The Doctrines of Grace

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The doctrines of grace lie at the heart of what it means to be Reformed.  These five doctrines explain God’s action in salvation and are a focal point for some of the most distinctive and powerful features of Reformed Theology in all its expressions.  Together, they help to illustrate why, at Life in The Spirit, we believe that being “Reformed” in our thinking is so valuable for today’s Church.

The five doctrines (often represent by the acronym “TULIP”) are:

T:            Total Depravity
U:           Unconditional Election
L:            Limited Atonement
I:             Irresistible Grace
P:            Perseverance of The Saints

Two reasons that we believe they are so valuable for the Church today are:

  1. They Are Biblical
    Firstly, they are Biblical. More specifically, they are characterised by their harmonisation of what the Bible says. Historically, the Church has always interpreted Scripture as a whole, holding together different scriptural statements to produce teaching that reflects every part of the Bible.  This has typically been done in response to the threat of heresy which often appears scriptural but misses out or marginalises parts of  God’s Word.

Non-biblical teaching is often more simple or easier to swallow than working out what the Bible says as a whole.  However, upholding a “whole-Bible” approach has enabled the Church to protect the precious mystery of its faith and articulate it fruitfully over many centuries

This is how the Church Fathers defended and explored Christianity’s foundational theology, doctrines such as the dual nature of Christ, the Trinity and the necessity of God’s grace in salvation.  Early theologians such as Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine all defended the Church in this manner against threats such as Gnosticism, Arianism and Pelgianism, all of which proposed semi-biblical, rationalising or corrupting alternatives to the true faith.

The doctrines of grace continue that heritage. Holding human reason to account against Scripture, they produce intellectually rigorous, historically faithful and systematically coherent doctrine that enables Reformed Theology to stand out among Protestant alternatives in its ability to protect and explain the Christian faith.

  1. They Are God-Centred
    The doctrines of grace particularly focus on the relationship between God’s action and human actions in salvation. This is not a coincidence.  Around the 16th Century, Western society began a massive shift in the way it thought about the world, from a God-centred understanding of reality to a human-centred one.

The inevitable pressure point for Protestant theology was in the area of understanding the relationship between God’s actions and human actions in salvation.  At the turn of the 17th Century this pressure came to bear in the form of Arminianism, the Doctrines of Grace were first articulated at the Synod of Dort in 1619 in response.

The characteristic they share is that they insist that we understand God’s actions in salvation from a divine perspective rather than a human one.  They insist on the difference of God to humankind, particularly his sovereignty, omnipotence, eternality, self-sufficiency and faithfulness.

Since the 17th Century the importance of this perspective for protecting and articulating Christian faith has been demonstrated many times.  In the postmodern world – where the human-centred way of looking at the world is being taken to the extreme – the need for a God-centred understanding of salvation and theology is greater than ever.

The Doctrines of Grace, In Brief
In brief, the doctrines of grace are:

Total Depravity
In its fallen state humanity is totally unable to overcome its sin.  Blind to righteousness, rebelling against God and desirous of evil, we are utterly dependent on God’s grace to save us.

Unconditional Election
God freely and eternally chooses those who would be saved from sin through faith in Christ.  This choice is unconditional, not resting on any merit in those chosen but solely on God’s sovereign decision.

Limited Atonement
Christ’s atonement is more than sufficient for all human beings, however it is only effective for those who are God’s elect. Thus, Christ’s death is not a hypothetical offer of salvation but an act bringing about the definite salvation of the elect, planned and fulfilled perfectly by God.   Limited atonement is the traditional name for this doctrine, but many prefer the phrase “Definite Atonement” as it does not imply any limitation in God or in the offer of salvation.  The downside is that tuDip isn’t a great acronym!

Irresistible Grace
“[T]he resistance that all human beings exert against God every day (Rom. 3:10-12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save.”[1]

Perseverance of the Saints
[A]ll who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and will not surrender finally to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me (2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10).” [2]

For more information on the doctrines of grace I would recommend John Piper’s book, Five Points, which I have quoted from above and which is free to download at: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/five-points

[1] John Piper, Five Points: Towards A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace, 16. (Available to buy or download at: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/five-points)

[2] John Piper, Five Points: Towards A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace, 16. (Available to buy or download at: http://www.desiringgod.org/books/five-points)

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