Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TULIP - an acronym for grace alone

Salvation by grace alone is summarised well in the acronym "TULIP". Like the flower, this truth is beautiful and glorious too. I would like to briefly explain the basic meaning of TULIP, and how it biblically describes how we are saved.

T is for TOTAL DEPRAVITY: In our natural condition, every single person has a totally corrupt heart, and therefore, all our thoughts, decisions, actions; everything that proceeds from our heart, is totally evil. We cannot please God, nor do anything morally good in His sight. Superficially, we can seem very pious, but its all for the wrong reasons, and so we can do nothing to save ourselves, and are subject to the wrath of God.

U is for UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION: Before the foundation of the world, God the Father, eternally, graciously and lovingly chose a limited number of particular individuals to be saved from this terrible wrath that we deserve. The others were appointed to perish eternally in hell in the way of their sins and total depravity as a testimony to the elect of God's glory and power and what we also truly deserve. His choice was not based upon anything in us whatsoever. There were no conditions, or criteria in us (which would then be merit) that God used to choose, because it was before we had done anything good or evil, that we should be to the praise of the glory of God's grace alone.

L is for LIMITED ATONEMENT: This is often misunderstood, it is those who teach salvation by the "free" will of man who limit the atonement. They limit its power to save. The Bible does not limit its power to save despite our sin, but it does limit its extent to the elect. God the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth as fully human and fully God, and suffered and died and rose again to fully take the wrath of God in the stead of the people God had unconditionally elected, so that their sins were fully paid for (and theirs only). God is just in justifying the elect who were by nature totally depraved because of the cross of Christ. This is central to the Gospel. God is just in condemning the impenitent because Christ did not pay for their sins - the atonement is limited to the elect.

I is for IRRESISTIBLE GRACE: God the Holy Spirit, in time, changes the hearts of these elect people, for whom Christ has died, so that they are granted faith in what Christ has done for them as a gift. The Spirit of Christ raises these dead sinners to life, and reveals the beautiful and glorious Gospel to them by the Word (which God sends by means of preachers), so that they irresistibly believe it, and are consciously justified by faith alone in what Christ has done for them, and are joined to Christ by faith so that His righteousness is imputed to us, and we are partakers of Him and all His benefits - adoption, co-heirs, and the list goes on. This unmerited favour is irresistible because the Almighty Spirit puts a new heart in God's people so that they love Him, where before they only hated Him. Apart from this, there is no grace of God, since every other gift is only a curse to those who will end up in hell.

P is for PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS: These unconditionally elected people, who by nature were totally depraved, whose deserved punishment was fully taken by Christ, and who have been brought to faith irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, are all (every single one) perserved by that same Spirit to the very end. The Spirit of holiness works in them to produce an increasing godliness of character and likeness to Christ, and to keep them faithful and repentant to the end, even though they may often have doubts and fall into sins. This is not a licentious doctrine, since the regenerate have died to sin, and can no longer live any longer in it. The elect struggle fiercely in battle with their sinful flesh all their lives until their death or Christ's return, and are then are made perfect in glory to dwell with God forever, to delight in Him and glorify Him.

These are the doctrines of grace alone, and nicknamed the five points of Calvinism. These are not the teachings of man but of Scripture however, even though Calvin faithfully taught them. Since he did, by the grace of God alone, it is appropriate to post this in 2009, the 500th birthday of that Genevan Reformer. May we see such reformation and such preachers in our day too, and may God be glorified in the church now and forevermore.

- Sam W.

P.S. There will be a public lecture on "John Calvin's Battle for the Reformation" in Limerick on Friday the 6th of March at 7:30pm held in the Limerick School Project on O'Connell Avenue. See more details here: