ who sustains us, not ourselves. By His power, we can rest assured that even in the valley of death, we will be safe in His hand.

The Five Points of Calvinism Show Us God’s Love

The Five Points of Calvinism all work together to show us God’s great love for His people. He doesn’t just elect totally depraved people, He atones for our sins, He leads us to Him by His grace, and He perseveres us to the end.

If you learned anything from this series, we hope that it is the great truth that God is God, and you are not. This is a wonderful thing because it ensures that God’s work in us cannot fail because His promises to love us will never fail. So cling to Him.

The Five Points of Calvinism – Irresistible Grace

The Five Points of Calvinism – Irresistible Grace

The Lynch Pin of the Five Points of Calvinism

Irresistible grace is the fourth point in the five points of Calvinism. It is sometimes thought of as the one that holds them all together. This is because, without God’s irresistible grace, the work of salvation can never begin. A century after Calvin, people were in an uproar about it. Debates broke out about how people came to believe in Jesus. Did people just will themselves into belief? Or did God give them the gift of believing? In other words, who initiates the process of coming to faith?

The Five Points of Calvinism - Irresistible Grace

Many thought that individual people were the initiators, not God. But Calvin and the Reformers after him stood squarely against this. In his famous work, The Institutes, Calvin teaches that God must change our will before we can even begin to believe in Him. This is because, left to ourselves, our wills are against God. Our actions and desires are so inclined toward evil, we need God to change us. This has nothing to do with us and all to do with God. As Calvin says, the Bible “does not teach that the grace of a good will is bestowed upon us if we accept it, but that He wills to work in us. This means nothing else than that the Lord by his Spirit directs, bends, and governs, our heart and reigns in it as in his own possession” (Institutes, 2.3).

What Is Irresistible Grace?

Irresistible grace is the teaching in Reformed theology that refers to God’s grace being freely given to those who cannot on their own choose God and is so powerful that it cannot be resisted. Simply put, if God wants you to be one of His people, He will have you.

According to the Bible, people are spiritually dead before encountering God’s grace, as it says in Ephesians 2:1, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” This means that people are unable to save themselves or come to God on their own.

However, through God’s grace, people are made alive in Christ and can accept His salvation. The teaching of irresistible grace emphasizes the idea that God’s grace is freely given and cannot be refused. This means that once God has chosen to extend His grace to someone, that person will be saved, and nothing can stand in the way of their salvation.

What About People Who Seem to Resist?

There seem to be many people who hear the gospel and don’t believe. Does that mean they have resisted God?

This is an interesting question and one many theologians have discussed. The answer, in the most straightforward terms, is that God doesn’t give saving grace to all people who hear the gospel. Theologians sometimes refer to this as the difference between God’s external call (the mere hearing of the gospel) and His internal call (the work of the Holy Spirit to make sinners alive in Christ). This internal call is exactly the grace that cannot be resisted.

The Westminster Confession helpfully puts it this way, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it” (WCF 10.2). It is all God’s gift and none of man’s doing.

How Does This Fit in With the Rest of the Five Points of Calvinism?

In our article on limited atonement, we were reminded that the five points of Calvinism help us see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are completely unified in accomplishing God’s purpose of saving His people. There, we focused on the work of the Son through the atonement.

In this article, we see that irresistible grace highlights the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation and helps to connect the dots of the other points by demonstrating God’s complete control in man’s salvation, even at the moment of initiating belief. This is evident in John 6:44a, where Jesus states that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

This verse expresses the truth that man cannot initiate the process of salvation because he is dead in sin and incapable of doing anything for himself. Instead, the Father draws people to the Son through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must work in the heart of the individual to draw them to Christ and enable them to accept His gift of salvation. The power of the Spirit ensures that the person will be saved.

What Does This Mean for You?

Irresistible grace means that salvation is not something we could ever earn or deserve on our own. It’s a gift of grace, completely undeserved and unearned.

When we consider the idea that God’s grace is irresistible, it should humble us and remind us of our complete dependence on Him. It should also give us comfort and assurance, knowing that if God has chosen to save us, nothing can ever separate us from His love.

All the glory belongs to God, not to us. It’s His mercy and truth that saves us, not anything we’ve done or could ever do. As Psalm 115:1 reminds us, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”

The Five Points of Calvinism – Limited Atonement

The Five Points of Calvinism – Limited Atonement

The Most Controversial of the Five Points of Calvinism

Limited atonement is often considered the most controversial point of the Five Points of Calvinism. This is because, like Unconditional Election, it is often deemed unfair for God to save some and not others. Nevertheless, despite its controversy, limited atonement has been essential in the Reformed understanding of salvation from Calvin to today.

Limited Atonement.

Here’s the thing, while controversial, every Christian, by logical necessity, believes in some limitation on the atonement. Either you believe, as the Reformed do, that the atonement is limited in scope, i.e., it’s 100% effective for only God’s elect. Or you believe that the atonement is limited in efficacy, i.e., it is offered to 100% of the population, but it may or may not be effective in saving anyone.

What is Limited Atonement?

By atonement, we are referring to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the payment of sins. By limited, we mean that payment is only made for God’s chosen people. Limited atonement, then, flows directly from unconditional election. If God unconditionally elected some people for salvation, it stands to reason that Christ atoning sacrifice on the cross was effective for those chosen people alone (John 10:11). As the Westminster Confession states, “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, … but the elect only” (WCF 3.6).

While the Reformers held that Christ’s sacrifice was effective for the elect, this does not imply the atonement of Jesus Christ was not powerful enough to cover the sins of all people. However, Jesus did not come just to make salvation “possible” for all people, He came to ensure that all His people would be saved. This is why some theologians prefer to call the teaching “definite atonement” or “particular redemption” as Christ made a definite, successful redemption for a particular people.

What About the Bible Verses That Seem to Refute This Point of the Five Points of Calvinism?

At this point, you might be thinking, “Wait! Doesn’t the Bible say that God so loved the world, He sent His Son to save it?”

Some Bible passages do seem to support the idea of “universal” atonement, such as 1 John 2:2, John 3:16, and John 6:51, which use the words “all” and “world.” However, it’s important to understand that in Scripture these words do not always mean every single individual in the world. For example, in John 17:9, Jesus prays for his chosen people and not for the “world” of reprobate wicked. In Romans 5:18, “all men” who receive justification does not include every man on earth but rather every member of the body of Christ. Similarly, 1 John 2:2 says Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the apostle and those addressed, but also for the sins of the whole world—all those given to Him by the Father throughout history.

Again, the Westminster Confession says, “The Lord Jesus by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself which He through the eternal spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father and purchased not only reconciliation but an everlasting inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.” (Emphasis added, WCF 8.5).

How Does Limited Atonement Fit in With God’s Plan for Salvation?

The doctrine of limited atonement is a beautiful and profound expression of God’s victory over sin and death. It teaches us that God’s plan of salvation was not left to chance or human decision but was carried out perfectly through the work of the Trinity.

It reminds us that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are completely unified in accomplishing God’s purpose of saving His people. The Father elects those who will be saved, the Son pays their debt on the cross, and the Holy Spirit regenerates and produces fruit in them. The unity of the Trinity is essential to limited atonement, as a universal atonement would contradict the unity of the Trinity, implying that Jesus failed to accomplish what He came to do.

It gives glory to God alone and points us to the sovereignty of God in salvation. It teaches that the cross will save all for whom it was intended, and the Lamb of God, Jesus, will receive the reward for His suffering. The doctrine of limited atonement should be a comfort to those who have been saved by God’s grace, knowing that they were chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

What Does This Mean for You?

While Reformed theology does not affirm a universal atonement, it is universally acknowledged that the gospel is preached and offered to all people who hear it. However, only the elect will accept it, and this is not something that we can control or manipulate.

This is good news. Our hope and assurance come not from our ability to believe or to do good works but from the finished work of Christ on the cross. If we trust in His atonement and cling to Him, we have nothing to fear. Our salvation is secure in Him, and nothing can snatch us out of His hand. Let us, therefore, preach the gospel to all and trust in the sovereignty of God to bring His elect to Himself.

The Five Points of Calvinism – Unconditional Election

The Five Points of Calvinism – Unconditional Election

What Do the Five Points of Calvinism Have To Do With Election?

For Calvin and the Reformers, the salvation of man rested on God’s determination alone. This simply means that God did not base His decision to save us on anything we do or say. Instead, it is solely God’s sovereign choice to save whoever He wants.

five points of calvinism unconditional election

Reformed theologians refer to this sovereign choice as “Unconditional Election.” This is the second point of the five points of Calvinism or the U in TULIP. Unconditional election is the doctrine that explains how God, before the foundation of time, elected some people to become His people.

What is Election?

The word “elect” just means to choose. So, simply put, just as God chose certain men to be Kings in Ancient Israel, He has chosen certain people to save. The Bible is clear that God made this choice “according to the good pleasure of His will” before the world was even created (Ephesians 1:4, 2:5). The Westminster Confession further explains that God made this choice “for the manifestation of His glory” (WCF 3.3).

The confession goes on to tell us that God predetermined some people for everlasting life and some people for everlasting death. This seems harsh, but Scripture affirms the same idea. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that God, wanting to make his power and glory known, created some people as “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” and some people as “vessels of mercy” fitted for eternal life with Him (Romans 9:22-23).

If this rubs you the wrong way, you are not alone. We will consider this in more depth below, but for now, remember that God is good, and whatever His Scriptures say is our standard for right, wrong, good, and evil.

What Does Unconditional Mean?

Unconditional here means that we don’t have anything in ourselves that makes God choose us. He does it out of His sheer grace. This does not mean that we are not responsible for putting our faith in Christ, for seeking to live a life of obedience to His commands, and for loving God and our neighbor. However, it does mean that God did not choose you or me because we were better than anyone else.

The Bible clearly states that God chooses people without considering any of the things we think, do, or feel. Rather, He loves us because He wanted to! Scripture tells us that while we were still sinners, God loved us (Romans 5:8). Over and over, God tells us that He did not choose us for anything we did or anything we are in ourselves (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Instead, He chose us for His own good purposes.

Does This Seem Unfair?

If God chooses some and not others and bases it merely on His own purposes and not anything man does or doesn’t do, isn’t that unfair?

As we said earlier, you are not alone if you were thinking this. Indeed, many people, when first learning about the five points of Calvinism, feel uncomfortable with this concept of election. The Bible anticipates this question in Romans, and the answer is worth quoting at length:

What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So, then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:14-15).

What the Bible is saying here is simple. How can a creature question the wisdom and goodness of the Creator? God is infinite, eternal, holy, and just. He knows exactly what He is doing. And consider this, if we were left to ourselves, we could never attain salvation. Remember what we said about Total Depravity, man is wicked without God. The Scriptures, then, would pose the question another way. How can an infinitely holy God show grace to ANY wicked people?

What if I Am Not Elected?

Knowing that God chooses people might sometimes make us fearful that He hasn’t chosen us. But our God is a God that keeps His promises. And He has promised that whoever believes in His son Jesus will be saved. So, if you are worried about not being chosen, cling to Jesus, knowing that you cannot do so without the grace of God working in you. Don’t let the five points of Calvinism freak you out. Remember, God will never cast out anyone who comes to Him, so come to Him every day for the rest of your life.

The Five Points of Calvinism – Total Depravity

The Five Points of Calvinism – Total Depravity

What are the Five Points of Calvinism?

Less than two generations after John Calvin died, there was an uproar throughout Europe over his theological teachings. At the crux of the battle was a dispute about man’s salvation. Did man have a way to earn his salvation? Or was God in complete control of man’s salvation? Do people choose God? Or does God choose people?

5 points of Calvinism. Total Depravity (TULIP)

In 1619, in response to those claiming that man could indeed work toward his own salvation, a council of churches met to solidify five essential issues surrounding salvation. These later became known as the “five points of Calvinism” or the “doctrines of grace.” Today, these five points are usually summarized by the acronym TULIP. The five points of TULIP, in order, are total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.

In this article, we will kick off our series by looking at the five points of Calvinism by examining the first point, total depravity.

What is Total Depravity?

Total depravity is the Reformed teaching that every single person is totally estranged from God. It teaches that humans are all corrupted by sin; no one could ever hope to be in a right relationship with God on their own merit.

Total depravity is often connected to the doctrine of original sin. This doctrine does not refer to the first sin or to the origin of sin. Rather, it teaches that because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden, the entire human race fell. Since then, our nature as human beings has been corrupted by the power of evil.

This does not mean that all people are as evil as they can be. Instead, “total” refers to the “whole” person. Meaning that every part of our existence is affected by sin. Left to ourselves, we can never choose to do good; we can never choose God.

What is the Biblical Basis for Total Depravity?

Throughout the Scriptures, it is plain that apart from God, man is not good (Psalm 14:3, 53:3; Romans 3:12; Ephesians 2:1). The Bible teaches that this “not good” condition is inherited by everyone at birth. King David affirms this in the Psalms, saying, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:1).

The Apostle Paul picks up on this idea in his letters, teaching that in one man—Adam—sin and death entered into the world and spread to all men (Romans 5:12,19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-28). When we are born, we are born with Adam’s corrupted relationship with God.

What are the Implications of Total Depravity?

Before Adam sinned, he was given a world with no death, no sickness, and no estrangement from God. The result of his fall affected everything. It affects our physical health, causing illness and death. It affects our mental and cognitive abilities, making the mind darker and weaker.
Most importantly, it affects our moral willpower. No one is capable of initiating or contributing to their own salvation. People left to themselves are hostile to God and are unable to understand the truth of the Gospel.

This does not mean that apart from God people can’t do seemingly good things. After all, a non-Christian can help an old lady cross the street, but their inward hostility against God and their corrupted nature make even that “good” action depraved in the eyes of God. Because everything in us is affected by sin, we cannot escape sin in anything that we do.

Do the Five Points of Calvinism Teach That We Left in a State of Total Depravity Forever?

There is a way to escape this corruption of our nature. Paul says that in Adam all died, but in Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). Jesus has become the new Adam. In Him, our relationship with God can be restored. In Him, we can be made good.

Some theologians talk about this in terms of “covenantal headship.” That is, under the headship of Adam, we are sinners. Under the headship of Christ, we are righteous. Think about it in terms of umbrellas. Sin and death are pouring down and the umbrella is meant to preserve us from them. Adam’s umbrella no longer has any fabric, only the metal frame. Jesus’s umbrella is perfect and without flaw. Humans, by nature, are beneath the umbrella of Adam, which means we are subject to sin. However, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be transferred to the umbrella of Jesus, which protects us from our sin and grants us righteousness.

Through this transfer, we are no longer slaves to sin and death but have the opportunity to live a new life in Christ, characterized by a true love for God and a desire for righteousness. This is the essence of salvation, to be transferred from the headship of Adam (the umbrella of sin and death) to the headship of Christ (the umbrella of life).

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