The Five Points of Calvinism, or, the Doctrines of Grace
By Reverend Malcolm Watts
The Doctrines of Grace
Although also referred to as The Five Points of Calvinism, these are simply five key teachings found in the Bible that were written down as articles by the Synod of Dort in 1610. This was done to counter the five articles published by the followers of a man named James Arminius that were at variance with the Bible.
These five articles underline the vitally important truth that God is in control of all things, not man; that God is the source of salvation; and that men and women can do nothing to save themselves. They glorify God, not man, and emphasise our total dependence as guilty sinners on the mercy and grace of God for salvation.
(Much of the following is based with grateful acknowledgement on an article written by Rev Malcolm H. Watts that appeared in the February 1997 edition of the Evangelical Times.)
1.) Total Depravity
The Scriptures clearly teach that the effects of sin have extended to all parts of our being, rendering us incapable of spiritual understanding and love towards God. Despite the heading of this first article, it does not indicate that all people are as wicked as they could possibly be in all areas of belief and practice. However, sin has so fully and deeply affected our lives that, spiritually speaking, we are in a totally hopeless condition, unable to do anything to get ourselves out of this fallen state.
Our natural spiritual incapacity prevents us from being able to respond by our own strength to the call of the gospel message, yet this does not remove our guilt. We choose to follow the natural inclinations of our depraved hearts because when left to ourselves that is all we want to do.
Scripture references: Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 1:30; John 15:25; Luke 19:14; John 5:40; Isaiah 5:20; Titus 1:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Hebrews 2:1; John 12:39; John 6:44-65; John 3:18.
2.) Unconditional Election
God has shown us in his Word that from eternity past he has elected some sinners to be saved from the condemnation that is justly deserved by all, purely on account of his gracious mercy and love, not because of any foreseen merits in those sinners. Because of the fact of total depravity, salvation must originate with God, and we read in the Bible that it is God's sovereign will alone that has determined the recipients of that salvation.
This doctrine does not render God unjust, for all are guilty and all deserve to suffer God's judgement. Rather, it emphasises the grace of God by the fact that he has chosen some for salvation.
Scripture references: Psalm 65:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:4,5,9,11; Romans 11:5; Romans 9:15,23; Psalm 103:11; 1 Peter 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Jonah 2:9.
3.) Particular Redemption (or Limited Atonement)
Put simply, Christ died only to save the elect, securing with absolute certainty their salvation. This is not to teach that there is anything lacking in the power of God, perhaps suggesting that he is not able to save all men. Rather, God's Word indicates that it was the Father's intention that his Son was to suffer and die only for his chosen people, atoning for their sins alone. Christ's atonement was limited only in extent, not in power, according to the sovereign will of God.
In the Bible we read that the Lord's servant (Jesus) would see the results of his work (his atoning sacrifice) and "be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). But also, Jesus stated plainly that there are many who are heading for eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13). We can only reconcile these two statements if we understand that Christ died only for a limited number of people - for God's elect.
Scripture references: Acts 20:28; John 3:14+15; Galatians 1:4-5; Revelation 13:8; John 6:38-39; John 17:9-10
John 17:24; John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:21; Romans 5:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 8:33+34; Luke 1:68; Revelation 5:9; Isaiah 53:11.
4.) Irresistible Grace
When the gospel is preached, an invitation is issued by the Lord to all people to come to him for salvation. However, as the first article clearly states, the natural state of all people renders them incapable of responding to this invitation, except to reject it. So when God calls an elect sinner to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, he does so by sending his Holy Spirit to work a great change in that sinner's heart, enabling them to see their sin and their need of a saviour and leading them to put their faith in Christ alone for salvation. The Lord, by his Spirit, irresistably draws his elect to himself, raising them to spiritual life and making them willing to trust in Jesus.
Scripture references: Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:37; Matthew 23:37; John 5:40; Ephesians 1:12,19; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Psalm 110:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11.
5.) Perseverance of the Saints
Once God has saved elect sinners, he continues to keep and preserve them by his power and grace and will never let them go. Thus, they persevere to the end and can never be lost. If God did not do this, we would inevitably turn back again to the world, because of the sin that is around us and within us. Thus God enables his children to continue in faith and obedience throughout their earthly lives, then to pass into God's presence forever.
This doctrine is not to be taken as a license to go on sinning, as if the believer is free to act in any way he chooses now that he is eternally secure in Christ Jesus. The true believer will show signs of a growing desire for holiness and an increasing loathing of sin. The one who attempts to use the grace of God as an excuse for sinful living is in all probability not a true believer, for where there is spiritual life, the fruit of the Spirit will become evident.
Scripture references: 1 Peter 1:5; James 4:6; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:19; John 6:39; John 10:28-29; Romans 8:38-39; Romans 8:8; Galatians 5:13-26.
The Reverend Malcolm Watts is the Minister of Emmanuel Church in Salisbury.