Calvinism: Definition, Defense, and Scriptures

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Calvinism, broadly speaking, refers to the entire system of theology that John Calvin developed and wrote about. More specifically, Calvinism has become particularly associated with what Calvin wrote concerning the topic of predestination and election.

In short, Calvinism teaches that salvation depends upon God’s sovereignty and grace alone. This is in contrast to Arminianism, which teaches that salvation ultimately depends upon a human free-will decision to choose Christ.

The Five Points of Calvinism

Calvinism is commonly summarized using the acronym TULIP, which are the Five Points of Calvinism.

The Five Articles of Remonstrance (1610)

In 1610, followers of Jacobus Arminius came up with the Five Articles of Remonstrance, which were five objections to five specific Calvinist doctrines. These were the Five Articles of Remonstrance:

  1. Article 1 – Conditional Election
  2. Article 2 – Unlimited Atonement
  3. Article 3 – Total Depravity
  4. Article 4 – Prevenient Grace
  5. Article 5 – Conditional Preservation of the Saints

TULIP: A Response to the Five Articles of Remonstrance

TULIP, or the Five Points of Calvinism, was developed as a response to the Five Articles of Remonstrance. The Five Points of Calvinism are these:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

Total Depravity

What Is Total Depravity?

Total Depravity teaches that humans—in their natural state, apart from being regenerated by God—are so corrupted by sin that they would always choose their sin over faith in and submission to God.

The only way that totally depraved humans can even desire faith and desire submission and obedience to God is if they are first regenerated, or made alive, by God. In other words, it’s God who enables sinners to have faith in Jesus and desire submission and obedience.

Scriptural Support for Total Depravity

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Romans 8:7

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

What Total Depravity Is Not

Total Depravity does not teach that all humans are as bad as they could be. God provides the blessing of common grace, which restrains the full manifestation of people’s sins.

Total Depravity Glorifies God and Leads to Joy for Sinners

The doctrine of Total Depravity glorifies God because it teaches that it’s God alone who saves, rather than God working in cooperation with human effort.

And, the doctrine of Total Depravity provides joy for Christians because it teaches that the power that enables them to continue having faith and continue living for God comes from God and a new life, rather than from their own strength and decision-making abilities.

Unconditional Election

What Is Unconditional Election?

Unconditional Election teaches that God has chosen to save only His elect, who were chosen by God’s sovereign will alone and not because of anything that God foresaw in them. The number of God’s elect was determined before the creation of the universe and is unchangeable.

Scriptural Support for Unconditional Election

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will

Ephesians 1:3-5

and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain

Revelation 13:8

Unconditional Election Glorifies God and Leads to Joy for Sinners

The doctrine of Unconditional Election glorifies God because it teaches that it is God alone who saves, rather than God cooperating with human free will.

Unconditional election leads to joy for sinners because since salvation comes from God alone, sinners can be assured of their salvation. Salvation does not depend upon human strength, effort, or decision-making, but rather upon God’s sovereign will.

Limited Atonement

What Is Limited Atonement?

Limited Atonement teaches that Jesus came to die only for God’s elect, rather than for every single person in the world.

It should be noted that both Calvinism and Arminianism “limits” Jesus’ atonement in some way. Calvinism teaches that the atonement is limited in that it is only for God’s elect, and not for every single person in the world. However, it teaches that the atonement is unlimited in the sense that Jesus actually saves everyone for whom He died. In other words, Jesus’ atonement includes and provides faith and repentance for sinners.

Arminianism teaches that the atonement is unlimited in that it is for every single person in the world. However, it also teaches that the atonement is limited in that it does not actually save sinners. Sinners need to generate their own faith and repentance to actually be saved.

Scriptural Support for Limited Atonement

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:21

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:28

Limited Atonement Glorifies God and Leads to Joy for Sinners

The doctrine of Limited Atonement glorifies God because it teaches that Jesus’ atonement actually saves sinners, rather than merely makes salvation available for sinners.

It also leads to joy for sinners because they can rejoice knowing that Jesus’ atoning work actually saves them. In other words, salvation does not depend upon sinners generating their own faith and repentance—even faith and repentance are gifts from God.

Irresistible Grace

What Is Irresistible Grace?

Irresistible Grace teaches that God will “irresistibly” draw all of His elect to have saving faith in Jesus Christ through the gospel call. It does not teach that God forces people to have faith in Jesus again their will. Rather, it teaches that God changes their very nature so that they have a new desire to have faith in Jesus and obey God’s commands.

Scriptural Support for Irresistible Grace

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

John 6:37

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

Acts 16:14

Irresistible Grace Glorifies God and Leads to Joy for Sinners

The doctrine of irresistible grace glorifies God because it teaches that even faith and repentance are the result of God’s calling and drawing of His elect. Sinners do not generate faith and repentance by their own strength and power.

It also leads to joy for sinners because it gives them confidence that their salvation is secure. Since it’s God who draws them to Jesus, it’s also God who keeps them secure in Jesus.

Perseverance of the Saints

What Is Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints teaches that God will protect and sustain the faith of all His elect so that none of them will ever lose their faith.

Scriptural Support for Perseverance of the Saints

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:28

Perseverance of the Saints Glorifies God and Leads to Joy for Sinners

The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints glorifies God because it teaches that from beginning to end, salvation is completely from God alone. It is God who preserves the faith of the elect, and not their own strength or effort.

It also leads to joy for sinners because they can have confidence that their faith is secured and protected by God and does not depend upon their own perseverance or strength. The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints provides assurance of salvation for Christians.

Answers to Objections Against Calvinism

There are many objections against Calvinism, but there are legitimate answers to all of these objections. For a list of answers to many objections against Calvinism, see Answers to Objections Against Calvinism.

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