Question: "What are the doctrines of grace?"
Answer: The phrase “doctrines of grace” is used as a replacement for the term “Calvinism,” in order to remove the attention from John Calvin and instead focus on how the specific points are biblically and theologically sound. The phrase “doctrines of grace” describes the soteriological doctrines that are unique to Reformed theology, which is Calvinistic. These doctrines are summarized with the acronym TULIP. The T in TULIP stands for Total Depravity, U for Unconditional Election, L for Limited Atonement, I for Irresistible Grace, and P for Perseverance of the Saints.
Reformed Christians believe that all five of the doctrines of grace are derived directly from the Scripture and that the acronym TULIP accurately describes the Bible’s teaching on soteriology—the doctrine of salvation. The following is a brief description of each of the letters in the acronym TULIP.
Total Depravity - As a result of Adam’s fall, the entire human race is affected; all of Adam’s descendants are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Calvinists are quick to point out that this does not mean that all people are as bad as they could be. Rather, this doctrine says that, as a result of man’s fall in Adam, all people are radically depraved from the inside and that their depravity affects every area of their lives.
Unconditional Election - Because man is dead in sin, he is unable (and stubbornly unwilling) to initiate a saving response to God. In light of this, God, from eternity past, mercifully elected a particular people unto salvation (Ephesians 1:4–6). These people are comprised of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not contingent on man’s response to God’s grace (Romans 8:29–30; 9:11; Ephesians 1:11–12) because man, in his fallen state, is both unable and unwilling to respond favorably to Christ’s offer of salvation.
Limited Atonement - The purpose of Christ’s atoning death was not to merely make men savable and thus leaving the salvation of humanity contingent on man’s response to God’s grace. Rather, the purpose of the atonement was to secure the redemption of a particular people (Ephesians 1:4–6; John 17:9). All whom God has elected and Christ died for will be saved (John 6:37–40, 44). Many Reformed Christians prefer the term “particular redemption” as they feel that this phrase more accurately captures the essence of this doctrine. It is not so much that Christ’s atonement is limited as it is particular, intended for a specific people—God’s elect.
Irresistible Grace - God has elected a particular people to be the recipients of Christ’s atoning work. These people are drawn to Christ by a grace that is irresistible. When God calls, man responds (John 6:37, 44; 10:16). This teaching does not mean that God saves men against their will. Rather, God changes the heart of the rebellious unbeliever so that he now desires to repent and be saved. God’s elect will be drawn to Him, and that grace that draws them is, in fact, irresistible. God replaces the unbeliever’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). In Reformed theology, regeneration precedes faith.
Perseverance of the Saints - The particular people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith. None of those whom God has elected will be lost; they are eternally secure in Him (John 10:27–29; Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:3–14). Some Reformed theologians prefer to use the term “Preservation of the Saints” as they believe that this choice of words more accurately describes how God is directly responsible for the preservation of His elect. It is clear in Scripture that Christ continues to intercede for His people (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). This continues to provide believers with the assurance that those that belong to Christ are eternally His.
These five doctrines together form the doctrines of grace, so called because they summarize the salvation experience as the result of the grace of God, who acts independently of man’s will. No effort or act of man can add to the grace of God to bring about the redemption of the soul. For truly it is “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).