Eternal Security – Dealing with the Difficult Texts (Galatians 5:4)

Yesterday at Harvest I preached a message titled, “Can a Christian lose his salvation?” and answered that question with a resounding no. A true Christian is secure for all of eternity and nothing can change that. God has promised that once he begins a good work of salvation in a person’s life, he will be faithful to complete that work (Philippians 1.6). Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8.31-39). Jesus has promised that for those who come to Him, He will never, ever cast them out (John 6.37). Many other Scriptures affirm this comforting truth.

As promised in my message yesterday to the saints of HBC Jacksonville, I would like to take a look at some of the so-called troublesome passages when dealing with the doctrine of eternal security. Today I would like to take a look at Galatians 5.4. Here is the verse from three of the most popular Bible translations:

4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (English Standard Version)

4Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (King James Version)

4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (New International Version)

Strong words from the pen of the Apostle Paul! The ESV sounds especially harsh with the the phrase “severed from Christ.” There is no getting around the fact that Paul is writing to Christians warning them about the reality of the possibility of falling from grace. So what are we to make of this verse?

Basically, Paul was writing Galatians to protect them from a group of false teachers known as the Judaizers. These false teachers were declaring that faith alone in Christ was not enough; one had to put himself back under the law in order to be truly accepted by God. Paul is reminding the readers of Galatians that if you try to mix law with grace you end up with a message that is foreign to the message of Christ and if that is the so-called “Gospel” you are embracing, then you are not connected to Christ, because that mixed Gospel is really no Gospel at all!

Others are more eloquent than I am in explaining this passage of Scripture, so I will lean on them as well:

John MacArthur, in his message titled, “The Security of Salvation, pt. 2” explains:

Galatians 5:4…Galatians 5:4. And it says there, “Christ is become of no effect unto you whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” And people say – You see, right there it proves that you can fall from grace.

That’s right, it does say that. But would you notice to whom it says that? it says it to people who try to get saved by…what?…by law. You go back to verse 2: “Behold, I Paul say unto you that if you be circumcised,” in other words, if you believe you can be saved by surgery, if you believe you can be right with God by some kind of physical operation, “then Christ means nothing to you.” Christ is of no use to you. You don’t need Him. He’s profitless because you can be saved by your surgery.

And then in verse 4 he says: “Christ is also of no effect to you if you are justified by the law.” In other words, if you think you can be made right with God by your law-keeping and your self- righteousness and your own religious works, then equally Christ is useless to you and these are the kinds of people who are fallen from grace. What does it mean? It means that you have fallen away from the grace principle of salvation. It really isn’t defining Christians in terms of salvation.

It’s defining non-Christians…people who come to God, as it were, or attempt to come to God some other way than through grace. You are fallen, as it were, away from the true principle, the true principle that saves is grace, it is not teaching us that a Christian standing in grace can fall out of grace. The context would be utterly foreign to that concept. We who are saved through the Spirit, verse 5, we wait for the hope of righteousness by faith, not by law. So it is simply falling from the principle of grace as a way of salvation.

Now, Christ’s death, then, provides for us these two things, peace with God and standing in grace. Now I want to show you the third link and I don’t know if we’ll get pass this, I intended to do two each time, but this is so rich. The third link, verse 2 again, ”We have access by faith into the grace in which we stand, and we rejoice,” or we exult, or actually we boast, we make our boast, “in hope of the glory of God.” The third link in our security is hope of glory.

We are secure because we have peace with God. We are secure because we stand in grace. And we are secure because we have been given the hope of glory. In other words, to put it another way, God has promised us future glory, right? He promised. Does God keep His promises?

James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries is also helpful in his explanation:

Gal 5:4… you have fallen from grace. – This shows that you can receive God’s grace and then fall.

Quite true: but what kind of grace, and in what context? These words are addressed to a particular group, as the context shows:

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

So in what way had those seeking to be justified by law “fallen from grace”? The correspondent assumes, but does not prove, that to fall from grace proves that you once received saving grace; evidently, the same assumption would follow that one who is severed from Christ was once joined to Him savingly. Aside from the contradictions such a position creates with the plain assertions of Scripture elsewhere, the fact of the matter is Paul is addressing those who were seeking to add to faith in Christ the single act of obedience encompassed in circumcision–clearly the Judaizers were not saying you did not have to believe in Christ, nor were they importing the entirety of the law of Moses (Paul argues their inconsistency at this point as part of his refutation of them); instead, they were adding a select list of things one had to do in addition to faith to be right before God. Paul has already laid out the stark contrast between the path marked by law-keeping obedience and that marked by grace-inspired faith in Christ. One cannot go down both paths. These men were still seeking their justification, unlike true believers who look back upon theirs (Romans 5:1). They had not yet found peace with God by faith in Christ Jesus alone, and Paul says they will never find it going down the path they are going. They have been severed from Christ not in the sense that they had been salvifically united to Him and now He was failing to save them, but that by seeking to be made justified by something other than faith alone, they were severed from the only true source of life in Christ; they have fallen from grace not that they had been salvifically regenerated and justified and sanctified by grace already, and were now destroying that grace by their beliefs, but that they have fallen away or failed of grace (th/j ca,ritoj evxepe,sate) by proceeding down a path grace has never, and will never, mark out, that path of human cooperation and works righteousness that is so much the desire of the unregenerate heart.

To prove that God’s sovereign electing grace can fail to save the elect would require a text far more to the point than one addressing false teachers who are perverting the gospel and thus cutting themselves off from salvation.

Tomorrow we will take a look at Romans 11.22:

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (ESV)

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11 thoughts on “Eternal Security – Dealing with the Difficult Texts (Galatians 5:4)”

  1. Michael, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.

    Indeed, salvation is past (saved from the penalty of sin), present (being saved from the power of sin), and future (will be saved from the presence of sin).

    However, I would challenge you to consider the witness of the apostle John, who wrote an entire epistle (1st John) believing it was possible for a person TO KNOW that he or she is saved. It is not just God who knows who they are, redeemed people may possess the assurance that they are, indeed, saved (see 1 John 5.12-13).

  2. It is not just God who knows who they are, redeemed people may possess the assurance that they are, indeed, saved (see 1 John 5.12-13).

    1 John 5: 13 3 I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

    3 [13-21] As children of God we have confidence in prayer because of our intimate relationship with him (1 John 5:14-15). In love, we pray (1 John 5:16-17) for those who are in sin, but not in deadly sin (literally, “sin unto death”), probably referring to apostasy or activities brought on under the antichrist; cf Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31. Even in the latter case, however, prayer, while not enjoined, is not forbidden. The letter concludes with a summary of the themes of the letter (
    1 John 5:18-20). There is a sharp antithesis between the children of God and those belonging to the world and to the evil one. The Son reveals the God of truth; Christians dwell in the true God, in his Son, and have eternal life. The final verse ( John 5:21) voices a perennial warning about idols, any type of rival to God.

  3. Pastor Bret

    I also believe in eternal security but I need your help. I have been debating with a person who does not and the following is what he said. What is your understanding of this parable?

    “There is no doubt that we can know we are saved. The point is the likes of Luke 12:42-46 show clearly that we can lose our salvation. This parable talks about ONE servant with two possible outcomes 1) Rewards if found faithful when Jesus returns or 2) condemnation and a place with the unbelievers if unfaithful.

    1. Brian, Forgive me for my delay in responding. Somehow I overlooked your comment and question. I hope you have already found your answer. If not, the parable is simple. The servant faces a choice; his choice reveals where his heart is, or to put it more plainly, if his heart is truly regenerate or not.

  4. Don’t you think that it is a problem that there is no evidence in the Early Christian Church of the belief that “once saved, always saved”? In fact, quite the opposite. There are plenty of early Christian pastors and theologians in the first three to four centuries AD who warn Christians not to be complacent in their faith and live a life of willful sin…lest they perish to eternal damnation.

    I grew up evangelical. I witnessed many persons pray the Sinner’s Prayer or go forward during an Altar Call and make what seemed to be very genuine professions of faith. These people then went on to witness to others about salvation through faith in Christ, attend Church and prayer meetings, etc. for a number of years.

    They NOW never darken a church door or read a Bible. One person has converted to be a Muslim to marry her Arab husband, completely abandoning the Christian faith. I know of others who became murderers and child molesters and are unrepentant. I know others who are now living lives of sexual immorality and believe that there is nothing wrong with their behavior.

    Do you really believe that if one of these former believers dies…he or she will go to heaven???

    I know one Lutheran mother who’s daughter became an evangelical and had a “born again” experience. A short time later the daughter started living with her boyfriend. Her mother warned her that what she was doing is sin, and that ongoing willful sin against God places her salvation in jeopardy. The daughter replied, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m covered. I was born again, and if you are born again there is no way you can lose your salvation no matter what you do. Lutherans are wrong.”

    Neither infant baptism nor an adult “born again” experience is a “Get-into-heaven-free” card! Salvation only occurs by the grace of God, received through faith. No faith, no salvation.

    The Christian whose faith and trust is in the Lord need never worry about his eternal security/his salvation. Our salvation is not dependent on how many good works we do. But, the believer who takes his salvation for granted, turns his back on God and lives a life of sin is endangering his soul and very well may wake up one day in hell!

    The doctrine of Eternal Security is an invention of the Calvinists, codified at the Synod of Dort. It is false teaching. It did not exist in the Early Church. It is a license to sin! The Doctrine of Eternal Security is not scriptural!

    I encourage evangelicals to read this Lutheran statement on this issue:

    http://www.hopelcms.org/default.aspx?pg=87ac4963-1ad2-499c-8a26-0304068bf63c

    1. Thanks, Gary, for stopping by the blog and commenting.

      Based upon your comment, I don’t detect that you are asking or seeking by that your mind is made up and you simply want to state your opinion on the issue. I find it fascinating that you state emphatically, using an exclamation point, that “The Doctrine of Eternal Security is not scriptural!” Yet in your comment you do not make single appeal to Scripture. Instead you refer to personal stories and church history. The link you provide refers to Scriptures, many of which actually say nothing about losing salvation. I mean, I love Martin Luther, but he wasn’t the theologian to end all theologians! Neither was Calvin. To quote the good Doctor, my conscience is held captive to the Word of God, so I’ll go with Scripture.

      We who believe in eternal security believe that there are different kinds of faith, but there is only one kind of faith that is true saving faith… persevering faith. Other manifestations of faith, be they temporary, abandoned, or denied by a fruitless, wreckless lifestyle are spurious faiths, never the real thing to begin with (1 John 2.19). As you are probably aware, I can appeal to dozens of verses which either explicity teach eternal security or imply eternal security, but I will share just two:

      And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1.6, ESV

      Who began the good work: you or God? Where is the qualifier? How come Paul doesn’t add a phrase like “…unless you lose your faith”?

      Jesus told those who thought they had real faith, but did not… And then will I declare to them, ‘I
      NEVER knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
      – Matthew 7.23, ESV (emphasis mine)

      Notice that Jesus says he NEVER knew them. Of course he always knew about them, but he never KNEW them in an intimate way, truly saving way.

      Here are just two of many verses of many I could share, just as you could come back with verses to argue from your perspective. The point of my blog is not to engage in debates, so we will end it here. Thanks.

  5. I am one of those people who I believe has fallen from grace. I accepted Jesus and believed in Him alone for my salvation. During a tough trial I told God what He was asking was too hard. I believed the lie that He didn’t love me and decided to live sinfully instead of following Him.

    Fast forward 6 years and I had returned to Jesus. However, I was quite bothered by how I could love a jesus and do all I did. I was afraid of dying and going to hell. So I told God I hadn’t truly accepted Jesus. I had mad Him only my savior and not my Lord. I committed to following Him completely.
    Almost immediately my world came crashing down when I read Hebrews 6:4-6 that night after I was led to read it while praying.
    I thought for the longest time it was saying because I had walked away into sin and failed to trust God that I had fallen away. However, after reading Galations 5:1-4 recently, I realize all of these scriptures point to failing to keep fauth in Jesus, not being obedient to His rules. That being said, this makes matters worse.
    In attempting to accept Jesus “fully”. I realize I was trying to add the work of obedience to Jesus to be saved. This is a different gospel. In making that agreement with God, I now have the dread that I committed a spiritual transaction that can’t be undone. I believe I may have Fallen from Grace. I want so badly to trust in Jesus again but fear I have been cut off. I am to understand that Jesus has not cut me off, but I have. i made the move away from Jesus, I see this clearly, however, do I still have freedom in Christ to make the move back toward Him? If I have become obligated to the law, is there any hope for me or have I sealed my fate?

    1. Tonia, as is very common among people who are in the dilemma in which you find yourself, your focus is on what YOU have done or not done correctly when it comes to salvation. The message of the entire Bible is not what you do in order to be saved, but on what God has done to save you.

      The things you are currently believing about the Gospel cause the Gospel to not really be “Good News” don’t you think? I mean, if the Gospel is something that you can receive, then reject, but never come back again…. then that doesn’t sound like Good News to me… that sounds like a plan of salvation that is very dependent upon your spiritual performance. That’s not Good News at all. That’s bad news.

      Hebrews 6.4-6 has absolutely nothing to do with your story. To let it crash your world is to misunderstand and misapply it. Look at verse 9, where the writer of Hebrews tells us that he was speaking hypothetically.

      Please re-read my article above. Your misunderstanding of those passages of Scripture have led you to believe lies about God and about salvation. Read Luke 15 and put yourself in the place of the Prodigal Son coming home. Notice how the Father runs to greet the returning child. This is Jesus telling you, Tonia, what the heart of the Father is like to those who return to Him. It doesn’t matter how many times you rebel and return (all Christians rebel and return several times a week).

      Here’s the truth, Tonia, if you believe in Christ… then there is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any more and there is nothing you can do to cause Him to love you any less. Rest in that reality. Rejoice in it.

  6. I guess that’s the dilemma, since I now have believed this lie about God, has that disqualified me? Doesn’t it mean that I have Fallen and lost faith? The fact I am asking the question is proof of this failure in and of itself? I want to believe I am wrong and that God will receive me back.

    1. No, Tonia, it doesn’t sound at all like you have lost faith. It sounds like you have misinterpreted Scripture. Again, it’s not about your failure it’s about God’s achievement on your behalf. The kind of dilemma you are talking about does not exist. God receives you back.

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