The Doctrines of Grace


Chance Howard

A picture taken from chapter five of the book “God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of The Modern Message”.

The doctrines and ideas that Christians believe have been evolving and changing since the “Early Church” or the beginning of the spread of Christianity (documented partially in the book of Acts). Arguments on topics such as Church authority, eschatology, metaphysics, cosmology, etc. have been occurring for much of the church’s history, escalating at the starting point of the protestant reformation and further as the reformation spread across Eurasia. Some of the most important (and challenging) ideas of the reformation related to topics of grace, mercy, the role of man in his salvation, and how an individual “maintains” his salvation.

One famous reformer, John Calvin, wrote many theological texts in his life and challenged people with his interpretations of the Bible. His interpretations were so revolutionary that even now, in the year of our Lord 2023, a sub-denomination of “Calvinists” exist all over the world practicing “Reformed Christianity”.

The followers of Calvin sought to organize his (main) beliefs in an acrostic that was easy to understand and describe. The acrostic was TULIP, standing for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.

Total Depravity

In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the fall of man occurred, plunging them into a sinful state. As the power of sin grew, so did the depravity of man, shortening his lifespan and severing his connection with God. Before the fall, God walked with man in the garden. After the fall, man would do anything to cling to his sin rather than seek out God. The fall of man in the garden is generational; that is, sin is passed down from generation to generation because of our originally corrupt parents. Our corruption from sin permeates every aspect of our being. It affects the way we think, feel, reason, and act. Total depravity is not the idea that every person is as evil as they can be, but it is the idea that one is so corrupt that he would never choose God and would always, without fail, choose his own sinful desires.

Unconditional Election

The doctrine of unconditional election removes all of man’s part in his initial salvation. The doctrine, in simple terms, is that God saves whomever he elects to save. The unconditional aspect means that God does not look through time to see if someone would accept the gospel and then elects that person, but instead elects people based on no other factors than because he wants to. The Apostle Paul illustrates this in Romans 9:10-13 where he writes, “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Before Jacob and His brother Esau were born, before either of them had done anything good or evil, God determined that Esau, the older brother, would serve Jacob, the younger. Paul uses this illustration as imagery for how God treats humanity. Before anyone was born, before anything was made, God had determined who would be his elect and who would not.

Limited Atonement

When Christ laid down his life on the cross, was he doing it for all of mankind, that is, both people who would repent and believe and those who would not? Calvinists argue that, no, the death of Christ was not to make salvation possible for everyone but to fulfill the plan of God, which was designed to save his people, the people that the father has given to the son (John 6:37).

The idea of limited atonement is linked with the idea of unconditional election. Those who were elected by God before the foundation of the heavens and earth (that is, this has taken place before Genesis 1:1 and has been the plan of God for all eternity) without any condition. God has elected those whom he will save and provided the blood of Christ as a way to free themselves from their sin (outlined in Total Depravity).

Irresistible Grace

The idea of Irresistible Grace conjures up images of God dragging you, kicking and screaming away from your sin and towards salvation. This is not the case, nor is it historically what Calvinists believe. Before a man has faith, he must be regenerated. Since his heart, mind, soul, spirit, and body are all corrupted by sin, God must regenerate these things by himself, that is, the work is monergistic (meaning “one working” or “the working of one”). The regeneration of a man, which precedes faith, is done by God and God alone. After regeneration, now that we have been regenerated, brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, we love God and are grateful to him, or as Dr. Sproul (much more elegantly) puts it, “Indeed, we aren’t dragged to Christ, we run to Christ, and we embrace Him joyfully because the Spirit has changed our hearts”.

Perseverance of the Saints

Humanity is not capable of attaining salvation by itself. If they cannot begin their salvation, it would be impossible to believe they could maintain it. In simple terms, the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is the idea that God preserves the faith of his elect. It also means that once someone is saved, they still can (and will) sin as they are still warring against their flesh. However, after the process of regeneration and at the beginning of faith, man is freed from the bondage of his sin at the beginning of the process of sanctification. During the process of Sanctification, man will strive to sin less, read the bible, and pray more, among other things.


If you haven’t noticed, everything in the worldview of Calvinism works together. Because man is a sinner (Total Depravity), he will not choose God over his sin. Because of this, God elects whomever he so chooses to save from Hell, and he does this before the Earth’s foundation, even before Genesis 1:1 (Unconditional Election). Since salvation is given directly from God, and humans have no part in their regeneration preceding faith, the cross is only made for the elect, as it would be pointless (in this worldview) to be for everyone. That is not to say that it couldn’t save everyone; the power of the cross is sufficient for all (Limited Atonement). Because we have no part in our regeneration and cannot choose faith by ourselves (Irresistible Grace), it would make sense that a person cannot keep himself in sanctification alone. If left to our own devices and whims, we would return to our sins, leaving our new faith behind. So, God must then keep us in faith as we, as his creation, strive to be better (Perseverance of the Saints).

Some people are appalled by the doctrines of Grace, as they aren’t considered fair by human standards. “It wouldn’t be fair for God to predestine some people for Hell and others for Heaven”, they argue. However, in the first century, Paul already argued against them, almost as if God knew the arguments that would arise. Romans 9:19-23: You will then tell me, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay to make one vessel out of the same lump for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory? God can and will save whomever he elects to save. He is the Supreme Creator and Lord over all of the Universe. I think we should allow him to make that choice.

Another argument against the apparent unfairness of elections is that any election isn’t fair. People who make this argument do not understand the depth of their sin and depravity. You do not deserve salvation. What humanity deserves, as a collective, is to be thrust into the fiery furnace of hell. It is merciful on the part of God that he would even save one person. Each Christian should rejoice in this fact, as God has mercifully saved them according to his own will. Each unsaved person should shudder at this fact and pray that their state would change as quickly as possible.

Never forget, Jesus Christ is Lord over all.