The issue of salvation seems to be a hotly-debated one, especially as it relates to the relationship between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Having said this, I now go on to present the five points of Calvinism, summarized by the acronym TULIP, to which I hold and defend as the Biblical presentation of salvation.
“The doctrine of total depravity (also called "total inability") asserts that, as a consequence of the fall of humanity into sin, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin (wikipedia.org).” There are two questions which must be answered in relation to this definition: First, how does sin affect the ability of a fallen individual to respond to the Gospel? Second, how does sin affect the free exercise of the will of said fallen individual? To answer the first question, we find that Scripture indicates that humanity has not come to Christ because they are dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). This makes sense as man’s attempt at responding affirmatively to God is hindered as his efforts are a “polluted garment (i.e. menstrual cloth - Isaiah 64:6),” enslaved to sin (John 8:34), completely corrupt (Psalm 14:3), hostile to God (Romans 8:7), etc. To put it simply, a natural rebellion against God keeps the natural man from coming to Him. Looking at the second question, we must understand the difference between the nature and the will. Both God and man can act only in accordance with their particular natures. We cannot say that God can will to do anything because He cannot will to sin. So then, unregenerate man has the freedom to will his course of action, but only that action which is not outside or beyond his particular nature. Apart from the free gift of grace from God to choose God, and thus apart from a new nature in Christ by being born-again, man is totally unable to respond to God. Until he is given a new nature in Christ, he can only freely choose to act in a manner consistent with his sin nature.
Because man can only act within his own fallen nature, it was necessary for God to elect some for Himself from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6). “The doctrine of unconditional election asserts that God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy alone (wikipedia.org).” Often, the objection is raised that this view of election makes God out to be an unfair tyrant. First, as Paul teaches us in Romans 9:20-21, we have no right as the creature to question the Creator as to His sovereign choice. Second, this objection refuses to accept that all men are responsible for their own sin and have earned an eternal damnation through their works (Romans 6:23). In true fairness, God would send all to Hell and He would receive all the glory in His perfect justice. However, because none choose Him (Romans 3:10-12), He regenerates some through the Holy Spirit enabling them to freely choose Him (in this, regeneration logically precedes justification, however, they occur simultaneously). God’s mercy and grace are demonstrated for those He has enabled to worship Him in Heaven, and again, God receives all the glory.
As it is true that God chose the believer for Himself (1 Peter 2:9-10), so also He provided the means to satisfy His justice so that His love could be demonstrated without violating His character (Romans 5:8). Likely the most controversial point of Calvinism is the doctrine of Limited Atonement. It seems the word “limited” tends to confuse people who are not familiar with what this doctrine teaches. As Boyd and Eddy note, “Christ’s death is sufficient for all the sins of the world, but it was intended to save only those whom the Father has predestined to be saved.” That is to say, while the power of Christ’s death in the atonement is unlimited, it is applied only to the limited number of those who are saved. The Canons of Dordt also clarify this misunderstanding by communicating, “This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world (reformed.org).” Of course, we know that many will find themselves in Hell (Matthew 7:13-14), so it seems evident from Scripture that Christ did not die for the sinners whose punishment shall be meted out for an eternal damnation (though the power of the atonement is sufficient to save them), but rather for the elect alone (as the purpose of the atonement is efficient to save them).
Because it is true that God chose the believer (Ephesians 1:4) and paid for his sins (1 John 4:10), it is also true that those whom He bought will come to Him (John 6:37-39). The doctrine of Irresistible Grace is often referred to by detractors as divine arm-twisting. However, just as man in his natural state is a rebel against God, so by the enablement of his new nature he is finally able to freely choose God. Being given this new heart with new desires, the believer takes joy in the decision to follow Christ. Seeing the perversity of sin and the wrath of God to come, he gladly turns from his wickedness to the salvation of God.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Finally, because God draws the believer to Himself, and he shall come, so too the security of salvation is eternal as God has completed the process Himself (John 10:27-29, Philippians 1:6, John 6:44). This does not mean that the believer never sins, but that their sin does not result in a loss of salvation (1 John 1:8-10) and through repentance and confession he is restored to a right relationship with God. As Boyd and Eddy indicate regarding the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, “When people have been elected by God and changed by God’s irresistible grace, they cannot fall away.” In conclusion, because man is depraved in all his parts, God necessarily chose some in Himself to save from before the foundation of the world. Because He purchased the salvation of the elect alone in Christ, they will come to Him. God, as the author and finisher of faith, keeps the elect secure in their salvation as it is not the believer’s power, but rather God’s power working in him to save him.
"Calvinism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Sep 2008, 15:01 UTC. 19 Sep 2008
MacArthur, John F. The MacArthur Study Bible. Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006.
Boyd, Gregory A. and Eddy, Paul R. The Salvation Debate. Across the Spectrum:
Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
"Canons of Dordt.” Historic Church Documents at Reformed.org.