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Reformed Theology or Calvinism?

Reformed Theology and Calvinism are often confused as being one and the same; however, they aren’t. There are overlaps in places but they are not one and the same.

Reformed Theology refers to the doctrine that came out of the Reformation. That is, a return to biblical truth.

Calvinism is the summation of the Christian faith as put forth by John Calvin. It is a subset of Reformed Theology, just as is Lutheranism.

The Five Solas

Summing up the heart of Protestant beliefs, the truth of Reformed Theology…

1. Sola Gratia(Grace alone)

Salvation is the free gift from the Lord. It is something we cannot earn and that we do not deserve. Salvation is a gift given to us through God’s grace and doesn’t depend on our own merit.

Ephesians 2: 8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (KJV).

2. Sola Fide (Faith alone)

Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, God imputes righteousness to the Elect. We are justified unto Him through faith alone. It is a legal declaration by God. Salvation is not based on our efforts or our works.

Galatians 2: 16, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

3. Solus Christus (Christ alone)

Christ is our Mediator before a Holy God. He is the only Mediator between God and man. Through His sacrifice on our behalf, our salvation is accomplished.

1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” (KJV)

4. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)

Scripture alone is the only inerrant and infallible source of divine revelation; it is the only way we can know the mind of Christ. For the Christian, Scripture is the only and final authority for all matters of faith and practice. 

2 Timothy 3: 16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (KJV).

5. Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God alone)

Since the Lord alone accomplishes our salvation, it is of necessity to the glory of God alone

Psalms 3: 8a, Salvation belongs to the LORD


The acronym TULIP is used to explain the five points of Calvinism. John Calvin did not develop this acronym; it was formed in the years following his death.

Romans 8: 29-30, For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

T — Total Depravity. 

Jeremiah 17: 9, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (KJV)

Romans 3: 10-12, As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (KJV)

U — Unconditional Election.

God did not foresee any action, condition, or repentance on our part that caused Him to save us. Our election is entirely based on God’s sovereign decision to save those whom He is pleased to save.

Ephesians 1: 4-6, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (ESV)

Romans 9: 11, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— (ESV)

L — Limited Atonement. 

From eternity past, the Father has chosen those on whom He will pour out His grace. On the Cross, Jesus took the judgement due to the elect for our rebellion against God. He bore our punishment. By His sacrifice He fully obtained salvation for those whom He had chosen and for none other. His death did not only make salvation possible for the elect; His death insured the salvation of the elect.

John 6: 37-39, All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (ESV)

I — Irresistible Grace.

Only when God’s grace works within a sinful man’s heart is that man called to repentance. The call of God is irresistible. The will of God, manifest in the Father’s election, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s work of reconciliation in our hearts, is not something that any of us has the power to resist. If God calls us to Himself, we will respond in repentance. Such a one will be saved.

John 6: 44, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (ESV)

P — Perseverance of the Saints. 

God, in His grace and mercy, and to His glory, causes His elect to persevere. Thus, for the true Christian, though they may stumble for a time, they will repent. God’s Saints endure to the end. Salvation is eternal and cannot be taken away.

John 10: 27-29, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (ESV)

For further study

Online resources

Why you can believe the Bible by Voddie Baucham

What is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul

The Five Solas

What are the five Solas?

The five points of Calvinism by R.L. Dabney

T.U.L.I.P.- The Doctrines of Grace

Historical Creeds and Confessions

Creeds and Confessions

TULIP, The Fairest Flower in God’s Garden – by Dr. John Gerstner

A Defense of Calvinism – by Charles Spurgeon

A Beginner’s Guide to Postmodernism

A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith by B.B. Warfield


Cross & Culture

Stone Mountain Media


Ligonier (Before Sproul’s death, they were more sound than they are now. Some of their newer stuff isn’t recommended.)


5 Minutes in Church History


The Spurgeon Archive



Historical Theology for Everyone


By What Standard?


Through the Eyes of Spurgeon

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer



If you purchase a book through one of the links below, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.

What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul

The Institutes Of The Christian Religion: The Four Books – Complete and Unabridged by John Calvin

Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day
by William P. Farley

Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God by Joel Beeke & Paul M. Smalley

The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel
by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken

The History & Theology of Calvinism by Curt Daniel

C H Spurgeon – The People’s Preacher by Peter Morden

A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

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