The branch of theology that deals with salvation is known as soteriology. It strives to answer three main questions:
- What did Christ’s death on the Cross accomplish?
- How do I get saved?
- Once I’m saved, what happens?
The first question deals with the subject of atonement, and the third deals with conversion and sanctification (the process of holiness). Although there are many competing views of atonement and sanctification, these two subjects are relatively uncontroversial compared to the second question. It is here that we wonder how we are saved and to what extent humans and/or works have to do in the salvation process.
I want to talk primarily about the means of salvation according to the two main camps: Reformed and Arminian theologies.
What is Salvation?
It helps to begin with a working definition of salvation. Salvation is the process by which we are saved from sin and welcomed into new life with Christ. It is not simply a one-time event; the ramifications of it follow Christians through their entire lives. Salvation is a two-fold event; it begins with conversion, which we would traditionally call “getting saved.” Then, sanctification is initiated, which is the process of being made holy and into the image God intended us to be.
The teachings of John Calvin lead us to the Reformed (also called Calvinist) faith. Calvinists believe that salvation is monergistic, meaning that there is only one actor in the salvation process – that actor is God alone. In fact, Calvinism is seen as a revival of the teachings of St. Augustine, who was a monergistic bishop, and is the most popular form of monergism in the Christian church.
Tip-Toe Through the T.U.L.I.P.
Calvinists believe in a logical progression of soteriology. Established in the Canons of Dort, this five-point doctrine is neither exhaustive nor fully believed by every Calvinist on God’s green earth, but it holds the essentials of its beliefs. The mnemonic to remember the five points of Calvinism is frequently referred to as T.U.L.I.P. – ironically, this acronym was created by Calvinist’s opponents in order to attack its argument!
Total Depravity. Humans are sinful and broken by nature because of the Fall.
Unconditional Election. God has elected (predestined) those who will be saved.
Limited Atonement. Christ’s death only covers the sins of the elect.
Irresistible Grace. Grace cannot be rejected if you are elected.
Perseverance of the Saints. Also called eternal security. You cannot lose your salvation.
Notice how, as we “tiptoe through the TULIP,” we see a very logical progression. First sin, then the workings of grace, and then life after salvation.