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Can a Christian, who has been justified freely through faith, fall from grace? And if so, what does that mean? In diving into the deep truths in Galatians 5:3-5, Derek and the Lives Transforming panel take a look at what it means to fall from grace in the Biblical sense.
As always, the Lives Transforming panel relies heavily on the teachings and commentary of such notable historical theologians as John Calvin and Martin Luther and the teachings found in the commentaries of Dallas Theological Seminary. What results is a masterful blend of perspectives highlighting timeless truths.
The first thing that stands out in the passage studied is that relying on the Law results in a fall from grace. As Dallas Theological Seminary points out, to attempt to follow any of the Law makes us indebted to follow the entire Law. The Law, Biblically speaking, is one unit. Even if you follow the entire Law faithfully, but neglect or stumble on one point, you have broken the entire Law. Taking on part of the Law, particularly as a prerequisite for justification, means that we have to take on the entirety it. Of course, none of us are prepared to do that.
Calvin and Luther, both of whom dealt firsthand with the false teachings which were being perpetuated in the institutionalized church of the day (the 1500s) concerning justification by works, both agreed that salvation and justification were free gifts which we are completely incapable of earning. We are to experience God and His working in our lives through faith.
This was in direct contrast to the teachings of the church at the time (and the Catholic Church of today, to a large extent), which taught that we experience God primarily through the seven sacraments. Luther and Calvin both agreed that there are only two sacraments through which we experience the Divine presence, baptism and the Eucharist. Delving deeper still, many contend that even these sacraments were designed more to bring us into remembrance than to be direct channel for experiencing God.
The problem with suggesting that the sacraments are our primary means of communing with God is that they are, much as circumcision was, works. When works of any kind are added to the equation by which we are justified, then grace is completely stripped of its power and, in fact, ceases to be grace.
The term “falling from grace” has long been misused in church circles to suggest that a person can fall out of favor with God if his performance isn’t good enough. The obvious trouble with that is that no one’s performance is good enough. We all need grace. None of us can sin so much as to remove the effects of grace. None of us can be so righteous as to add anything to the grace by which we are justified through faith.
We are taught in verse 5 that we are waiting for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. The righteousness we receive is not given because of a ceremony or sacrament, whether it be circumcision, baptism, the Eucharist, or anything else other than faith.
It is true that we await that day when we shall be completely glorified and without sin. And yet, while we wait, we can rest assured that, because of His grace and the fact that we have placed our trust in Him in faith, we stand completely righteous and justified in the sight of God.
We begin to walk with Christ by faith. We continue in our walk in part because of the hope that is in us. As we walk with Him, God, in his own time, reveals the truth to us that we are completely accepted by God and He receives us as completely justified by faith. When we begin to add other requirements to our justification, we fall from grace, not so much in the sense that we fall out of God’s favor, but in the sense that we set ourselves up for a painful existence of trying fruitlessly to earn something we already been given as a free gift by grace through faith.