I went through a phase some years ago of being very excited about TULIP – the Five Points of Calvinism. T is for total depravity – that every part of us fallen human beings has been affected by sin – our minds, wills, emotions etc. U is for unconditional election – God chooses to save certain sinners solely on the basis of his own free choice in eternity past, and not on the basis of any conditions in us. L is for limited atonement – Christ died only for those so chosen in eternity. I is for irresistible grace – when God calls a sinner like me to himself, he so works in the deepest place of our being that we come to freely choose Christ with all our heart, and this calling of God is “irresistible” – its so powerfully transforming of our very core that we don’t even want to resist. P is for perseverance of the saints – those truly called and converted by God will persevere in faith until death.
I still think these things are true, but I think they aren’t the full story. Thinking just about that first letter T – Total depravity. It means that we are so ruined by the Fall of Genesis 3 that our very nature is corrupted in every aspect. Our real problem is that, deep down, by nature, we don’t even desire God. In fact, we are even “dead” to God. Just as a corpse lying in the mortuary is dead – totally unresponsive – to any stimulus, we are “dead” to God, by nature spiritual corpses. We don’t pray to him, except in an emergency. We don’t trust him. We don’t seek him. We don’t worship him. We don’t want to obey him. We don’t love either the heavenly Father our our neighbour as ourselves. We find nothing in God deeply desirable. We need a radical, radical rescue from such a nature. God himself must perform a mighty miracle to change such a dead person into a living lover of God.
And this is all true. But here is how my thinking about the person of Christ has enriched this true but incomplete way of thinking. Its quite surprising to me how thinking about the person of Christ – theologians call it Christology – differently feeds through into every aspect of life and theology.
Christ is fully God, fully man. I’ve always been pretty strong on the “fully God” side of the equation. But now, without denying that Christ is fully God, let’s think about the “fully man” side of the equation.
As the perfect man he lives the perfect life, from cradle to grave. Its the life that disobedient Adam, disobedient Israel, and disobedient you and me should have lived but didn’t.
He prayed like no man ever prayed. His prayer life was the perfect prayer life, so unlike mine. He trusted like no man ever trusted. His faith was a perfect faith, so unlike mine. A constant unbroken resting in the absolute goodness of his heavenly Father, even when faced with harsh things that apparently contradicted the claim “God is good, all the time”. He trusted right through – even right through the cross.
He worshipped like no man ever worshipped. He adored his heavenly Father with a perfectly proper worship, so unlike mine.
He loved the Father like no man ever loved the Father. Throughout his entire life, whenever the Father revealed his will to Jesus – most likely through Jesus’ almost insatiable scripture reading – Jesus immediately took that revealed will and ran with it to the nth degree. There was never a hint of rebelliousness about his response to the Father, so unlike me. Everything the Father revealed was utterly embraced with all his heart.
He loved neighbour like no man ever loved others. Every need expressed found a loving response. He didn’t just teach the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), he lived it. He was that Good Samaritan.
And that love for Father and neighbour is what took him to the cross. As the Father began to reveal to his beloved Son that the cross was the only way for heaven to be populated, the Son even embraced that, albeit with massive soul-shaking trepidation, as Gethsemane testifies (Luke 22). On the cross he bears willingly, with all his heart, the wrath of Father, Son and Holy Spirit against human rebellion in himself. God forsaken by God, who can fathom that?
How does all this connect with TULIP?
God’s help for us spiritually dead sinners takes the form not of generic, kind of impersonal help, from a generic God. The T of TULIP, Total depravity, rightly affirms that God must himself work in us and for us, to save us. We are helpless, powerless, dead in sins. But its not God’s generic, faceless power that works to raise us from this spiritual grave.
God’s help comes in a very personal form. The very personal form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made flesh, the perfect Man (the Apostle Paul likes to call him the Last Adam).
He is everything and does everything we need. He prays, trusts, obeys, worships, loves, from cradle to grave. He dies. He rises again, and ascends as Man – eternally Man, never to be undone – to the right hand of the Father. He does it all. Every right response that you and I should ever have made but didn’t, he does for us. We are utterly helpless, in a worse condition even than the man lying half-dead on the Jericho road. He carries us.
And this is made real in you when he sends his life-giving Spirit (Acts 2:33), available to all after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit joins you and me – the dead, helpless sinner to the exalted Christ. And he does this by making us – the dead, helpless sinners see our guilt, see Christ crucified as the answer, and cry to him like blind Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Then he breathes the resurrection life into you, so that you become a spiritually living being. The same power that raised Christ raises us. From now on you are “in Christ”. And as one “in Christ”, in the divine Son, you enjoy the indwelling of the Spirit of Sonship. You become a son or daughter “in the Son”. The Father sees you just like he sees his own eternally well-pleasing Son.
Your rubbish prayer life, your cold-hearted worship, your feeble faith, your less than half-hearted obedience, your grumbling at God’s ways, need I go on? All are covered over by the awesome prayer life, worship, faith, obedience, submission of Christ the perfect man.
And the indwelling Spirit of Sonship – Christ in you – begins to work in you to transform you into the image of the perfect Son. This is one of the Holy Spirit’s chief works – to change you from Adam’s likeness to Christ’s.
This is the whole package.
This gospel, to me, is as gloriously good news as it could be. I couldn’t think up a more all encompassing solution than what God has done in Christ. Everything you need is found “in Christ”, and if you are a Christian, you are “in Him”.
If only I were more Christlike, I would praise him with all my heart, as he truly deserves.