I’m not the first person to note that the TULIP acrostic summarizing the five points of Calvinism is incredibly useful as a mnemonic—aid to memory—but is potentially misleading without further explanation. For example, the I stands for “irresistible grace,” and some people think that means Calvinism teaches that the elect never resist God’s grace. Yet, Calvinists do not teach that. What we teach is that the elect do not finally or ultimately resist God’s grace. We affirm that though the elect may resist God’s summons to faith and repentance for a time, they will finally trust in Christ and be saved forever. For that reason, I prefer the phrase finally irresistible grace to irresistible grace.
Recently, however, I have been thinking more about TULIP and about what Calvinism—which I believe to be the most accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching on salvation—is really trying to say. That is, at the core level, what are we Calvinists trying to convey about the Bible’s teaching on salvation? There are different, complementary answers that we might give, of course. Calvinism is really just trying to say that God’s glory is His chief aim. Calvinism is really just trying to say that God is sovereign over everything. Calvinism is really just trying to say that God truly is Almighty over all.
All of those are appropriate. I agree with all of them. But for the purposes of this short article, I would like to propose another answer for your consideration. Calvinism is really just trying to say that God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe.
Think about it. Ephesians 1:3–14 tells us that God’s predestination unto salvation and everything that flows from it are done “in love” (v. 4). And because of divine election and persevering grace, God’s saving love will certainly have its intended effect in all to whom it is given. Everyone who is predestined is eventually justified and then finally glorified (Rom. 8:29–30).
So, irresistible grace, for example, really means that God’s love for me is more powerful than my rebellion against Him. In His unfathomable grace, before time began, God the Father set His love on me in the Son, purposing to call me to Himself by the Holy Spirit. I did not ask for that love. In fact, in my fallen condition, that love was the last thing I wanted. Nevertheless, God set His love on me. And His love is so perfect and so powerful that He could not fail to persuade me to finally love Him forever.
If God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, this must be so. With respect and love for my non-Calvinist friends, if God’s love can be finally resisted and rejected, how is He omnipotent? Do we really think our wills are stronger than God’s love for us? Do we truly believe that the God who made the world out of nothing can actually fail to convince those whom He wants to save to love Him in return? When you think about it, such conclusions are biblically unfathomable.
So, we are left with Calvinism, the affirmation that God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe.