Galatians 5:1-6 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedby the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
A few years ago, some folks I love left their Baptist church for one in a more Wesleyan tradition. Another loved one confided in me, “I’m just worried that they’re going to a church where they teach that you can fall from grace.” Falling from grace or losing your salvation are classic Baptist-isms for apostasy. The implication is that a person in this case could be a true convert to Christianity and then later decide to abandon the faith because another lifestyle seems more appealing. Until two weeks ago, every single time I heard the phrase “fall from grace” I imagined a person leaving Christianity in order to pursue some kind of reckless drunken stupor; I imagined their morality taking a nosedive.
It arrested me when I read Galatians 5:4. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this chapter (not enough!) and never noticed the point of the verse. Here it is again: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedby the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
In this passage, falling from grace isn’t a loss of morality or rule keeping. It’s actually the opposite. This passage teaches us that falling from grace occurs when a person tries to become (more) acceptable to God by outward behavior.
The immediate context is the existence of false teachers who tell Christian men that they must be circumcised in addition to believing in Jesus in order for God to fully accept them. We do the same thing when we ignorantly believe that God’s approval of us can be increased or decreased when we keep or break the rules. If you’re something of a teacher when it comes to the Bible, check out the strong words Paul has in Galatians 5:12 for those who teach works-righteousness.
As a result of seeing the message of these verses for the first time, I’m praying like this, “Father, where am I falling away from grace in my life? What do I believe I must do or think or accomplish in order for you and I to have complete peace and fellowship? Please show me how I am seeking to be justified by my law, my behavior and therefore putting myself back into slavery and cutting myself off from Christ. Please give me the true freedom that Jesus purchased when he died in my place.”