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Understanding Calvinism One Tulip At A Time

Jul 11, 2008
Some of the main points of Calvinism, or Reformed Theology, can be summarized in the acronym TULIP. The letters of the acronym stand for what has become know as the five points of Calvinism. These points help to succinctly describe the fundamental theological assertions of the Reformed faith and were crystallized in the Cannons of Dort, which were issued in 1618-19 as a response to Arminianism.

The first letter of the TULIP acronym stands for 'total depravity.' This is the notion that man is completely and utterly hopeless in his pursuit of self-made righteousness. At conception, the sin of Adam hangs over the head of the new person condemning them to death and life of complete and utter God rejection.

They are incapable of faith and thereby barred from pleasing God in any way. Even though actions may appear to have merit or praiseworthiness, these actions have none and only serve to condemn the individual to death since they are born of a complete disregard for God and his splendor. In sum, man is in a very deep pit of his own making with absolutely no way for him to get out under his own power.

But there is hope in the second letter of the TULIP acronym, 'unconditional election.' God, in his great mercy and love, has chosen to save men from the greatness of their sin and misery. This choosing certain men to receive this benefit is called 'election.' It is 'unconditional' because there is nothing in the object of the election that somehow moved the subject to make that particular election.

Instead, it is despite the condition of the object that God chooses to elect any given man. The fallen nature of man puts us at war with God so this act of God is one where he brings reconciliation and peace between himself and his enemy. Calvinism asserts that he does this freely and without respect to the individual whom he elects.

This election is done to a certain number of individuals, a principle summarized in the third point of Calvinism 'limited atonement.' What Calvinists mean by this is that Jesus Christ, the means of salvation to all who believe, died only for those that God has elected unconditionally.

His death is only atones for the sins of the elect because that is the only group of people that Jesus died for. Christ did not die for those that will eventually spend eternity in hell for the rejection of the glory of God because that would mean that Christ's death was insufficient to save those individuals.

The next point of Calvinism is that the call of Christ is an 'irresistible grace.' When God elects you, you are unable to resist that election. God is so beautiful and so marvelous that when he wills that we should perceive a portion of him as he truly is that our human hearts, so starved of true life and beauty in this sin infested world, are forever locked to him in a bond of affection and devotion. Momentary lapses in sin are not able to keep us away from the all encompassing love of God.

This leads to the final point of Calvinism - the 'perseverance of the saints.' What a Calvinist means by this is that all those that God has truly elected will persevere in the faith despite momentary setbacks of sin or suffering.

They will continually be transformed more and more into the image of Christ and become more and more obedient to the law of God, not as a way to justify themselves before him, but because they know that sin hinders their experience of joy in Christ and because it dishonors the God that saved them. The true believer will stop sinning and act righteously.
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