Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
Some man made theologies state emphatically that one can not fall from grace;, yet here in Gal. 5 we have Paul saying in no uncertain terms that those who were going back to the law, were fallen from grace! Systematic theologies attempt to set out theology in a way that accords with men’s thinking. By definition this is of the flesh, and not of the Spirit. The Bible sets forth truth as it does for a purpose. If God had wanted truth set out in a systematic way, as theologians do, then He would have done so! But that He didn’t should give us a clue as to how we are to understand truth.
It will not be the purpose of this study to investigate men’s understanding, but rather look at what the Bible means by ‘fallen from Grace’; whether it means what the theologians think it means is another matter, and need not concern us.
We have at this stage a new expression introduced that furthers our understanding on these issues: those who are circumcised are debtors to keep the whole law. The word debtor is an interesting one and one that aptly fits the case. A debtor is one who owes something, one who is bound by some duty and held under obligation. In this context it is of believers going back into law.
As we have pointed out, the early church had to contend with those who demanded that the Gentile believers should be circumcised. The reason is simple, to be in the OC one had to have the outward sign of circumcision in the flesh. Indeed the Lord sought to kill Moses because his children were not circumcised! Ex. 4:24-26. So these legalists wanted the Gentile believers to have this outward form of religion so that they could have them identified with themselves. By being circumcised they would have immediately put themselves under the obligations of the whole of the OC, they would have become debtors to the law. This of course is fruitless for, with the exception of Jesus, no one has ever kept it.
Circumcision is not the issue that it once was, but there are other issues. For example, there are those who insist on believers having some form of outward show whereby they can identify as being part of ‘the in group’, it could be anything, it could be baptism, communion, signing a declaration of faith, but once the point is conceded then one is a debtor to that whole way of life.
Take the example from previous discussions, the idea that one has to rid one’s house of everything considered ungodly. There are many issues surrounding this point. But once accepted then the questions that rise are numerous: who decides what is godly or ungodly? Has one been thorough enough in ‘purging’ the house? Has one done enough to be accepted by the ‘in crowd’ ? For example, suppose one has a rule that no book in the house should contain images of ancient gods or fabled creatures. Every book in the house would have to be gone through and checked, so all Bible dictionaries are effectively banned, and possibly Bibles that have appendices of useful information for Bible study! Many gardening books would come under this proscription too, for some show pictures of the ‘forbidden’ pictures are used in gardening ornaments. Then what happens when they visit someone’s house, where there are these items? Do they refuse a mug of tea because the mug has the Welsh national symbol on it? Do they refuse fellowship with the hosts? Logically they have to, not only that but they have to seek occasion to rebuke, thus setting themselves up as judge and jury of that person.
Such a person is then wrapped up once more in bondage and is a debtor, under an obligation, to follow through the logic of his position. From that point he then has to continue living under more externalisms in order to keep a clear conscious that he’s done enough, he has been truly indebted to keep the whole ‘law’. The obligations of becoming a slave to external laws are never ending. Such was the position of the Pharisees. If all these things were thought through before embarking on such a course much hurt and damage would be avoided.
Grace, what a word for those who are in Christ! It has been defined as: God’s undeserving favour; and as an acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is the opposite of debt. For debt is a result of work. Grace is a gift, freely given, and it is freely received. Becoming debtors to the law is because of working to achieve a standard (whether self imposed or forced on one.) Grace has no such conditions, it is by God’s grace that we have salvation; we don’t earn salvation, and we certainly don’t deserve it. It is by his grace that we have anything at all in the Christian life. Consider these wonderful scriptures.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We are saved by grace through faith, nothing we have done or could ever do would l save us; it is purely by God’s grace.
Saved by grace alone!
This is my only plea:
Jesus died for all mankind,
And Jesus died for me.
But beyond that we need to realise that everything we have in the Christian life is by grace too. Is there anyone who deserves God’s blessing? Is there anyone who can truly say that they have any merit of their own? No one can honestly say that they have. Anything we have from God is by His grace alone, and we have received nothing from Him by any merit of ourselves.
In order to live the Christian life we must continue in the grace of God. Trusting Him and relying on Him alone as our strength, for without Him we can do nothing. And we must learn constantly to come to Him in order to find the grace we need to live day by day, and to grow in that grace. Indeed just as becoming a Christian means total dependency on God, so living the Christian life is exactly the same: total dependency on Him alone.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
II Cor. 9:8
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
So what does Paul mean when he says that the Galatians are fallen from grace? The Galatians had moved from the ground of grace, instead of living by grace they had returned to trying to please God by their own efforts of the flesh, they were no longer living under the reign of grace, they had gone back to a lesser way of life, they were now living under the reign of law.
The Greek word for ‘fallen’ here is used of flowers that whither in due course. So the idea is that the Galatians, by going back into law, allowed the life of God in them to whither as does a flower when it grows old. In other words they had become carnally minded and this means death Rom.8:6-7; this is what happens when anyone goes back to the ways of the flesh, they fall from grace and the life that had been planted in them by new birth withers.
For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
The NT is littered with warnings about going back to a lesser way of living. Here are a few examples.
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
II Cor. 6:1
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Where do you stand ?
F2.3 Separated from Christ?
Reading verse 4 in other translations we see another aspect of this whole question.
Ye were freed from the Christ, ye who in law are declared righteous; from the grace ye fell away
Young’s Literal Translation
If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God’s gracious favour and unmerited blessing).
Ye are gone quite from Christ as many as are justified by the law, and are fallen from grace.
By being justified by grace alone, we are freed from the law, but the opposite is also true. By trying to be justified by the law one becomes freed from Christ! Other possible words used are separated and severed. The verses are quite clear and stark, it is either grace or works; Christ or the law; joined to Christ or the law; freed from the law or freed from Christ. It is one or the other.
We have in the opening verses of Ch. 5 a clear distinct position: either we are free from the law or from Christ, yoked to the law or to Christ. There is no middle ground. Even after being set free from the law, it is possible to be once more entangled in the works of the law, going back to that which we had been delivered from, and coming under the reign of the law and he flesh. This is what Paul means by ‘fallen from Grace’; it is a serious and sorrowful state to be in indeed.
To attempt to live by the rule of law means that we have separated ourselves from Christ, His work being no longer effectual in us! In living the Christian life it has to be Him working in us. We can add nothing to it. Even our prayers, fastings and Bible studies can not be made a condition for progress for that would make our efforts, and not Christ, the source of life. These clearly all have their place as part of a believer’s walk with the Lord, but for any man to make them a condition for progress is to put the cart before the horse.
For anyone to be saved it is Christ alone, none can not add to the already finished work of the Lord. Likewise in living the life it is Christ alone in you, the hope of glory, if not then He is of no effect to that person. How is it with you dear reader? Are you trusting Christ alone for salvation, or are you pinning you hopes on other things as well? If so then Christ is of no effect to you, you are not saved. Abandon all other hopes now and trust Christ alone to save you. Similarly, Christian believer, are you trying to walk the Christian life by adding to what the Lord has already done, by your own efforts, by rules and regulations, whether self imposed, or externally enforced? Then Christ is of no effect to you, your walk is in the flesh with all that results from it; you are separated and have fallen from grace. Repent now and return to your Lord.
F2.4 These three
In these verses we see the three qualities that Paul says that remain: And now abideth [=remain] faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. I Cor. 13:13. It is not through any externalism that has any sway with God. Whether it be circumcision or uncircumcision. But rather the faith that works by love. God’s love that placed His Son on a cross whilst we were still His enemies. No external law ever did , or could ever do that. Jesus came because of love, not because there was a law that said He had to come! That produces the true faith that does count with God, for without faith it is impossible to please Him. Business with God is done on the ground of faith. And through the Spirit we wait for the hope of righteousness.