A. Total Depravity (Total Inability)
B. Unconditional Election
C. Limited (Definite) Atonement
D. Irresistible (Efficacious) Grace
E. Perseverance of the Saints
A. TOTAL DEPRAVITY (TOTAL INABILITY)
Total depravity is the scriptural teaching that man is so affected by the fall that he is totally unable to do any spiritual good and it is therefore impossible for him to do anything on his own to contribute to his salvation. Unregenerate man is spiritually and covenantally dead and cannot understand spiritual truth. He, therefore, has no capacity to choose God.
Jesus clearly shows that He taught the doctrine of total inability. In Matt. 13:11-17, He explains to His disciples the reason why He taught in parables. He tells them that they had been granted the ability to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to others it had not been granted. Jesus was teaching that fallen man does not naturally have the ability to understand His truth. Our Lord says such ability is a gift from God. Jesus expands upon the depraved and deceitful heart of man in Matt. 15:19 "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."
While explaining the nature of the new birth to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus tells the learned Jewish teacher that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless born from above. The analogy of salvation as a new birth is significant. Not one of us had the ability to choose the tune and place of our birth, our race, or any other genetic characteristics. A baby does not choose to be born by the act of his will. The baby is not able to do so. So it is with the new birth.
In John 6:44, Jesus speaks of mankind's total inability to come to Him outside of the Father's drawing grace. "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." Fallen man cannot change his own nature (and consequent spiritual inability) any more than the leopard can change his spots (Jer. 13:23), thus the impossibility of the sinner choosing God outside of the prior regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. In light of these statements it should be more than abundantly clear that the Son of Man taught the doctrine of man's total inability.
B. UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Our Lord Jesus not only taught the doctrine of election as an axiom, He also made reference to the doctrine as a presupposition. In Matthew 24, where Jesus describes the Great Tribulation — which in context clearly is a reference to an event in the first century — we are taught in verse 22, that for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short. By definition, "elect" refers to someone who is chosen by another, not someone who chooses himself.
Jesus also taught election in precept. He says in John 5:21 that He gives life to "whom He will". John 6:37 records our Lord telling the multitudes that those who come to Him are given by the Father," All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Election is also illustrated in the choosing of the twelve. Jesus tells them in John 15:16 that they did not choose Him but that they were chosen by Him. Matt. 11:27," All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."; John 3:8, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" and John 6:37-66 are also clear statements from the lips of our Lord teaching the doctrine of election.
If words have meaning, Jesus taught the doctrine of election. There is nothing in the words of our Lord to even suggest the possibility of the Arminian distortion of the doctrine which holds that election is somehow conditioned on the free actions of men. The John 6 passage is especially refreshing in a day when there is so much pressure to tickle itching ears. "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:65,66). Jesus was not afraid to boldly proclaim the doctrine of election, even if it meant losing followers.
C. LIMITED (DEFINITE) ATONEMENT
Perhaps the most emotional disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians is over the extent of the atonement. The question before us is simply this: For whom did Christ die? The vast majority of evangelical Christians might respond like this: "The answer is easy: Christ died for everybody." This answer would most likely be accompanied with the obligatory John 3:16 proof text. I agree that the answer is easy, but the common evangelical response is wrong. It is wrong according to none other than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The Arminian view of universal atonement implies that it would somehow be unfair if Christ did not die for everybody. If, however, Christ did shed His precious blood for everyone, a logical question follows: why is not everyone saved? The common response to this question is that unbelief prevents the salvation of sinners for whom Christ died and shed His precious blood. If this is so, I am compelled to point out the Arminian's predicament. Is not unbelief a sin? If Christ died for all the sins of all men then everyone will be in heaven. If He died for some of the sins of all men, then no one will be in heaven. Those are the twin horns of the Arminian dilemma. Besides, if Jesus died a death which made redemption an hypothetical possibility for everyone, then it actually secured salvation for no one. There is no comfort in a propitiation9 that does not propitiate or in a redemption that does not redeem. Calvinists limit the extent of Christ's atonement but Arminians limit the power of it.
Logical arguments aside, what does Jesus teach about the extent of His atonement? Our Lord clearly limits His atonement in His statement in Matt. 20:28 when He describes the purpose of His coming: to give His life as a ransom for many. "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." The great passage in John 10 is perhaps the clearest on this question. In vv. 11 and 15, Jesus says that He lays down His life for the sheep. Verses 26 and 27 define sheep as those who believe and follow Christ. Jesus is therefore teaching that He died only for those who believe in Him. In other words, Jesus died for the elect only.
Christ's high priestly prayer in John 17 is also instructive. Jesus did not pray for the world (vs. 9). In vs. 20, Jesus says that he is praying for "those who believe in Me." Jesus was praying on behalf of God's elect as their High Priest. Jesus, however, was not only the High Priest, He was also the sacrifice. As High Priest, Jesus is not going to pray only for the elect while offering Himself as sacrifice for every individual who ever lived. That is similar to believing Israel's High Priests offered sacrifice for Egypt and Assyria on the Day of Atonement. No, the priests offered God a sacrifice for the sins of Israel alone.
Christ's life, work, and teaching clearly demonstrate that He died for His people (Spiritual Israel) and them alone.10
D. IRRESISTIBLE (EFFICACIOUS) GRACE
Irresistible grace is the doctrine which maintains that a sinner has no capacity to refuse the special grace of God in bringing that sinner to salvation. Do the gospels reveal that Jesus taught such a doctrine?
Jesus taught that God's electing grace ultimately cannot be refused by a stubborn sinner. Man, dead in his trespasses and sins, cannot choose God. Conversely, a man who has been given redemptive grace cannot refuse such grace. In John 6:44, Jesus says that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. The Greek verb employed here can literally be translated "drag". God's electing grace is irresistible. If God loved an individual before the foundation of the world, if Christ shed His redemptive blood for that sinner, He will not allow that person to perish. He will "drag" that sinner to salvation by the power of His gospel.
The familiar John 3 passage is also illustrative of irresistible grace. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus compares salvation to a new birth. It is obvious that a human child, when the fullness of time comes, cannot refuse to be born! The mother's body rather forcefully expels the child. The child is not consulted. Should we expect spiritual birth to be different? If we examine our conversion, did God beg us to come out of the womb of sin or did the power of God expel us out of the darkness and into His kingdom of light via the new birth? Jesus has given us the answer.
E. PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
The five points of Calvinism are inseparably linked. If God loved us from eternity past and Christ shed His precious blood for us, it stands to reason that we are eternally secure. Did Jesus teach the doctrine of eternal security? Jesus did, in fact, teach it.
What kind of life does Jesus grant believers? Jesus repeatedly says that He grants believers eternal life (John. 3:16: 3:36; 6:47). Though so incredibly simple, many Christians miss the significance of this argument. Why would Jesus call it "eternal" life if there was a possibility of losing it?
If the reader is still not convinced, consider again John 10. Jesus says that those (the sheep) for whom He died, shall never perish and that no one can snatch them out of His hand (vs. 28). There is no more secure place than in the hand of Christ. If you believe in Christ, you are one of His sheep. If you are one of His sheep, you will never perish because the Good Shepherd has laid down His life for you and bestowed upon you the gift of eternal life. You are secure in His loving hand!
- See Fred DiLella's article on propitiation, in the Christian Observer December 15, 1989 (p. 18), for a concise explanation of this important Biblical doctrine.
- Cf. Talbot and Crampton, Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, (Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival Books,1990), chapter 5.