Audio Worship, 5/5/2024, "The 'T' of TULIP" Ephesians 2.1-10

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1636

May 5, 2024

Ephesians 2:1-10            Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus

“The ‘T’ of TULIP – Total Depravity”

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

  • The Five Points of Calvinism

Today we start a five week series on a part of Reformed Theology that has served the church ever since the Reformation when the Protestant Church was born. Those Reformers like Martin Luther, John Knox, and John Calvin “protested” against the Catholic Church for its errors in what Luther would claim in his 95 Theses, 95 statements that sought to challenge false teachings and, frankly, the abuses of the church.

As the Protestant movement progressed there were a variety of councils and theologians who would gather to hammer out the beliefs and doctrines that would come to define our understanding of faith and Christianity. Today we start with one of the five points of Calvinism. These are topics that really set Presbyterians apart from other Christian traditions. Known as T.U.L.I.P., the five points of Calvinism, these points identify some of what it means to be Presbyterian. John Calvin was one of the great reformers also known as the father of the Presbyterian Church. The acrostic TULIP means this: T – total depravity; U – unconditional election; L – limited atonement; I – irresistible grace; P – perseverance of the saints. Calvin did not reduce them down to these five points, but his work was used by others to make this acrostic that simplifies Calvin’s work. These statements of belief are constantly being debated among people of faith in other denominations. Some Baptists, who are typically Arminian, are growing warmer to these doctrines of faith. Arminius was another theologian back in the day who opposed Calvin’s views. Some Methodists might hold to 4 of the five doctrines, and others may even believe all five, but one thing is certain, TULIP is a defining characteristic of hard core Calvinists. You do not have to believe all five to be a Presbyterian, but those outside the church will often label you this way if they know your affiliation with Presbyterianism and anything about John Calvin. We are going to examine each of these teachings over five Sundays.


  • What is Total Depravity?

The first letter of TULIP represents total depravity. This is the problem of sin in our lives. Too often in our politically correct woke world we do not want to talk about sin; the world wants to excuse sin and reduce sin to an outside influence on our lives or some situation beyond our control. RC Sproul, when teaching on total depravity, preferred the term radical corruption but he also did not like what that would do to the acrostic - RULIP. Total depravity or radical corruption is the condition of humans from birth due to the original sin of Adam and Eve that has been passed on to all. Total depravity describes our condition apart from the grace of God. Our nature is radically corrupted in sin. There are a multitude of Bible verses that support this reformed position, and I think Jesus offers one statement that lends itself to this doctrine. Jesus says in John’s gospel, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Jesus Christ – totally depraved. Apart from Jesus – without hope. Apart from Jesus – nothing.

I’m not big on sermon illustrations, but I have one for you today. One morning I was making my grits and at the same time, on the side I was putting together a cup of hot tea. Tea needs some sugar so I had that on my spoon and absent-minded I put the sugar in the pot of water for my grits rather than the salt it required. I realized it right away and did not put any salt in my tea. Let me give you a rule, a doctrine if you will, for making grits. Never put anything sweet in your grits. The only exception to that rule is you are allowed to use cream or half and half. Grits should never have sugar. Never. That is one of the first rules of southern cooking! As soon as the water was sweetened, it was ruined. This is the affect sin has had on the human person. Sin has corrupted us completely. Toss out the water and start all over. Jesus has tossed out the water for us and it is only because of Him that we can be made whole and clean. Salted not sugared. This is not to say that we are not as sinful as we could be, only that we are affected by the sin that has come down through the ages. We are affected deeply, in every way – will, body, heart, emotion, and mind. Graciously, God does not pour us down the drain, but when we are in Christ, we have new living water, properly salted as God enables us to start over.

Total depravity is not something that John Calvin made up just because it sounded like a good idea, but it comes out of the scripture. Let me lay out a few texts:

Mark 7:20-23, And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Romans 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

And the reading for this morning from Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Conclusion: we are in a tough spot! Totally depraved. Radically corrupted. In light of our totally depraved nature, how is it possible for anyone to choose God? A Calvinist would say, “No one can choose God apart from God’s initiative in our heart.” It is what we call regeneration. That is to say, God must predestine. God chooses. God elects. It is through God’s choice that we live:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).

Paul indicates that we are granted the belief we have in Christ: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

  • What God Has Done

This is the good news in response to total depravity – that God has taken the initiative to save us. This is a huge difference, for instance, between the free will doctrine of many Baptist and that of Presbyterians. We say that we are not free to choose the good unless God first chooses us and grants us a regenerated spirit to receive Christ. The argument goes that if God is not at work in our “choice” for Christ, then it is all on us and our free will to choose, therefore, our salvation would be at the very least a double thanks, thanking God for Christ’s work on the cross and thanking ourselves for choosing Jesus. Reformed faith gives thanks to God for everything and therefore even for the grace he has given that brings us to Christ, even if we might use the same language of our choice to follow. Yes, I chose Christ – but the reformed believe is, I chose Christ only by the will and grace of God, not my own. This comes from scripture as well like Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast”. If we say we alone choose, that is a work and not gift. Salvation is a gift, not our choice on our own. Salvation is God’s grace toward us, initiated by God, because God loves us and God chooses. Everything about salvation in the reformed tradition leads us to thank only one, and that is God alone.

Theologians do make the distinction that total depravity does not mean that we are totally evil. It does not mean that we cannot be even worse than we are either! It does not mean that we are without conscience. Perhaps the best way to define total depravity is that we are marked by corruption and sin and evil. We live under the shadow of sin. The condition of total depravity means that we are incapable of doing what is right without the grace of God. But God has reached out to us, taken the first step toward us to save us from ourselves and sin and death. God has so loved the world that he gave his son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. When we consider John 3:16 from the perspective of total depravity, it may take on even more meaning for us.

Gaining an understanding of total depravity may help us to keep proper perspective on situations we see in life. We see sin all the time, from the things we call minor to major. Knowing that we are depraved helps us understand the question of why bad things happen, or better said, why we do bad things. Total depravity leads us to repentance and confession. We know that we sin against God and to claim otherwise is to deny that we have been affected by


  • Good News

I think the greatest result of believing this teaching is the gratitude it brings! We can appreciate more and more the amazing grace of God. When we consider that we are sinful, rebellious against God, and utterly incapable of choosing God on our own, how great a God is this who loves us still and comes to us still and saves us still?

We might consider an appeal from J.I. Packer, a contemporary theologian and advocate of these truths:

To the question: what must I do to be saved? the old gospel [Calvinism] replies: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To the further question: what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? its reply is: it means knowing oneself to be a sinner, and Christ to have died for sinners; abandoning all self-righteousness and self-confidence, and casting oneself wholly upon Him for pardon and peace; and exchanging one's natural enmity and rebellion against God for a spirit of grateful submission to the will of Christ through the renewing of one's heart by the Holy Spirit.

And to the further question still: how am I to go about believing on Christ and repenting, if I have no natural ability to do these things? it answers: look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ, just as you are; confess your sin and your unbelief, and cast yourself on His mercy; ask Him to give you a new heart, working in you true repentance and firm faith; ask Him to take away your evil heart of unbelief and to write His law within you, that you may never henceforth stray from Him. Turn to Him and trust Him as best you can, and pray for grace to turn and trust more thoroughly; use the means of grace expectantly, looking to Christ to draw near to you as you seek to draw near to Him; watch pray read and hear God's Word, worship and commune with God's people, and so continue till you know in yourself beyond doubt that you are indeed a changed being, a penitent believer, and with the new heart.1

We might remember that in the reformed faith, by grace alone are we even able to do what Packer says here. The good news despite our total depravity is that God has overcome this corruption by God’s great and wonderful grace. Total depravity, like death, no longer has any sting. It is upon grace we totally rely, we confess our sin, and we give thanks to God…for the saying is true that apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing. Thankfully, God has done what we could not, all by his grace and will. Amen.


1 "Introductory Essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," p. 21.