The Five Points of Calvinism – Defining the Doctrines of Grace

A Brief Introduction to Calvinism

What are the Five Points of Calvinism and what do these doctrines teach us about salvation?

Known as both the Doctrines of Grace and the Five Points of Calvinism, these doctrines are named for the distinct theological stances taken by the reformer John Calvin (who didn’t use this term himself). The Five Points of Calvinism are: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.

Watch the Video Version of this Resource

You have likely come across the acrostic T.U.L.I.P. as a memory aid for these doctrinal positions. Below is a brief description of the doctrines represented by each letter:

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

Due to sin all of mankind is completely sinful, or depraved. Every part of fallen man is corrupted by sin. He is a creature that incapable of obeying the law of God. We see in Romans 3:10 that no one is righteous, and in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So much for the common belief that mankind is basically good! Understanding that we are completely sinful, or totally depraved, is an essential part of fully appreciating God’s grace in rescuing sinners from the punishment that we deserve.

This depravity affects every part of the human experience and spiritually we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). This doctrine does not teach that each man is as wicked as he could be.

The fact that everyone isn’t an anarchist or a psychopath doesn’t negate this doctrine. Instead, what is being taught is that our depravity is total in reference to our complete rebellion against God (Psalm 14:1-3) and our inability to do good (Romans 8:7-8) – apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, of course.

Learn More: John Piper on Total Depravity


UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

Also known as “sovereign election,” this is the teaching that God’s rescuing of sinners is entirely due to His own will and good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). Salvation is not brought about in any way by our actions or decisions.

Remember, Scripture teaches that we are spiritually dead. Because of this we cannot and will not turn towards God on our own. Instead, it is God who elects believers to salvation (Romans 8:28-30). He does this based solely on His grace and not our works (2 Timothy 1:9).

Believers were chosen by God “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-6). This further emphasizes our inability to earn salvation by our works, since election predates our very existence.

The Bible teaches that those who place their faith in Christ are those whom He has elected unto salvation (Acts 13:48). Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44. See also John 6:65).

The Bible is clear that it is God who saves and that He does so according to His grace, not on the condition of our works or foreseen response to this grace. It is in this sense that election is unconditional.

A Note on Election

The idea of election may be new to you. As we have seen, we are spiritually dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and depraved, unable and unwilling to choose God (Romans 3:10-11).

Furthermore, the Bible says that belief is due to God’s sovereign election from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6) and is not contingent on our actions (Titus 3:5). Salvation is a work of God in us from start to finish.

This theological stance is found throughout Scripture. Jesus came to save “His people” from sins (Matthew 1:21), and laid down His life down for the sheep, which represents believers (John 10:11).

Furthermore, He taught that the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28. See also Matthew 26:28 and Hebrews 9:28).

Learn More: If God Elects People to Salvation, Why Evangelize?


LIMITED ATONEMENT

Limited atonement can be a difficult doctrine, and one that should be handled with care. It is likely the most controversial (and misunderstood) aspect of Reformed Theology, so this section is a bit longer than the others.

Atonement refers to the forgiveness of our sins by means of Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death. Christ atoned, or paid for, our sins on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). So far, so good; this much is agreed upon by just about everyone who would consider themselves to be Christian.

Calvinism is distinctive in that it teaches Jesus’ death on the cross did not merely make salvation possible for those who choose to receive it, but that it made salvation definite for those who have been elected by God.

For this reason, many prefer to refer to this doctrine as Definite Atonement, as there is nothing limited about the power or effectiveness of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. His sacrifice is completely sufficient to save sinners, but it is made definite only for those who God has chosen.

When looking at this doctrine, it’s important to note that all theological frameworks “limit” the atonement in some respect (aside from Universalism, which falsely teaches that all will be saved).

Either Jesus’ death was intended for absolutely everyone but is unable to save any but those who respond in faith (limited in its effectiveness), or His death was completely effective in atoning for the sins of those whom it was intended for (and so the atonement is limited in its intended recipients). 

Stated another way, either Christ’s atoning death was meant for the salvation of all but is limited in its ability to accomplish this, or the intent of the atonement was ‘limited’ to fully redeeming all of God’s elect.

The latter is the Reformed position as articulated by Calvinism. This view is reflected in Acts 13:48 where we see that “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Believers are those who were appointed to eternal life by God.

Learn More: Watch R.C. Sproul Discuss Limited Atonement


Recommended Reading: The Five Points of Calvinism

This is the revised and expanded edition of the class book of which JI Packer said “One could hardly wish for a better study resource to show the five points’ faithfulness to Scripture.”


IRRESISTIBLE GRACE

No one can be saved unless they are first drawn by God (John 6:44). Irresistible Grace does not teach that God’s calling cannot be resisted for a period of time, but that this resistance will ultimately be overcome.

For this reason, a better term may be Effectual Grace, signaling that God’s intentions will have their intended effect on a person’s life. We cannot thwart the will of God to save us.

In short, this is the belief that all who are called by God to believe in Jesus will be saved. In John 6:37 Christ states, “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” and in John 6:39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

God’s sovereign election is not contingent on our response; those who are called by Him will ultimately obtain justification and glorification (Romans 8:28-30).

Learn More: The Glorious Doctrine of Irresistible Grace
Read: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by JI Packer


PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

If you have been justified before God you cannot lose your salvation. Once a person is truly saved, this salvation is eternally secure.

In speaking about his sheep, Jesus taught that “no one will 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 10:28-29).

Rather than having to hold on to our salvation, the Bible teaches that when a person believes in Christ, they immediately obtain an eternal life (John 5:24; 6:47) that cannot be lost (John 10:27-28; Romans 8:31-39). Those who do appear to permanently fall away from the faith were never true believers (1 John 2:19).

Since we all struggle with sin, we can take comfort in this doctrine. As John MacArthur has stated, “If you could lose your salvation, you would.”

Learn More: The Perseverance of the Saints in the London Baptist Confession


CONCLUSION

The Five Points of Calvinism, or Doctrines of Grace, are merely summaries of what the Bible teaches about salvation. We do not revere these doctrines because they were taught by John Calvin, but because they are found in Scripture.

These five points also serve as a helpful introduction to the beliefs of Reformed Theology. Although some of these doctrines can seem difficult at first, I would encourage you to continue to look into these truths.

As believers, our main concern should be conforming our theology to what the Scripture teaches. It is my conviction that Reformed Theology best captures the truth of God’s Word in these and many other areas.

C.H. Spurgeon, a powerful preacher, passionate evangelist, and committed Calvinist, said this:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the Gospel and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the Gospel if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor can I comprehend a Gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a Gospel I abhor.

In conclusion: Calvinism has its footing not in the Reformation of the 1500s, but in the very pages of Scripture.


Recommended Resources

Here are some ways you can learn more about the Doctrines of Grace:

You May Also Like: The Five Solas of the Reformation

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19 comments
  1. Thank you for explaining the points in this video. The scripture references are helpful. However, one scripture in the unconditional election section is listed as Matthew 1:29. And there are only 25 verses in Matthew 1…I’m guessing it’s a typo that is supposed to be Matthew 1:21? Thank you so much for taking time to explain these points of theology and for the scripture references!

  2. Hey, thank you for the concise explanation, it allowed me the opportunity to study the passages used to support Calvanism and come the conclusion that most seem to come with a presupposition of the truth of Calvanism. None of the verses that you gave having studied give support for Calvanism when taken beyond a preliminary reading. However, thank you for making this article, it allowed me to deepen my understanding of what I believe, and it strengthened it, since Calvanism is one of the more popular theologies in opposition to what I believe.

    Having a large quantity of passages nicely laid out to study and come to different conclusions was helpful, so thank you my brother. May God bless your ministry.

  3. Wow, I just came from a men’s bible study at my church where my pastor denounced Calvin’s 5 steps as being inaccurate, especially the limited atonement step. Thank you for confirming in my heart what I’ve always knew to be true about John Calvin, in that his teaching on this topic is spot on!🙂

    1. Glad that you found the article helpful! There are many who disagree with and speak against Calvinism, but sadly many do so not fully understanding what these doctrines teach. Many are in much greater agreement than they realize!

  4. Amen and thank you brother Clay on your clear and concise explanation of TULIP with verse by verse proof of it being biblical. May the Lord bless you and your ministry to reach the lost and prepare believers to articulate biblical truth when needed.

    1. Thanks for your words of encouragement, Joshua – Glad the site has been a helpful resource for you!

  5. I concur with the statement of one Rev. George Hemming, once of Reeth Congregational Church, “I’m saved by grace and Reformed by conviction”.

  6. Thank you for a clear dissertation on Calvinism. Very helpful, if somewhat biased (no offense meant, we all operate from bias). Next, perhaps you should articulate the tenants of Armenianism?
    In Him,
    Paul

    1. Thanks for the comment Paul – Glad you found it helpful. While I hold to Reformed Theology and Calvinism, I have considered creating a post on the tenants of Armenianism to make it easy to compare and contrast the different views and the verses used in support of them. Thanks for the suggestion!

  7. Hi Clay.
    I believe that Calvinism teaches the doctrine of hypergrace which I consider as heretical. There are many rebuttal about the “once saved always save” theology but just a simple reading of James 5:19-20 show those Christians who wonder away from their faith or be lukewarm can miss out of their salvation. I sincerely disagree with your teaching.
    Thank you

    1. Hello Nehemiah – Proponents of “hypergrace” emphasize God’s grace to such an extent that they say there is no need to confess our sin, that we are not bound to obey Christ’s commands, that the Old Testament is irrelevant, and many other false notions. I would agree that hypergrace is indeed false teaching but I do not believe it is possible to yoke it together with Calvinism, as Reformed teaching strongly refutes such things. Even so, I appreciate you reading the article and taking the time to comment.

  8. Hello dear,
    Your teaching on this subject matter is cryster clear. I have heard and studied this controversial theme but you simplified it. It is a great biblical teaching.
    Thanks

  9. Hi Pastor Kraby. I was wondering if you consider non-Calvinists brothers/sisters if they have believed in Christ and humbled themselves before the Lord?

    I ask this because, as your article says, you believe Calvinism to be a summary of truth of scripture regarding salvation. If that is true then it seems to me that it is not entirely impossible for one to conclude that those who don’t hold to Calvinism are lost even though they are trusting in God/Christ as their only refuge.

    Thanks.

    1. Hi There – While it is true that I, like CH Spurgeon, consider Calvinism to simply be a “nickname” of the Gospel, I do not believe or teach that those who do not hold to the Doctrines of Grace are therefore outside of Christ. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by subscribing to a particular doctrinal understanding about how our salvation took place. We can be ignorant of, mistaken on, or in disagreement with a great many theological issues and it will not negate our salvation. That being said, I do believe that Scripture clearly teaches the doctrines that are labeled as “Calvinism” and would direct all Christians to carefully study these matters.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      – Clay Kraby

      1. To follow our directive to go and tell is our mission. It does not put the results in the individuals hands! To believe God’s word is to give Him his rightful place as God! If we try to change what scripture tells us, we limit God . God knows from the beginning of time who will accept Him. Our mission is to teach, preach and go!

  10. Wonderful article! Explains these truthes very well. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have TULIP, it has gotten me through periods of depression and doubt. TULIP glorifies God because it teaches that he is able to save fully and completely any sinner he pleases, praise him!

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