TULIP, or the five points of Calvinism, summarizes God’s work of salvation, and it highlights the omnipotent love of God. Christians can rest assured that if they believe, it is because of the work of God, and that work cannot fail because His love cannot fail.
What do tulips, the love of God, and a centuries-old understanding of salvation have in common? They are all reflected in what has come to be known as the five points of Calvinism.
How are these things interconnected? The word tulip forms an acrostic that summarizes a particular understanding of salvation that has at its center the love of God. Let’s see how this works.
T stands for total depravity, which describes how sin affects human beings. But to understand this, we have to start before sin entered the world. Our triune God from all eternity has existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory, enjoying a never-beginning and never-ending relationship of holy love. This holy love motivated God’s free decision to create the universe and to create man and woman in His own image to love Him and each other. However, Adam chose to reject our Creator, and, through Adam’s disobedience, humanity fell into sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12–21). Total depravity says that sin has so twisted us that apart from grace, we love other things more than we love God. Our minds, our bodies, our affections, our spirits—every part of us has been affected by sin, and of our own accord, we cannot escape this predicament. God has not stopped loving His creation, however (John 3:16). And in His love, He restrains sin, keeping us from being as bad as we possibly could be. Thus, even those who do not know Christ can do things that are outwardly good. They can be good neighbors, love their children, and so on. However, outside of grace, none of us does these things with the right motivation to love and glorify God.
U stands for unconditional election, which is part of God’s solution to our total depravity. The fall into sin, of course, did not surprise God. He knows the end from the beginning and has ordained history as part of the outworking of His plan and purposes for all things (Isa. 46:8–11; Eph. 1:11). The Lord would have been just to keep us in our state of sin and estrangement from Him, but He decided to set His special love on His people, choosing to redeem them and restore to them their status as God’s children. Unconditional electionis God’s loving choice of specific sinners for salvation without respect to any good in them(Rom. 9:1–29). His saving love for us isnot conditioned on our intelligence, our looks, our kindness, our social status, or anything else. He loves His people not because they are less sinfulthan others. Everydescendant of Adam and Eve (except for Christ) is a sinner. Unconditional electionsays that God chooses to save some people and to pass over others. He has a love for some people that He does not have for others. If you are a Christian, it is because in eternity past, long before you were born, God chose to love you with His saving love. He did not choose youbecause you were better than others. He did not choose youbecause He knew you would choose Him if He gave you the chance. He simply chose to love you, and since His love is not conditioned on anything in you, He will never stop loving you.
L stands for limited atonement, which describes God’s intent behind the death of Christ in providing salvation. The question is, Did Christ intend to atone for the sins of all people who have ever lived, or did He intend to atone for the sins of the elect only? Another way of putting it: Did God love people generally, without reference at all to them as individuals, and send Christ to die to provide a possibility of salvation?