Audio Worship 5/19/2024, "The 'L' of TULIP", 1 Corinthians 1.26-31

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1638

May 19, 2024

1 Corinthians 1:26-31             Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus


“The 'L' of TULIP”


 26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


  • TULIP intro


If you have not been with us the last two Sundays, we have been in a refresher course on reformed doctrines that define some of what it means to be Presbyterian. I want to give a quick summary of where we have been. Part of reformed theology is found in the acrostic TULIP which represents five teachings drawn from the theology of John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer. Thus far we have examined the “T” - total depravity which states that we are incapable of choosing God since we have been affected by original sin at such a deep level. Second, the “U” - unconditional election, reveals that we are chosen by God and in that choosing, God grants us the grace which enables us to choose Christ. It does not depend on any condition that we meet, but only on God’s sovereign will. Today we take up the “L” of TULIP: Limited Atonement. Scripture and logic lead us to the conclusion of limited atonement in this way: if we are totally depraved and if God chooses some and not others, the question arises: for whom, then, did Jesus die? That question addresses the word “limited” by answering that Jesus died for the elect of God. The term “atonement” answers the question: why did Jesus have to die? The word atonement basically means making us right with God. Jesus’ death on the cross has reconciled us to God by wiping away sin and transforming our corrupted lives into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

Much of what TULIP summarizes is that, “because of God you are in Christ Jesus. Another version of the Bible says it this way, “[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30 RSV). God grants us grace that we might live. God gave his only Son that we might live. God is the one worthy of thanksgiving for our life.




  • Limited Atonement


The theology of limited atonement simply says that Jesus died for the elect. While Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all that does not mean it was effective for all. Sufficient for all, effective for many. Many are called, few are chosen (Matthew 22.14). Some passages used to make this case include Matthew 26:26-28, “26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”

The implication, or perhaps the clear meaning, is that the text does not say His blood is “poured out for all for the forgiveness of sins”, only poured out for many, and those who adhere to the teaching of limited atonement consider this “poured out for the elect”. The elect are the many! Limited atonement is, in this case, also a doctrine against universalism, that all people go to heaven.

The term “limited” is not meant in this doctrine to say that the atonement is limited in the sense of not enough to completely forgive or not sufficient by itself to complete the work of Christ on the cross. It is not limited in any way as if it did not completely fulfill the purposes of God. Limited only indicates the limit of those for whom Christ died.

In John 10.15 we read that Jesus died for “the sheep”, “I lay down my life for the sheep”. If we compare that to Matthew 25 and the description of the sheep and the goats, then we might conclude that Jesus did not die for the goats, only his sheep. Listen to Matthew 25, (reading from ESV)

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left….

As I hope you know the judgment is made for the sheep and the goats at the end of this passage…

46And these [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (ESV)

Many people today actually dismiss this passage as it does not fit into their politically correct version of love and grace set forth in some modern theologies. But the reality is that God chooses some and not others, for whatever reasons we may not comprehend. Some are righteous, because God chose them to be so, and others are cursed because God has not chosen to show them mercy.

In John 17:9 Jesus is in prayer and says: I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. Passages like this lead theologians to conclude that Jesus died for those who were chosen. God the Father gave us to Christ. We proclaim that His sacrifice was sufficient for all people, but only effective for some, and in John 17, for the sake of the ones God gave to Jesus.

Now, just to let you know that I know that people will be quick to raise 2 Peter 3.9 as an argument against limited atonement; let’s take a look at it. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” RC Sproul, whom I have quoted throughout this series, does a wonderful job showing how this text is misinterpreted by many, particularly by those who do not adhere to TULIP. At first glance one might read this and conclude that that God wishes everyone, everyone in the world, would come to repentance. He does not want anyone to perish. But when we look more closely at some key issues around this text and the key words, we can see it in a totally different light. First, Peter is addressing the church, believers, the chosen. His entire letter is about the people of God, not about the world, not about anyone outside the chosen of God in Christ. The opening verse of 1 Peter says this: To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” This is faith that has been received by the righteousness of our God and Savior. It is not a faith that we mustered up on our own, not by our own power or even our own decision when we were dead in our sin, but completely out of the righteousness of God, His gift, not our works. This is who Peter is addressing in his letter. That does not change when we get to chapter 3. Second, let’s break down verse 9 addressed to believers!

[God] is patient toward you, - Who is “you”? You (plural) are the people to whom Peter writes. To the church, to those who have obtained, received, been granted faith by God. God is patient toward His chosen and that is to say that God is patient toward us here today.

not wishing that any should perish, - The first word to consider here is “wishing” which can also be translated as “willing” (KJV, NASB). The Greek word can be wishing, desiring, or willing. I think that, based on the next word we will examine, “any”, the context favors the term “willing” as in what God wills in His purposes. But it is okay to use “wishing” because God does not wish that any of His own people should perish.

not wishing that any should perish, - Who is/are the “any”? If we trust that Peter is writing to the church, the “any” are believers. God does not want any of His chosen to perish. Back to the first phrase, “God is patient toward you” (His own), is the identity of the “any” in this phrase.

but that all should reach repentance.” - Who are the “all”? Same as “any”, that all whom God has chosen will not perish, but will reach repentance. All God’s own will be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and none of God’s chosen will be lost.

  • A Personal Testimony


I want to give a word of personal testimony on this doctrine. I know that not everyone who studies these things and not everyone who considers themselves a Christian is in agreement with the doctrines of Reformed Theology. But, for me, when I look back on my own “conversion” to the faith, what I realize, at least in my own story, is that God was drawing me in. In John 6 we read what Jesus says: Jesus answered them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’” (43-44). I could never have come to Jesus unless the Father had drawn me to Him – that was my total depravity. I believe that is true for all of us. Sometimes God draws us from outside the church and sometimes God draws us from inside the church, but the good news, whether we have grown up in the faith or were converted to the faith, God is the only One who gets the credit. Otherwise, you and I could boast in our choice to follow Jesus. “Yeah, I believed!” But the scriptures teach us where our boast should rest: And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’" (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

I remember when asked about when I was saved and some people would give the date they made their first profession of faith. For me that would be May 10, 1979, but really it was a gradual drawing, God drawing me in. The appropriate response to when we were saved is the day Jesus gave his life on the cross. We were saved two thousand plus years ago, because everything necessary for salvation was completed on that day at Calvary. God completed our redemption in Christ when he died and was raised from the dead.

I admit there are challenges to limited atonement because some will lift arguments in the Bible expressing the free offer of the gospel, or passages that even sound universal, or that limited atonement is a hindrance to evangelism. These objections are not easily reconciled, but the deeper we move into the Scriptures, the more convincing we find limited atonement, especially when we are convinced of total depravity and unconditional election. If I went through all the defenses against these challenges, we might be here for most of the day. For now we will suffice it to say that God has and will work it all out!


I will jokingly suggest to people sometimes that Paul has this one little verse that says, Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you (Philippians 3.15). You will get there eventually!


  • Blessed Gratitude


Now, the doctrine of limited atonement does not answer all the questions we might raise about it, but it does bring certain comforts to those who have been chosen by God. It gives full assurance that Christ died for God’s people. Christ has paid the debt we owed in our sin. Jesus prays about those whom God has given Him six times in John 17. Most scholars recognize that this phrase refers to the elect, to those whom God has chosen and that the death of Jesus, the atonement wrought by Christ on the cross was for those elected. Christ died for you and for me. This is the good news of Christ on the cross. This is the good news of our salvation. This is the good news of comfort in that our sins are forgiven. This means that the plan of salvation was and is effective for those whom God chose as his own. To that good news, we give thanks.

If we were to hold to another teaching about Jesus’ death, that is, that his sacrifice covers all and is incomplete until we believe, then Jesus’ death was not effective for salvation. This is what we might argue against the “free will” argument. If salvation for my sins does not take effect until I believe, then my salvation depends on two things…Jesus on the cross and my faith in his death. But that is not what limited atonement teaches. We affirm the complete work of Christ on the cross, regardless of my choice or your choice. When Jesus said, while on the cross, “It is finished”, it was complete. Hebrews 9:12 says that Christ obtained eternal redemption for us. It does not say that salvation was made possible for us, but it was obtained for us.

11But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9.11-12). Redemption is secured on the cross and by no other means, believing or not believing. This takes us back to the power of the cross and atonement as sufficient for all but efficient or effective only for the chosen.

Some folks disagree with the teachings of TULIP because some are convinced of the sinners free will or a sort of silent accent to works righteousness, but the most wonderful news in TULIP is that God has done everything for us already. God has rescued us from our depraved state which affirms that we cannot choose rightly for God on our own. God has chosen us regardless of our works, regardless of our merit. God chooses whom God chooses and it is not up to us, for God will have mercy and compassion on whomever God chooses (Romans 9:15-16). In the work of Christ, he has paid the price for our sins, for all whom God has chosen. None of this depends on me or you. What remains for us is gratitude, deep abiding gratitude for what God has done. What abides for us is love. What continues is doing the good works God has created for us as a way of life (Eph 2:10).

We will one day stand in judgment before the Lord, and even with a list of indictments against us, the list will have stamped across it: PAID IN FULL. Jesus has taken care of our indictments, our sins, and has set us right with God. Paul says this in Romans 8.1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We can join Paul in confidence, knowing that God has drawn us to the Christ who has already redeemed us. In this good news we give thanks to God and rejoice. Amen.