Tiptoeing Through the TULIP :: By Gene Lawley

In Bible interpretation, it has become clear that a proper foundation must be laid in order to get at the truth that is sought. Otherwise, one will snatch out verses here and there that fit the person’s preconceived idea. It seems to be the problem behind every deviation from the whole counsel of God, and that last thought is a staggering reality that often shows up.

In all relationship issues between God and man, the truth is this: Man has the knowledge of good and evil, and it doesn’t take a lot of searching and pondering over the Scriptures to realize one glaring truth that man is responsible to act upon that knowledge. In short, he must choose to believe God. Joshua made that declaration when he said before the children of Israel: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

That principle reaches farther back, even to the very beginning when God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Did He not allow that highest of all of the angels, Lucifer, to be created with “free moral agency,” the freedom of choice? Yes, and he chose to rebel, becoming Satan, who determined to replace God on His throne. (Ezekiel 28 reports all of the details.) Now when someone is awakened by God’s Spirit to desire eternal life, he is told that he must accept Christ, that is, believe on Him—an action of the will.

How is that? When God created man in His own image, He did not give man the knowledge of good and evil, although it was in God’s image or person. That came when man disobeyed—by choice. Now embedded in the inner core of man, in his conscience, is that knowledge of right and wrong. It is God’s way of entry to bring conviction of sinfulness through the laws of God and awaken him to the penalty of sin. A careful reading of Romans 2:13-16 will reveal this truth. And Romans 3:20 says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” It is clear that God only saves those who are willing to be saved. As Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” an act of the will.

Now to the Calvinist doctrine spelled out in the acronym TULIP under the light of Scripture with the above guidelines in effect.

T for Total Depravity of Mankind

In the beginning, when God told Adam that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would cause Adam to die, He did not elaborate on that death’s meaning. It turned out that Adam became the father of all mankind thereafter, and each one, male and female, would be born dead spiritually and dying physically. Romans 5:12a tells it plainly: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned….” Note how sin had penetrated mankind by the time of Noah, when God judged the world with a flood that left only Noah and his family of eight people living: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Sin could not find a place to “bottom out,” for its appetite is never satisfied.

U for Unconditional Election

Election of the saints who are called “the Elect” are terms appearing in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul commits himself to the task of reaching the elect that they might be saved: “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Also, Peter writes in his second epistle of the qualities of character that a Christian should have if he does certain listed things. He writes, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

It looks like election is not an initial and fixed action of God without some prior action. Look at Romans 10:13 and compare “whosoever” with the “unconditional” in the Calvinist positional acronym: “For whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Note that election is not mentioned, and an action by the person is what results in salvation.

So how does election fit into the equation? In Peter’s first epistle, he addresses those to whom he is called to be their apostle, the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father….” God’s foreknowledge does not create or establish anything, but it does identify the details of the future in any given situation. Look at Psalm 139:13-16, where the Lord, in His foreknowledge, is present at the point of conception of a new human being. And there, He speaks of that new person’s future.

Thus, the Scriptures establish that the elect are such because they have responded to that offer of salvation that Jesus has made available, a gift that must be accepted in order for it to be effective. Romans 6:23 spells it out plainly: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s principle of election is not a “stand-alone” action of God, for it requires a willing response by the person.

L for Limited Atonement

Atonement, the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ in our stead, is only available to the one who believes in Jesus Christ. There are some who have difficulty in understanding how the sacrifice of Christ for the whole world doesn’t thereby make atonement for all people. Therefore, the response is that His total sacrifice would mean “universal salvation” to all people, and therefore, unsaved people would be in heaven. That, of course, is an absurd conclusion, for the Scriptures are clear on that issue. The following Scriptures are clear that Jesus paid the full price for every person’s redemption:

1 John 2:2 – “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

1 Timothy 4:10 – ” For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him shall have everlasting life.”

A Christian brother, now with the Lord, shocked me once in a phone conversation, saying, “Jesus did not die for everyone, but only for those who believe.” He had listened to others and not searched out the truth in the Scriptures. Another person was quite adamant that if Jesus had died for all mankind, then heaven would have unforgiven people there. Those ideas come from holding to a “hard-core” Calvinist viewpoint that God saves some and not others purely on His own selection process. It is clear that God allows mankind to have a choice—accept the gift, or reject it. There will be no one in heaven who does not want to be there.

I for Irresistible Grace

Grace is God’s unmerited favor, given without cost and without any effort of mankind. Grace is superior to sin in every instance. Note the picture of that in Romans 5:20: “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more….”

God, in His foreknowledge with an eternal view, knows who will receive Christ, that gift of salvation; therefore, His grace is at work in the contemporary, irresistible in pursuit of that person. You can see that happening in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9. That is why the Apostle Paul wants to be used of God to reach those who will believe and receive Christ, as reported at 2 Timothy 2:10, earlier.

However, the gospel is to be preached to all people everywhere that none will have an excuse for not accepting Christ, while those who are seen in His eternal viewpoint as accepting Christ will confirm that fact.

P for Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance means to keep ongoing and without any deterioration or failure. It has to do with the doctrine of the security of the believer to always be “kept by the power of God unto salvation through faith, ready to be revealed at the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

Another heavy-duty promise that is found in John 6:37-39 where Jesus stands upon the will of God:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”

Perseverance? Yes, standing on the will of God.


In the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:2-14, a king arranged a marriage for his son. He then sent out servants to invite guests who were expected to come, only to learn that none wanted to come. So, he sent his servants out to invite anyone to come to the affair. And they came, out of the highways and byways. Jesus sums it up by saying, “Therefore, many are called, but few are chosen.” That is, many will be invited, but few will accept the invitation. That fact is exemplified in John 1:11-12 where John writes, “He came to His own [kinsmen] and His own did not receive Him, but to as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

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