“What part does God play in salvation, and what part does man play?”

The study of the process of salvation is known as Soteriology. It encompasses everything from election (which happened before the creation of the world – Ephesians 1:4), to glorification (which will happen at the last trumpet – I Corinthians 15:51-54). The Church, from its earliest days has been challenged to define and defend biblical salvation from forces attempting to re-define what is biblically revealed. Some of the most notable protagonist in this debate would include Pelagius and Augustine in the late 4th Century, and The Remonstrants and the Council or Synod of Dort in the early 17th Century. The debate has coined terms like Pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, Arminianism, Calvinism, as well as some other soteriological terms like synergism, monergism, and ordo salutis (order of salvation). The central contest in this debate is essentially “What part does God play in salvation, and what part does man play?” Opinions have ranged from Man does almost all, to God does it all. The sovereignty of God and the free will of man are pitted against each other as the battle cry in this intramural debate. I must emphasize that this is intramural, because there have been Godly men on both sides of this debate! None but the most ardent would claim in error that their doctrinal understanding was salvific or essential for salvation.

The best codification of these arguments probably come from two documents written in the early 17th Century. After the death of Jacob Arminius his followers presented objections to the Belgic Confession and the teaching of John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and their followers that dated back before the time of Augustine. This document is known as the Remonstrance of 1610. The Remonstrance emphasized man’s role and ability in the process of by arguing 5 basic points (1. Although human nature is seriously affected by the fall, people are not left in a spiritually helpless state. God enables every person with grace that gives them the free will to repent and believe. 2. God’s election of people was conditionally based on His foreseeing if they would repent and believe. 3. Christ’s atonement was intended for all and every human being in a saving way. 4. God’s grace to all and every person can be resisted so that the Holy Spirit will not regenerate a person until they repent and believe. 5. Salvation is conditioned on continued faith and repentance, and can be lost through unfaithfulness).

A Council was called in November 1618 which met for 6 months in Dordrecht Netherlands. Thirty-one delegates from many European churches met to respond to the 5 points of objection that were given in the Remonstrance. This resulted in the Cannons of Dort, published in May 1619. The Cannons of Dort countered the “free will of man” emphasis given by the Remonstrance with “God saves sinners” (Jonah 2:9). This monergism emphasizes correctly the sovereignty of God. The adherents to the Remonstrance have been called Arminians, and the adherents of the Cannons of Dort have been called Calvinist.

We believe that the cannons of Dort are the better representation of Biblical truth. The Dutch flower just so happens to be the tulip, and the letters of TULIP are a good acronym representing the five Cannons of Dort.

T
otal Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints


T
otal depravity of Man
Man’s nature was created good in Adam, but was corrupted in every aspect as a result of sin in the Garden of Eden. All inherit this fallen nature and are born sinners (Romans 3:23 , Romans 6:23). We are guilty for what Adam did, and so thoroughly affected by our fallen nature that we freely choose darkness and freely hate the light. We all are rebellious towards God. If we are left in this state, we will willingly, wantonly, and freely, continue in our rebellion and sin (John 3:19-20; John 6:44; Romans 3:11). This leaves man in a place where he is as bad off as he can be. He is under condemnation for his sin, and will never on his own volition seek God.

Unconditional Election
This doctrine states that God did not leave all men in this state, but chose a people to save. Those whom he chose were chosen based solely on God’s free will, and not on any inherent quality of those chosen, for all were equally worthy of destruction. No one deserved this favor. God did not owe mercy to anyone. He owed salvation to no one. But of His mercy and for His glory, He chose to save some. The Bible teaches that God “chose” or “elected” some to salvation (e.g., Romans 8:28-30; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 1:4; II Thessalonians 2:13).

Limited Atonement
All but Universalists believe in some “limitation” to the atoning work of Christ. It is either limited in its efficacy, or in it’s application. The classic formulation is that the atonement was “sufficient for all; efficient for the elect”. This means that at some level the perfect intent of God was to make forgiveness possible for all men, but effective for those whom He elected before the foundation of the world. Christ died for all, but especially for the elect, for His people, His Sheep, His Church, His friends (Matthew 1:21, John 10:14, John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25).

Irresistible Grace
Those God elected will come to Him. God gives his people a new heart; a new nature; indwells them with His Spirit; and transforms them from God haters, to God lovers. (Psalm 22:9, Ezekiel 11:19-20, John 6:37, Romans 8:38-30, John 10:16, Acts 13:48)

Perseverance of the Saints
God will not lose any of those for whom he has chosen. He will guide, strengthen, protect and enable each one to persevere in the faith to the end. It is God who saves us, who gives us faith, who sanctifies us; therefore we are confident that He is able to finish what He began in us. ( Philippians 1:6, Romans 5:8-10, Romans 8:28-29, II Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:11-14, II Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 10:14 )

These doctrines or cannons are often referred to as the Doctrines of Grace.

Written by Daryl Hiser; Elder at New Life.