You may not find a better answer than J.I. Packer’s from his introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. It is certainly more than five points:
Reformed theology is one expression of historic Christianity. Dead theologians like John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon represent this stream of evangelicalism. Modern day theologians and pastors like John Piper, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, and J.I. Packer fall into this tradition as well.
In his book Bloodlines, John Piper writes how he loves the legacy of Reformed theology:
I speak of love for this legacy the way I speak of loving a cherished photo of my wife. I say, “I love that picture.” You won’t surprise me if you point out, “But that’s not your wife, that’s a picture.” Yes. Yes. I know it’s only a picture. I don’t love the picture instead of her, I love the picture because of her. She is precious in herself.
The picture is precious not in itself, but because it reveals her. That’s the way theology is precious. God is valuable in himself. The theology is not valuable in itself. It is valuable as a picture. That’s what I mean when I say, “I love reformed theology.” It’s the best composite, Bible-distilled picture of God that I have (129-130).
I agree with Piper, and I find myself “at home” in this legacy. What exactly is this “Bible-distilled” picture of who God is? It is very simple—especially if you remember the number five.
The Five Doctrines of Grace
- Total Depravity. Man inherits a corrupted nature from Adam. We are conceived as sinners and every thought, word, and deed falls short of the glory of God. Therefore we are unable and unwilling to turn to Christ.
- Unconditional Election. Before the foundation of the world God sovereignly choose people for salvation by his free grace apart from any merit of our own.
- Limited (better: Particular) Atonement. The death of Jesus secured the forgiveness and redemption of only those whom God had predetermined to save.
- Irresistible Grace. By the Holy Spirit, God overcomes all obstacles to draw elect sinners to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
- Perseverance of the Saints. Those who are truly saved by God’s grace will endure and never lose their salvation.
The Five Solas
- Sola scriptura (scripture alone). The Bible is the only inerrant authority (and therefore the highest authority) for governing life and doctrine.
- Solus Christus (Christ alone). Salvation is only through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Sola gratia (grace alone). Salvation and justification are only by God’s sovereign and free grace, not by man’s effort.
- Sola fide (faith alone). Our justification before God is only by faith in Jesus.
- Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). All glory and honor belong only to God.
I love the Bible because it does not argue in theological categories. When it comes to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, it is black and white. The truth is, the Bible makes it clear that man is free and has the ability to choose. At the same time, the Bible is unmistakably clear God is sovereign. If he were not, he would not be “God.”
In this wrestling match, somebody’s freedom has to be contingent on another. Do you want to be the one to say that God’s freedom is contingent upon yours? I don’t think so.
One example of how this plays out is in the life of Pharaoh during the plagues in Egypt. The first mention of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened is in Exodus 4:21. There it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart before Pharaoh did it to himself.
It is sinful and wrong for Pharaoh to harden his heart against God. Furthermore, it would wrong for him (if it were even possible) to harden another human’s heart. Yet, here is God, doing what would be sinful for Pharaoh to do on his own. In fact, Exodus says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened 18 times. Nine of those times, it was Yahweh’s doing (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Six times it is simply stated as a fact that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, not attributing the hardening to anyone in particular (7:13, 14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 35). Only three times is Pharaoh credited with hardening his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34).
This episode clearly shows that God is free in the absolute sense, and Pharaoh is free because he, in fact, did what he wanted to do. In his Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards argues we should think of freedom this way: we are free because we do what we want. In the final analysis, we do what is sinful. Before salvation sin is all we really want to do anyway.
So it is clear that Pharaoh’s freedom was contingent upon the freedom of another, namely God. Lest we shout, “Not fair!” we must remember that God is not a man and we cannot project what we think is appropriate for man upon the all-wise, all-loving, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator God. For his ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33). As Edward writes, God is far above “the influence of law or command, promises or threatening, rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings.”
This shouldn’t leave us feeling hopeless or like programmed robots or predetermined cyborgs. It should cause us to cast ourselves upon the grace of God in the cross of Christ, acknowledging our complete lack of ability to do any good. Only then will we really be free to do what God commands, for it was for freedom that Christ set us free to actually pursue holiness (Gal. 5:1).
The one who hardens hearts is also the one who softens hearts so that we might live a soft-heart kind of life. Therefore, let us pray pray as St. Augustine prayed: “Command us to do as you will, O Lord, and will us to do what you command.”
 Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Notion of Liberty, and of Moral Agency,” Freedom of the Will, (accessed February 29, 2012), paragraph 9.
From Spurgeon’s sermon on John 5:40.
Spurgeon explains what it means to be legally dead before God (from a sermon on John 5:40, “You refuse to come to me that you may have life”).
No being needs to go after life if he has life in himself. The text speaks very strongly when it says, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” Though it saith it not in words, yet it doth in effect affirm that men need a life more than they have themselves. My hearers, we are all dead unless we have been begotten unto a lively hope. First, we are all of us, by nature, legally dead—”In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death,” said God to Adam; and though Adam did not die in that moment naturally, he died legally; that is to say death was recorded against him. As soon as, at the Old Bailey, the judge puts on the black cap and pronounces the sentence, the man is reckoned to be dead at law. Though perhaps a month may intervene before he is brought on the scaffold to endure the sentence of the law, yet the law looks upon him as a dead man. It is impossible for him to transact anything. He cannot inherit, he cannot bequeath; he is nothing—he is a dead man…We ought all to weep, if we lay this to our souls: that by nature we have no life in God’s sight; we are actually, positively condemned; death is recorded against us, and we are considered in ourselves now, in God’s sight, as much dead as if we were actually cast into hell; we are condemned here by sin, we do not yet suffer the penalty of it, but it is written against us, and we are legally dead, nor can we find life unless we find legal life in the person of Christ, of which more by-and-by.
Read the whole thing.