Calvinism Explained: T.U.L.I.P

October begins the celebration of Reformation month. When like-minded believers remember the Reformation of the Church from the false doctrine of the Catholic Church. The date we usually attribute to the Reformation is October 31st, 1517. On this day, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses against the door in Castle Church Wittenberg, Germany in order to defy the Catholic Churches doctrine. Martin Luther pointed out many doctrinal errors in the Catholic Church; including the authority of the Pope and an emphasis on tradition over Christ and Scripture. This date, October 31st, 1517 began a series of events that changed the Church forever. It sprang forth publishing and doctrine by the Church and Pastors without the oversight of the Pope. My favorite discovery of this time came in the form of reformed soteriology (salvation). Reformed soteriology is the effort of Bible scholars to understand God’s doctrines of grace in salvation. Reformed soteriology has been attributed to the teachings of Jean Calvin, but I personally like to present the arguments from Scripture with the widely used acronym – T.U.L.I.P. Below you will find a brief summary of this wonderful Biblical doctrine.

Total Depravity

Definition: Sin pollutes mankind’s being totally – our reason, volition, and affection (Rom 3:9-18).

Salvation is necessary on the basis of total depravity (Rom. 1:18-3:20; Gen. 3; Gen. 15:6/Rom. 4:1-5). Total depravity doesn’t mean that everyone behaves terribly, because God gave us a conscience and limited life span that restrains sin (Rom. 2). All wrestle against their sin, whether Christian or not (Gal. 5:16-21). Understanding that we are totally depraved allows us to see our need for the grace of Christ through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and the regeneration of the soul through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 1:13). We must be honest with our state of being, depraved and not good.

Unconditional Election

Definition: As totally depraved sinners, we are 100% dependent on the Will of God for our election.

God works all things, including the salvation of sinners, on the basis of His will (Eph. 1:11; Ps. 104:24). The fact that our election is unconditional means that it is not based on outside influences such as circumstances, status, wealth, or even where you were born (John 1:12-13; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 2:8; 1 Pet 1:2). This is similar to when a parent unconditionally loves their child, despite how the child behaves. God election is ultimately for his His glory alone (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Rom. 11:33-36; Rev. 4:11). Unconditional election also motivates us to evangelize because only God knows who is elect, and therefore we witness to all and leave the results of election up to God. For more explanation, please read Paul’s explanation in Romans 9:1-18 as he tells the story of Jacob and Esau. If you are a believer in Christ, be thankful for God’s unconditional election of you.

Limited Atonement (a.k.a Particular Redemption)

Limited atonement may be difficult to understand in our finite minds, but thankfully God’s mind is bigger than ours (Rom. 11:33-36).

Definition: God’s atonement for sin (penal substitution) is limited or particular to those he has elected.

Many people have an issue with this part of T.U.L.I.P because they fail to understand the intention of God. I know this may be hard to understand, but our role as parents, spouses, and friends does not change God’s intention for whom he died (atonement). Our role is to be the messenger, and the results up to God’s intention. If we give the message of the Gospel and see someone believe, that result shows us that God unconditionally elected that person and his atonement on the Cross was for them. That is why we preach as the Apostles “Repent (change your mind from trusting in your works to Christ) and believe, and you will be saved” (Acts 2:37-41; Rom 10:9-13).

You might ask, ‘doesn’t God love the world universally’ because of John 3:16? First, we have to read on, inside that same verse it says ‘whoever so believes’. This means eternal life is limited to believers, not unbelievers. In fact, in John 3:17-21 it says that many run away from the Gospel because their deeds are evil and their un-belief will be judged. Ultimately, it is pride to not believe, and God would never allow his atonement to be for un-believers. Thankfully, God does the election so that we believe. Second, there are different kinds of love that God shows. God’s love is actual for some, but potential for none. God’s love is displayed commonly for some as a part of His common grace to all men (Psalm 19; Matt. 5:43-48), but God’s efficient (i.e. particular) covenant love is limited to His elect (Eph. 1:4-5). Limited atonement may be difficult to understand in our finite minds, but thankfully God’s mind is bigger than ours (Rom. 11:33-36).

Irresistible Grace

A person can make a temporary decision, but only God can irresistibly draw in disciples.

Definition: We are saved by grace because the Holy Spirit irresistibly draws us to Himself, apart from our own free-will or decisions.

Man doesn’t have the freedom or capacity to choose God. The saving grace of God is received through the Word of God, but the natural man does not receive in the Word and cannot understand the Words of God (1 Cor. 2:14). R.C. Sproul, says that ‘every decision is made free, and every decision is determined.’ Basically, this means that we can freely choose according to our desires, but the sinner has no freedom to choose God’s grace. In fact, the sinner has an inclination to sin freely. Sinners reject Christ because they want to rebel against God. If the decision to be saved was up to man, man would deny God every time because of the negative inclinations of their heart. But God has the ability to incline one’s heart to Himself by drawing you closer to him through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:44). Man does not have the moral ability to make himself righteous or choose God’s grace. This realization changes our evangelism, as we seek disciples more than decisions. A person can make a temporary decision, but only God can irresistibly draw in disciples. The Spirit of God is responsible for our being saved by Grace (John 1:13; 3:6-8). If you are a Christian, I hope you feel appreciative of God’s work in giving you grace, freely and irresistibly.

Perseverance of the Saints

Definition: Once saved, always saved.

God’s irresistible grace as a result of his unconditional election enables the believer persevere to the end our lives. As believers, we do not have the ability to reverse the power of the Holy Spirit. If our salvation was based on our will to choose God, we would un-choose God later. Thankfully, our grace is based on the power of the Holy Spirit and is irresistible and irreversible. As Christians, God the Father gave us to Jesus and he holds us in his hands and cannot lose us (Jn. 6:37-40; 17:2). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). However, if we see someone living in prolonged unconfessed and un-repented sin after they ‘supposedly’ believed, it is proof that their belief was superficial, and they are not saved (Heb. 6:4-10 is explained in Heb. 10:26-31). We should be amazed and appreciated that God elect us in eternity past and allows us to persevere through the end (2 Tim. 1:9).

I hope this article helps you understand and appreciate Calvinism as a biblical doctrine.

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.