The heart of reformed theology has been summarized in the acrostic TULIP:
T - Total Depravity teaches us that all persons are corrupted by the Fall to the degree that Scripture declares that we are born as spiritual corpses and are at war with God. This condition causes us to find the pleasures of sin greater than the pleasures of God, and without God’s regenerating work within us, we would have no desire or ability to repent or believe.
U – Unconditional Election refers to God’s freedom to choose, before time began, those individuals whom He would graciously save. God’s election is based completely on His own purposes and pleasure. He did not choose anyone based upon foreseen merit or faith. The elect receive special grace from God that grants them repentance and faith; the non-elect receive common grace, but spurn the kindness of God and, therefore, incur just wrath.
L – Limited Atonement does not deny that Jesus’ death is sufficient to save a million sinful worlds like ours. Limited atonement (better called particular redemption) teaches us that what God desired the death of Jesus to accomplish, it did accomplish. Jesus’ death atoned for those whom God had chosen to save. Jesus did not simply die to make salvation possible, but to actually save! He died for particular people in such a way that the wrath of God was removed from them and the righteousness of Christ credited to them.
I – Irresistible Grace reminds us that every person resists God until God chooses to overcome that resistance. Because we are spiritually dead, and therefore, unresponsive enemies of God, God must change us from within in order that we may repent and believe. God’s grace overcomes our sinful resistance and reveals Christ to us in such a compelling manner that we choose to repent and believe; this is what we call conversion.
P – Perseverance of the Saints means that all who are regenerate and converted will be kept by the power of God and will not lose their salvation. Though they may stumble in sin, they will never fall from the grace which has justified them. Perseverance until the end is the ultimate proof of one’s election.