Theology|Basics #1: The Five Points of Calvinism

Time to read: 4 mins

A bit of background…

The Five Points of Calvinism are a summary of God’s sovereignty in the work of salvation. They are the central theme in what is known as reformed theology and are one of the foundational beliefs for this blog.

The key point is that God, not man determines who will be saved.

John Calvin himself did not write down his teaching in the ‘five points’ we know today. They were in fact generated in 1619 at the Synod of Dordt (see picture), held in Dordrecht, many years after he died. At the synod, a debate took place between those who followed the teaching of Calvin and those who followed the teachings of Jacob Arminius.

Calvinism teaches that the entire process of salvation is the work of God and is by grace alone. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them and the Holy Spirit brings them to repentance & faith. Arminian theology teaches that we each have a free will to decide for ourselves whether to follow God and be saved.


A useful memory jog for the Five Points is the mnemonic T-U-L-I-P:

  • Total Depravity of Man
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Final Perseverance of the Saints

What do these points teach?

1 – Total Depravity – We are all by nature completely enslaved to sin which has an impact on every bit of our lives. This not only makes us completely unable to keep God’s commandments or to follow him, but also makes us unwilling – we just don’t want to. Because of this, we are separated from God, justly facing his anger, and can do nothing ourselves to remedy the situation. (Ephesians 2: 1-3; Genesis 6: 5; Jeremiah 17: 9; Mark 7: 21-23; Romans 5:12)

2 – Unconditional Election – Back before the world began, God chose a people – his elect – whom he would rescue from their lost, sinful state and bring back to himself. God’s choice was completely sovereign, based on his love and mercy, not on any future goodness or faith foreseen in those he chose to save – which is why election is ‘unconditional’. Election does not mean that we are not all accountable before God for our sin and unbelief. (Romans 8: 29-30; Ephesians 1: 4-8; Romans 9: 11; Romans 9: 13, 15, 21; 2 Peter 1:10)

3 – Limited AtonementYou might also hear this called Particular Redemption. On the cross the Lord Jesus died to save his elect people. He blood was sufficient to atone [1] for all the sins of all his people. However, Jesus’ sacrifice was not made for those who would not be saved – Jesus did not bear the sins of the non-elect – hence the atonement is ‘limited’. [2] (Matthew 26: 28 and Isaiah 53: 12 (‘many’ not ‘all’); John 10: 11, 15 along with Matthew 25: 32-33 (‘sheep’ not ‘goats’); John 17: 9; Ephesians 5: 25)

4 – Irresistible Grace – All the elect, those who God chose and Jesus died for, will be ‘called by grace’ and converted. This is done by God the Holy Spirit through the work of regeneration and the new birth. The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted; however, this does not mean people are saved unwillingly. God first makes them willing to be saved and then gives them the ability to trust in him. (John 6:44; Romans 8: 14; John 1: 12-13; 1 Peter 5: 10; Ephesians 2: 1, 5; Acts 16: 14; Ezekiel 36: 26)

5 – Perseverance of the Saints – All God’s elect people will be converted and one day arrive safely in heaven – none of them can be eternally lost. Once saved you cannot become unsaved. Christians do still sin and drift away from God – known as backsliding – but will always be enabled to repent and return. Anyone who appears to completely  turn away from God, is either backsliding and will be brought to repentance, or was never truly saved. (John 10: 27-29; Philippians 1: 6; 1 Corinthians 10: 13; Matthew 25: 34; 1 John 2: 19)

[1] To atone means to: ‘make amends, make reparation, make restitution, make recompense, pay the penalty, pay the price’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

[2] Some Calvinists, quoting 1 John 2:2, believe that Jesus’ atonement whilst only effective for his people was sufficient for the sins of everyone. Two thoughts on this: A) John Gill the famous baptist theologian explains that in this verse, the words ‘the whole world’ refers to gentiles as well as Jews, rather than to every single human being. B) If Jesus was suffering for everyone’s sins on the cross it means he suffered in vain, as many of those he suffered for would not be saved. He would be an unsatisfied saviour, contradicting the words in Isaiah 53:11.

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