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)