You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4)

The phrase “fallen from grace” have given rise to many teachings that we may lose our salvation. It has become an idiom in English for that very idea. Can we fall from grace?

The right question to ask is what was Paul’s original intent in writing, what was he trying to say? I have known of many Christians who have latched onto this idea of losing one’s salvation and they have constructed elaborate theologies about the subject. Let me deal plainly with what the Bible teaches on this subject.

Paul’s point

Paul was saying that the two systems of thought of salvation by faith and salvation by works were mutually exclusive of one another, that these legalists had fallen off the argument of grace. The biblical teaching of justification through faith, on the basis of God’s grace in Christ, means that this is exclusively the only salvation God offers. Albert Barnes asserted that Paul was saying to those legalists in Galatia that to claim justification by works, by obedience to the Law, was to deny Christ. He wrote:

Christ is become of no effect unto you – You will derive no advantage from Christ. His work in regard to you is needless and vain. If you can be justified in any other way than by him, then of course you do not need him, and your adoption of the other mode is in fact a renunciation of him…  The two systems [Law and Grace] cannot be united. The adoption of the one is, in fact, a rejection of the other. Christ will be “a whole Saviour,” or none.

Earlier in this book of Galatians, Paul spoke clearly on this matter that the Law of God does not bring salvation, nor was it intended to. And, moreover, if it could then Christ’s death was pointless. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal. 2:21).

Obedience to the Law alone does not save us and cannot save us, neither can it help us be saved. Only through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection are we saved – only through grace, in other words – and God’s grace in Christ does not need any help from our side through our good works. It is not my good works plus Christ, nor is it Christ plus my good works, it is only Christ in whom I have believed. Faith is essential, and faith means that I acknowledge that I cannot save myself. I must depend fully on Christ.

The biblical images of salvation

When we look at the examples in the scripture for salvation we see that they are all strong and all emphasize a secure position in Christ. None of them suggest a tenuous one, one that we could lose or slip from. They all speak of security and of an unchanging reality in our salvation.

  • We are new creations in 2 Corinthians 5:17, and a creation of God cannot be uncreated.
  • We are adopted as sons and daughters in Ephesians 1:5: “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
  • We have already passed form death to life in the Savior’s teachings: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
  • We are living stones in Christ and a royal priesthood in Peter’s teachings: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
  • We are sealed by the Spirit and we are the inheritance of Christ which He has claimed through His blood: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14).
  • Like sheep we are held securely in the hands of the Son and the Father: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than allc ; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).

We can go further in scripture, but repeatedly the scripture gives us assurances that once we have trusted in Christ our identify has been substantially changed. We are bought by Christ at the cost of His blood. We belong to Him. Remember that to those who claimed to be saved because they had preached and cast our demons, Christ’s response was “Depart from me I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). They were pretenders, not believers.

Dealing with sins after salvation

Yet Christians do sin after salvation. Does this mean that we need to be saved all over again? Can we lose our salvation for just any sin whatsoever? If so, then there is absolutely no assurance or security in salvation. If someone may trust in Christ and serve Him faithfully for his whole life but near the end have a second of doubt just before he dies, or say a few unkind words, or have a moment of lust or of pride, then he would still be eternally lost under this idea.

Furthermore, this was exactly the kind of thinking that Paul was confronting about those false teachers who were “fallen from grace.” To be saved, these people say, is by grace, but to remain saved is by works. And this is false teaching. The Bible says that when we come to Christ at our salvation, from that moment on God takes responsibility for our spiritual progress. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

To say that we remain saved through good works is like saying that we are saved, at least in part, by our good works. Let me say again, that the grace of God in Christ does not need any of our good works to help it save us. Christ alone is enough, provided we have trusted in Him.

So when we sin what must we do? We should confess our sins to Christ and seek His inner cleansing. We should follow 1 John 1:9-10 and confess our sins – not in order to go to heaven, for we are already going, but in order to have the joy of our salvation restored, in order that we may hear the voice of His Spirit again.

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