Just mentioning the term "Calvinism" is enough to stir up controversy. It is seen by many as a cruel and unforgiving philosophy, and trying to have a reasoned discussion about it usually means having to navigate a theological minefield. It is, however, an important discussion, and we should not shy away from it.
What makes it so important? Charles Spurgeon once said, "I have my own opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else."
This is not to say that one must be converted to Calvinism and have an in-depth understanding of the doctrines of grace in order to be saved. No true Calvinist would ever say that. But I do believe that studying these doctrines as they are taught in scripture is an important part of spiritual growth.
These doctrines are so interconnected that I think it's impossible to deny one without undermining all the rest. I believe these doctrines are biblically sound and can greatly affect all aspects of our lives: how we view God, how we see ourselves, how we treat others, how we worship, how we evangelize, and so on. What's more, they serve to glorify God -- and that is our ultimate goal.
Countless theologians over the years have explained, illustrated, discussed, and debated the five main pillars of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints, otherwise known as "TULIP." Needless to say, what I am about to present here is nothing new. What I do hope to accomplish in this series of posts is to present you with my own personal understanding of these concepts as well as how they affect our lives as believers.
Human beings were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But what had been declared good became marred by sin with the fall of Adam and Eve. Because Adam was the representative of all mankind, every person since then has been born into sin (Romans 5:12, 1st Corinthians 15:22).
While this does not mean that all people are as evil as they could possibly be, it does mean that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The Apostle Paul reminds us that we, in our rebellious state, are completely incapable of pleasing God: "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.'" (Romans 3:10-12). He expands on that in Ephesians 2:1-4, saying that even we believers were once "dead" in trespasses and sin, and that we "were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."
I believe the concept of total depravity correctly and biblically conveys the state in which we all find ourselves. No matter what we do, we cannot help but sin, "For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). We are fallen creatures in rebellion against our Creator, and our depravity is the constant reminder that we are in need of a savior. In fact, that was the purpose of the law.
Paul writes in Romans 5:20 that "the law came in to increase the trespass." In other words, God's law exposes our sinfulness. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Romans, says, "The moral law showed that many thoughts, tempers, words, and actions, were sinful, thus transgressions were multiplied. Not making sin to abound the more, but discovering the sinfulness of it, even as the letting in a clearer light into a room, discovers the dust and filth which were there before, but were not seen."
We cannot understand the need for salvation until we first understand that we are lost. Once God bestows upon us salvation by his grace through faith in his son, we can reflect on our depraved human nature as we strive to grow in that faith.
One effect of this can be seen in our relationships with other people. If we recognize our own depravity, it is easier to show grace to those who hurt us. Likewise, when we hurt others, we will see the need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Speaking from experience, I can say that this is extremely helpful in marriage.
Most importantly, our walk with Christ will be more meaningful and intimate because we will know that we are nothing without him. Total depravity lays everything on the line and puts us in our proper place before a holy and just God. It also magnifies the incredible significance of his mercy "in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). What better reason could we have for rejoicing in worship and telling others about the gospel?
Part 1: Total Depravity
Part 2: Unconditional Election
Part 3: Limited Atonement
Part 4: Irresistable Grace
Part 5: Perseverance of the Saints