The Doctrines of Grace


What are the doctrines of grace? You may be aware that historically, they have often gone by another name, “Calvinism.” They are the doctrines that underscore the most basic gospel truth—that we are saved by the grace of God. These doctrines have been summed up in the familiar acronym, “TULIP.” This acronym reminds us of these fundamental Scriptural truths:

1) Total Depravity. Man, as born into the world, is full of sin and thus unable to do anything good in his own power, including believe in Christ ( Romans 3:10-12). He needs God to save him.

2) Unconditional Election. God has chosen from all eternity those whom He would save, not because He foresaw that they would believe, nor because of any good He foresaw in them, but out of His mere love and good pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-6).

3) Limited Atonement. Christ died for those chosen and given to Him by His Father. He came to seek and to save what was lost, and He fully accomplished His mission (John 6:37-39; 10:11-14; 17:9; Luke 19:10).

4) Irresistible Grace. The Holy Spirit sovereignly brings to faith all whom the Father has chosen and Christ has redeemed and is never frustrated by their willful rebellion (John 1:13; 3:8).

5) Perseverance of the Saints. God not only chooses those who will be saved and brings them to repentance and faith, but He also causes them to persevere in the faith until the end of their earthly life (Matthew 10:22; Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13).

You are utterly unable to save yourself or even to earn the slightest bit of favor from God. These are the doctrines of grace, and this is the teaching of the Bible. It is very humbling to men, but properly honoring to God. As the Reformers said, Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory! C. H. Spurgeon said it this way:

We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard these five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow-Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather, five bright emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrine of Jesus crucified.

Total Depravity

Many teachers and preachers in our day depict Christ as an anxious suitor knocking at the door of the sinner’s heart in hopes that he will, of his “own free will,” open his unbelieving heart and let the Savior in. This notion unwittingly belittles our Sovereign Lord and mistakenly inflates sinfully depraved man.

The Bible teaches that we are conceived in the wombs of our mothers as condemned sinners (Psalm 51:5), enslaved to unrighteousness (Romans 6:17), spritually blind and deaf (Mark 4:11-12), and ultimately dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Since these things are so, we must not deceive men by appealing to them as if they had the ability to receive Christ at any time. We must not speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will just trust and turn. We must not depict Christ as waiting in quiet impotence at the door of men’s hearts for them to let Him in.

The bound slave cannot free himself. The blind man cannot give himself sight and the deaf man cannot give himself hearing. The dead cannot raise himself. The sinner is like Lazarus in his tomb; he is bound hand and foot. Just as there was no glimmer of life in the body of Lazarus, so there is no “inner receptive spark” in the sinner’s heart. When Christ saves a sinner, He stands at the tomb of the spiritual corpse and mightily speaks with His sovereign voice, “Sinner, come out!” And just as Lazarus emerged from the grave, so a newborn saint emerges from the darkness of condemnation into the light of life. Yes, our plight is desperate, but our Savior is mighty to save!

Unconditional Election

History books tell us that the American Indians would quietly creep up on a vast herd of buffalo, and then by loud shouts and wild gestures scare the beasts into a wild stampede toward a precipice and ultimately over it to what became their mass grave below. How foolishly, madly, and yet resolutely these four-footed beasts rushed to their own destruction!

This is a fitting picture of the Bible’s description of the members of the human race, left to themselves, stampeding toward hell. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; . . . their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their paths”(Romans 3:10-16). Left to the resources of our own corrupt hearts, not one of us would be saved!

But blessed be God for the wonderful truth of His Unconditional Election of sinners to be made saints. In Election, God, before the foundation of the world, purposed to save certain individual members out of the condemned human race in and by the work of Christ, apart from any good found in them as a condition for His grace. The rest of the race, He left to themselves.

For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls. . . . “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. . . . Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? (Romans 9:11, 12, 21)

The saved saint adores with wonder His Lord whose sovereign hand selectively plucked his sinfully mad soul from the destruction-bound herd, and adopted him to become a heaven-bound child of God.

Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption)

William the blacksmith came home late one evening to his sharp-tongued, angry wife. In a fit of rage, he murdered her. William remorsefully confessed his crime to the judge, who justly sentenced him to death by hanging. As William stood on the gallows, his brother John ascended the platform and pled for permission to substitute his own life as a ransom for his brother’s. The judge, moved by the display of love and heroism, agreed to accept the brother’s life as satisfaction for the crime. John was hanged in his brother’s place. Five minutes later, William too was hanged! Every reasonable person would recoil in horror and disgust at such an outcome.

In the shadow of this fictional story, we ask the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Did Christ die for every individual without exception, or did He die only for the elect? Some believe that Jesus Christ died for all men without exception, that His atonement for sin was universal. The Scriptures teach that Christ died only for the elect, that His atonement for sin was limited or particular. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Matthew 26:28). “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”(Ephesians 5:25). His blood was not poured out for all men, but for many; He gave up Himself not for all men universally, but for His Church particularly.

Does this mean that there is no sense in which God genuinely loves all men? No, it does not (see Matthew 5:43-48). Does it mean that we should not call upon all men to believe in Christ? Of course not (see Matthew 11: 27-28). Rather, it is simply to assert what the Bible does, that Christ died to save only certain people, and they will all certainly be saved. How could any be found in hell on the last day if Christ has died for all? Such a breach of justice would parallel the perverted conclusion of the above story about William. God is not unjust—He will never punish sinners ransomed by the blood of His Son! Christ’s blood is so precious and effective that if even a drop of it be sprinkled on any sinner, the wrath of God will pass over on judgment day. Christ shed His blood only for the elect, who will all be rescued from the gallows of eternal punishment. Amazing love!

Irresistible Grace

Some people liken God to a courteous gentleman. They say that although He desires to save all men from their sins, He refuses to coerce them to love Him. Rather, they say, He gently invites them to be saved in the gospel and courteously leaves the matter up to the free will of each individual. But if this concept were true, none would be saved. All would be doomed, for, “A natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him”(1 Corinthians 2:14). As one old settler stubbornly resisted every warning to flee his cabin near the foot of Mt. St. Helens and perished in the volcano’s 1980 eruption, so every sinner natively and willfully rejects all of God’s invitations to exit his dark rebellion and come into the light of saving faith in Christ.

But blessed be God for His Irresistible Grace! He is no courteous gentleman, but a Mighty Conqueror! Thomas Watson wrote, “He rides forth conquering in the chariot of His Gospel. . . . He conquers the pride of the heart, and makes the will which stood out as a Fort Royal against Him, to yield and stoop to His grace; He makes the stony heart bleed.” In God’s mighty Efficacious Call, He not only offers salvation to His elect ones, He secures it.

Jesus taught this truth when He said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Paul affirmed it when he wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”(2 Corinthians 4:6). Only by the same irresistible power which in the beginning coerced the darkness to bow to the light, can a willful sinner ever turn from his dark rebellion and come into the light of saving faith. Salvation is all of God. To Him alone be glory!

Perseverance of the Saints

In man’s Total Depravity, he is stone dead in his sinful state. In God’s Unconditional Election is man’s only possibility of rescue from eternal death and punishment. In Christ’s Limited or Particular Atonement is man’s only efficient ransom to satisfy God’s justice. In the Spirit’s Irresistible Call is God’s coercive and efficient summoning of dead sinners into spiritual life. Finally, in the Perseverance of the Saints is the certainty that God’s goal of saving each and every one of His chosen ones will be fulfilled through a life of enduring faith and obedience unto the inheritance of eternal life.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-28).

The practical implications of the doctrine of Perseverance are endless. No true saint can ever lose his salvation, though he may temporarily fall into sin. True saints can be recognized by their lives, which are characterized by practical submission to the Word of God. Saved sheep hear and follow the Shepherd’s voice, while lost goats characteristically wander broadly in disregard of His words. True saints are not spiritual corpses propped up by man-made programs, but living sheep drawn by constraining love for Christ’s voice. True saints can rest firmly in the grace of their Sovereign Savior. True saints ought to exultantly adore their Heavenly Father for His blessed salvation which is from first to last all of grace.

The great Biblical and Reformed truth called the Perseverance of the Saints brings blessed comfort to the true Christian. Our Lord said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” The child of God can see himself as a spiritual rock climber ascending heavenward up the steep and dangerous face of life. He may fear falling away through a sinful slip, but in the truth of Perseverance, Christ pledges that every child of God is securely harnessed to an unsnappable rope which He Himself holds securely in His hand at the summit. If the Christian slips temporarily into sin, Christ will hold him fast! What wonderful suspension and security!

However, some who hold to the doctrine of Perseverance recklessly swing with an unbiblical presumption on the rope they call “eternal security.” They think, “I’m saved and forever safe. Hey, why not take a swan dive into sin? A leap into sexual immorality would be exhilarating! A plunge into a deceitful business practice may produce a rush—not to mention a profit! No one can snatch me out of Christ’s hand! I’ll be a spiritual bungee jumper. He’ll spring me back to safety.”

This bungee jumping theology is a widespread and devilish perversion of truth. Many are naively jumping to their eternal destruction. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow Me.” The one who is not carefully and cautiously climbing heavenward through obedience to Christ, but recklessly leaping into sin, is simply not one of Christ’s sheep, but a rebellious goat! We must all adopt Paul’s godly climbing technique:

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

The Biblical doctrine of Perseverance exhorts us to climb carefully and holily up the face of life, never recklessly presuming on the security of Christ’s preserving rope. Such godly climbers are eternally secure in the hand of God!