An Overview of TULIP

Series Index

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

Part 1 in a 5 part series. View series intro and index.

There has been so much literature written about these five precious points of Reformed doctrine, so I will in no way attempt to write exhaustive essays about them.  However, over the next week, I will write overviews of each of the points.  I will try to heed the words of Proverbs 17:27-28 (which I fail at so often), “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

For the fuller version of what you see here, read Bethlehem Baptist Church’s (John Piper’s church) article on TULIP or Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul.

Total Depravity

Everyone is a rebel.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a person who claims to be perfect in everything he does and has never sinned.  Our rebellion against God is total.  This greatly differs from “utter” depravity.  We are totally depraved but we are not as depraved as we could be.  If we were “utterly depraved,” that would mean we always do the worst thing in every situation.  This is not true.  Even for a non-Christian, God’s common grace extends to some more than others.  This is the reason we are not all murderers, rapists, thieves, etc.  Nevertheless, even the “smallest” sin is worthy of punishment.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul writes that it is just for God to punish those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  It is just because God is perfect and we are so very far from perfection.

The word “total” implies that in our natural state, there is no good thing.  God’s grace is the only thing keeping us from the so-called “worst” sins.  Romans 3:9-12 says, “What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  It is clear here that nobody does good.  King Solomon agrees, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).

Everything man does apart from Christ is sin.  Romans 14:23b says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  This shows that if you are not in Christ anything you do is sin.  What pleases God?  Faith in his Son, which is what justifies us (Rom. 3:28; 5:1).  If faith in Christ doesn’t exist, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).  In Romans 7, Paul is talking about dealing with the paradox of being a Christian and still sinning.  In verse 18 he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”  This shows the fact that there are two parts in him–an evil, flesh part that sins and a good, spirit part that delights to obey God (7:22).  When a person becomes a Christian, the flesh (a biblical term for the “natural part” of man) is removed in the sense of it has no eternal grip on him anymore.  But in another sense, a remnant still resides (Rom. 7:20).  It won’t be removed completely until Jesus returns (Phil. 3:12-13).

Before one becomes a Christian they are considered spiritually dead.  This means that we are totally (there’s that word again) unable to submit ourselves to God.  Ephesians 2:1-5 says that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” and that we were “children of wrath.”  Colossians 2:13 says that we were “dead in [our] trespasses and the uncircumcision of [our] flesh.”  Furthermore, a non-Christian’s heart is like a stone (Eph. 4:18; Ezek. 36:26).  Before anyone comes to Christ, their eyes are blinded and incapable of seeing the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

This doctrine should cause us to fall on our faces before God and seek repentance.  It should not cause us to be anxious about our inability to get right with God.  We are all in the same boat, because we cannot do that on our own.  That brings us to the next point of TULIP.