The Doctrines of Grace

Many today identify Calvinism with the system of doctrine that bears the name TULIP. The letters of the acronym correspond to five doctrines known as the doctrines of grace, also as the five points of Calvinism.

Calvin himself never codified the doctrines of grace in this manner. Indeed, he would have objected to how these doctrines are understood and taught by some who call themselves Calvinists. Yet when properly formulated, all five points are Biblical in substance, although they easily become unbiblical in emphasis unless they are kept in balance with the doctrines of responsibility.


Total depravity

Question addressed by the first point:

Who is worthy to be saved?

Defensible answer:

God finds nothing in any man that makes him deserving of eternal life. Every man is totally depraved.


10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Romans 3:10-12

Indefensible answer:

Man is incapable of doing good.


Although Scripture says, "The plowing of the wicked, is sin" (Prov. 21:4), it is judging not the act, but the motive. The motive may be tainted either by prideful self-sufficiency or by idolatrous dependence on heathen gods. But because plowing helps to sustain life, the act itself may be wholly good.

Unconditional election

Question arising from the first point and addressed by the second point:

Though all men are too wicked to deserve eternal life, God chooses (elects) some for salvation. Does He choose them because they are less wicked?

Defensible answer:

The answer is, no. God's decision to bestow saving grace takes no account of human merit. That is, divine election is unconditional.


Paul was saved, though he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

Indefensible answer:

God's bestowal of saving grace is arbitrary.


God's avowal, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13), does not mean that His love for Jacob was arbitrary or at random. God loves His elect because He made them to be vessels of honor and, seeing the end from the beginning, He has known from eternity past what by grace they would become. So, His election is not without consideration of each man's person and potential. It is motivated by love for those who will someday conform to the image of Christ.

Limited atonement

Question arising from the second point and addressed by the third:

If God saves men although they are sinners, will all be saved?

Defensible answer:

All men will not be saved. The benefits of Christ's atonement are not bestowed on all men, but reserved for a few.


Jesus said,

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

Point L, properly understood, is a rejection of universalism.

Indefensible answer:

Christ died only for the elect.


Many passages teach that Christ died for all men.

14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2

. . . We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.

1 Timothy 4:10

Christ's redemptive work was evidently sufficient to purchase salvation for all men, would they simply accept it. But though it was universally sufficient, it was not universally efficient. That is, it did not actually confer salvation upon all men.

Irresistible grace

Question arising from the third point and addressed by the fourth:

God saves sinners through the gospel, which urges them to believe in Christ as their Savior. But if human depravity will keep at least some from responding correctly to the gospel, will not all be lost, since all are by nature equally froward and hostile to the truth?

Defensible answer:

God is capable of saving a man even though he is God's bitter enemy. Divine grace works irresistibly upon a stubborn heart and transforms it so that it is willing to believe the gospel.


Paul, again, is the sterling example. He was the chief of sinners, but God saved him. Moreover, Jesus said that although a camel could go through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich man could attain heaven, with God all things are possible (Luke 18:25-27).

Indefensible answer:

God saves sinners against their will.


God never forces a man to accept Christ. Rather, He works in a man's heart and mind until, of his own free volition, he desires to accept Christ.

Perseverance of the saints

Question arising from the fourth point and addressed by the fifth:

If salvation is entirely a work of God, might He take it away just as irresistibly as He gave it?

Defensible answer:

A man truly saved will never lose his salvation.


Jesus promised,

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

Indefensible answer:

Any man who believes he is saved can be sure of his salvation.


Jesus warned,

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7:21-23

The Doctrines of Responsibility

TULIP clearly presents the Biblical doctrines of divine grace, but ignores the Biblical doctrines of human responsibility. For each of the five points of Calvinism, there is a counterbalancing truth.

Deliberate sin

Possible distortion:

Point T alone could lead some to believe that depravity is a condition we passively receive.


The doctrine of Total Depravity is balanced by the doctrine of Deliberate Sin.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:6

We all cooperate with our innate depravity by sinning wilfully. Sin is our conscious choice.

All-encompassing call

Possible distortion:

Point U alone could be taken to mean that some might be denied salvation though they desire it.


The doctrine of Unconditional Election is balanced by the doctrine of All-Encompassing Call.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

. . . And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

Revelation 22:17

The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is available to whoever wants it.

Infinite love

Possible distortion:

Some might infer from Point L alone that God is indifferent to the lost.


The doctrine of Limited Atonement is balanced by the doctrine of Infinite Love.

The Lord is . . . longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

God loves the whole world of man, including all who will reject His love.

Spontaneous faith

Possible distortion:

Point I alone could be construed as saying that a man should wait for saving faith to descend mysteriously from above.


The doctrine of Irresistible Grace is balanced by the doctrine of Spontaneous Faith.

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 10:10

Saving faith originates in the authentic desires of a man's heart. It comes not from without, but from within. If, in his heart, a man desires to be saved and believes that he can be saved only through Christ, he need not postpone a decision for Christ until God grants him a special kind of faith. He already has exactly the faith he needs.

Yieldedness of the saints

Possible distortion:

Some might view Point P alone as an excuse for carelessness in the Christian life.


The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints is balanced by the doctrine of Yieldedness of the Saints.

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

2 Peter 1:10

The proof that a man is saved is a life befitting a saved man.


The doctrines that bring TULIP into balance therefore constitute another five points, which we will call the doctrines of responsibility.

T = Total Depravity D = Deliberate Sin
U = Unconditional Election A = All-Encompassing Call
L = Limited Atonement I = Infinite Love
I = Irresistible Grace S = Spontaneous Faith
P = Perseverance of the Saints Y = Yieldedness of the Saints

Common Objections to the Doctrine of Election

The doctrine of election disregards the free will of man.

It looks to many as if TULIP is saying that every man is appointed to a destiny which he cannot alter—that he faces heaven or hell without consideration of what he himself wants.

But TULIP does not deny that a man's future depends on his own free choice. It merely starts on the premise that every man's free choice, apart from grace, is to reject God. Only by grace can a man's heart be changed so that his free choice is to accept salvation in Christ. Yet this defense of TULIP spawns another objection.

God would be unjust to grant saving grace to some and to withhold it from others.

I will answer this objection by means of a parable. Suppose I see ten people walking resolutely toward a cliff. One is my own child. I vehemently warn them all, but they laugh in my face and trample underfoot the evidence I show them of their peril. If I then tackle my child and tie him down so that he can go no farther, am I unjust because I do not forcibly restrain the rest, because I let them suffer the consequences of their stupidity? This is a poor analogy to God's predicament, because the issue between man and God is more personal. Man has allied himself with God's archenemy. Is God unjust if He does not intervene to save every man from the consequences of his own deliberate treason against God? By no means. He is infinitely gracious to save any man.

Many Christians have not come to terms with the clear teaching of Romans 9.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.

Romans 9:10-23

We cannot fathom all the reasons why God has not chosen to save everyone. But one reason, according to this passage, is that God is "willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known" (v. 22). He wants us to know Him in all the complexity of His Person. Inseparable from His character is a holy wrath toward such perfidy as man has committed, and inseparable from His divine resources is the power to implement eternal retribution. So that we might love Him better, He wants to show us a full picture of His holiness and power.

God expressly states that He wants every man to be saved.

It has seemed to many that the doctrine of election runs afoul of the New Testament principle that God desires the salvation of all men.

Who [God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:4

The Lord is . . . longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

But these texts are intended primarily to accomplish the following purposes:

1. They give a general answer to the problem of evil. God is disclaiming responsibility for the death that entered the world through sin. He is saying that a sinner perishes not by God's choice, but by his own choice, as a result of his free decision to enlist in the cosmic rebellion against God.

Perhaps it will be helpful to consider an analogous case. Suppose our country was overrun by a foreign army, and as they swept through my town, a hostile soldier came to my door with the obvious intent of shooting anyone he found inside. In self-defense, I would aim my gun at the door and pull the trigger as soon as he burst through. While waiting tensely for the moment of battle, I might well feel that I had no desire to kill this man, that I was not willing that he should perish. Yet to protect everything I held dear, I would not hesitate to kill him as soon as he appeared, and I would rest assured that he himself bore the blame for his death. An objector might press the analogy further and say, "Yes, but if you were all-powerful like God, you could capture the soldier and change his allegiance." I could, but probably I would not, especially if he were a hardened killer, guilty of many atrocities in the past. And if I should take his life, I would not be acting unjustly by any standard. If I spared his life, I would not be treating him justly, but extending undeserved mercy and grace. We are all like that soldier. We are hardened sinners, with a record of transgressions leaving no grounds in justice to spare our lives. If God chooses not to save us, He is just. If He saves us, He is gracious and merciful.

2. These texts give an answer to the sinner seeking God's will concerning salvation. God never tells such an inquirer, "I want you to be lost." His answer is always, "I want you to be saved."