More often than not, both Christians and non-Christians downplay the practical use of theology. Notwithstanding the biblical support for a rigorous study of God, I have developed three reasons the doctrines of grace work to conform the Christian closer to the image of Jesus Christ, both in principle and practice.
The doctrines of grace, often referred to as TULIP, are integral, biblical facts upon which the Reformed perspective of theology is built. The acronym TULIP stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.
Briefly, Total Depravity means that after the Fall, man became totally marred by sin. Our reasoning faculties are ethically bent toward darkness. Unconditional Election suggests that God has chosen a people from eternity past, not based on what those people would do, but based on God’s good pleasure. Limited Atonement, better called Definite Atonement, teaches that Christ died specifically for these elect people. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all people, yet it’s efficient only for the elect. Irresistible Grace teaches that when God effectually calls an elect person––who is spiritually dead before this call––they will positively respond to this call as a result of regeneration, which happens simultaneously by the Holy Spirit at the time of the call.
Now that we have covered a summary, how can we understand TULIP’s devotional value? In other words, how does TULIP provide devotional value?
ANY GROUND FOR UNWARRANTED SELF-CONFIDENCE IS REMOVED
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” — Ephesians 1:3, 4 (ESV)
In light of the doctrines of grace, no one has any reason to boast in their own decision to follow Jesus. Johnny can’t tell Jack, “I did it! I chose Jesus!” Nor can he imply something along the same lines without undermining what the Bible says.
The apostle John writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:12, 13).”
This passage comes to us in the context of Christ’s divine power, His purpose in the incarnation, and that which believers receive in Christ––grace (v. 16).
In the book of James, the half-brother of Jesus writes, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (Jam 1:17, 18).”
In the Greek, “brought us forth” would literally render as “gave birth to us.” Encapsulated in this short passage, the very concept of being “born again” is invoked by James (Jn 3:3). This is the very essence of being regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). And notice, it’s God’s act, not an act of man.
In Romans, the apostle Paul says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (9:16).”
Paul is purposely removing all grounds for any type of boasting. This is most brought out by Paul’s justification before the anticipated objector, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (vv. 19-21)”
Right before Paul says this, he moves to the above language by stating, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (v. 18).” By the time the chapter 9 ends, the reader can’t find any ground to boast in his position before God in Christ, if he has comprehended everything he’s read by then.
When the grounds for any sort of boasting in our decision for Jesus is removed, does the desire for personal devotion in the Scriptures increase? How does the this humble you as a Christian? How do you think it could help your congregation to become like Christ?
SALVATION DOESN’T DEPEND ON YOU
Because God has chosen a definite people (i.e. Unconditional Election) to keep for Himself, and because Jesus Himself has promised that those people should never fall from God’s grace, we can fully trust in God for our salvation and not in what we think or do.
This language, that it doesn’t matter what we think or do, needs to be qualified. When I say that it doesn’t matter what we think or do, I do not mean to say that our works have no significance. In fact, I would actually affirm that our works are required for salvation. However, our works are required for salvation only insofar as they necessarily proceed faith.
So, salvation doesn’t depend on works, but inevitably causes works.
Believers still sin. In fact, sometimes believers feel spiritually dry or dehydrated. Sometimes, because of our sin, our awareness of God’s favor is clouded and made to seem totally absent. But when we think back to the doctrines of grace, if we consider the fact that God is doing everything when it comes to our salvation, we can be assured of our salvation in the work of Jesus Christ.
Paul writes this, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29, 30).”
What’s important to notice here is the necessary procession of divine actions. Notice that one action doesn’t take place without the other. In other words, those who are foreknown will necessarily be glorified.
This is often called the Golden Chain of Redemption. The use of the term “chain” implies the fact that these words are linked together and unable to be separated. If we remove one, we must remove all others. It only requires one to pull one link in a chain to move the entirety of it.
There is also a purpose to those schemes. What is that purpose? “To be conformed to the image of his Son.” God has determined, before the foundation of the world, to reserve for Himself a people in order to conform that people into the very image of Christ, the perfect image bearer of God.
Therefore, if you are foreknown by God in the sense Paul uses the term, you are as good as glorified in God’s eyes, notwithstanding your sinful unawareness of God’s favor.
How could something like this assist the devotion of your congregation? Could it, perhaps, bring to light the fact that God saves notwithstanding your, or anyone else’s, effort to obstruct it? In our sin, we may do many things, maybe unknowingly, which undermine the truth of the Lord. However, isn’t it comforting to know that God works salvation according to His own will, and not our own?
JESUS IS TRUSTWORTHY
The most contested point in TULIP is usually Limited (Definite) Atonement.
The idea that Jesus came for some but not all is troubling, and conflicting, for many people, for many fellow Christians who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Most deny Definite Atonement because they misunderstand it, or because it has been caricatured by those who disagree with it.
The term “limited” also tends to turn off ears because many do not like to think of God, or the abilities of Christ, as limited. God is infinite, He’s not limited. Therefore, to call God limited, at least in this sense, seems to be unbiblical.
This isn’t a defense of Definite Atonement. If you would like to read a defense of this wonderful doctrine, please check out From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. But I will say this, we must admit, at least in one sense, that Jesus came to definitely accomplish a mission, a mission planned among the Godhead before the world was even created.
Thus, if we admit other portions of TULIP, like Unconditional Election, we must admit some kind of Definite Atonement, or a definite purpose to Jesus’ coming to earth. We must also admit that this purpose isn’t merely to make salvation a possible opportunity for humanity in light of the other doctrines of grace.
Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25).” The apostle, while giving instructions for marriage, uses Christ’s relationship to His church in order describe a husband’s relationship to his wife.
Paul doesn’t say that Christ gave Himself up for every person, everywhere. He says that Christ gave Himself up for His Bride, the church. The greek word for church is ekklesia which literally means “called out ones.”
The church is a “called out” people. What does this language remind you of? It seems to be strongly related to election. The term elect, or eklegomai in the greek, means “to pick out, to choose, or to pick out for one’s self.”
In another place, Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24).”
Again, Christ’s afflictions, His suffering, was “for the sake of his body… the church.”
Jesus came to accomplish a mission which He has no doubt accomplished. He has accomplished, at the cross, the salvation of a specific people of God. This demonstrates the trustworthiness and ableness of Jesus Christ.
This truth helps us to rest in the finished work of Christ, which was planned long ago, and definitely accomplished.
How does knowing that Jesus is trustworthy affect your local church? Is there any sense in which knowing that Jesus came for a specified mission gives your local body comfort? Do you think Christ’s mission, and the accomplishment thereof, can enhance their trust in Him?
THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE AND YOUR CHURCH
What practically applies from the doctrines of grace to the individual believer can likewise apply to the local congregation and to the church at large.
These doctrines inform our lives in ways which cannot be overestimated. After all, they are truths from God’s Word.
Ask yourself not only how these truths apply to your life individually, but how these truths can apply to the congregation of which you are a part.
How can these truths comfort hurting Christians? How can these biblical doctrines give assurance to those who are doubting their salvation? How can these doctrines humble you and those you love at your church? How can these doctrines help you to take comfort in Jesus Christ, the able and trustworthy King of kings?
Surely these doctrines are not only facts we write about, but also life-changing, faith-giving truths from Scripture, used as a means by which God conforms His children closer to the image of Christ.