but more importantly, a beautiful truth from the Word. (Quick note – this isn’t meant to be an explanation of the Gospel from scratch, but rather a hopefully-helpful short guide for Christians who hear these terms thrown around and wonder what all the fuss is about.)
“TULIP” is an acronym from the early Protestant Reformation, designed as a clear and simple way to express 5 critical truths of the Christian faith. These points are not exhaustive, in regards to either the character of God or His glorious gift of salvation, just helpful.
T – Total Depravity. In Adam, all mankind sinned, and so we are depraved, or morally corrupt. When we say this condition is total, we aren’t saying that we are as bad as we could possibly be, just that every part of us – every word, every thought, every deed, every emotion – is tainted by the presence of sin. And being morally corrupt beings tainted by sin, we are both unwilling to turn from our sin and unable to save ourselves from the penalty of our sin, which is death. So are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? The Biblical answer is a resounding “yes!” (Romans 1-3, Ephesians 2)
U – Unconditional Election. Elect is the Biblical term for those who have been chosen by God to be saved, from before the foundation of the world. We see this glorious truth worked out around us on a daily basis as people are saved by grace through faith, and so become part of the church, or the elect. Unconditional simply means that this election on the part of God is not because of anything we have done, or any condition we have met. In other words, God isn’t saving the “good” people who have earned it, He is saving those whom it is His good pleasure to save, for we all justly deserve Hell. This salvation is not determined by the sinner, but by God Himself. (Romans 8-9, Ephesians 1-2)
L – Limited Atonement. Limited atonement simply means the redemption of the cross was particular to a group of people; or in other words, that every sin of those being saved was absolutely forgiven, forever, through Jesus’ atoning death there. Instead of limited some scholars use the word definite, in that Jesus went to cross as part of a concise plan of salvation, put in motion by God before the foundations of the world. When Jesus declared the debt of sin paid, it wasn’t potentially paid, or partially paid, it was fully paid. Period. And that’s the story of Scripture from one end to the other: God expressing His sovereignty in the salvation of a particular (not universal) group of people. We don’t tend to freak out when we read in Exodus that God redeemed Israel at the expense of Egypt, because of time and cultural distance, but this phrase above all others – calling the atonement limited – often throws Christians into fits. All the doctrine of limited atonement states is the clear Scriptural principle that God is working out His plan to save His church, the bride of Christ, and Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of His bride – not the whole world, or the whole world would then be forgiven and be His bride. Thus, the word “limited” is used to describe the atonement. (Genesis 12, Exodus 3, John 19, Ephesians 5)
I – Irresistible Grace. The grace of God expressed in salvation is irresistible in the sense that those God has purposed to save will be saved. People do make real choices in the real world that have real consequences, and the best way to understand this truth is to understand that in our basic sinful natures, not one of us seeks God. Not one of us wants to seek God, and so we do what we want instead of what He wants. We act consistently with our nature. As the Holy Spirit regenerates a heart, the nature of that heart is changed, and so responds to the Gospel by faith, in accordance with it’s new nature. Again a real choice is made in the real world by a real person, and once again that choice is consistent with the new nature of the person in question. So God’s grace is absolutely irresistible, and our choices absolutely are real moral choices; these truths are not incompatible. (Romans 3, Ephesians 2)
P – Perseverance of the Saints. God’s mark upon the Christian (literally, His seal of redemption upon us) is the Holy Spirit. Those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit are well and truly saved: eternally saved. Our salvation is both complete, and still being worked out in our daily lives as God sanctifies us (makes us more like Christ). But the Bible leaves no doubt whatsoever that those whom God has purposed to save, will be saved, as we stated under irresistible grace. And our glorious hope comes from the fact that God keeps His word and does not fail His people: His deliverance has been promised, and to His own glory He will save us. As for those who appear to be part of the church and then fall away or leave the church, the reality is just that: they never came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, they merely maintained the appearance for a time. Those whom He knows, He keeps, and no one can take us away from Him. (Matthew 7, John 10, Romans 5-8, Ephesians 1-2)
Clever title courtesy of Jim Blanchard.