Just for Catholics

Fallen from Grace

Question: You believe in eternal security of the believer. But the Bible teaches that a believer can lose his salvation. The apostle Paul says clearly that Christians can fall from grace.

Answer: The phrase ‘fallen from grace’ is used in theology to mean ‘loss of salvation’. It is a biblical phrase, used in Galatians 5, but the meaning in context is altogether different. The apostle Paul is not discussing the loss of salvation, but warning against the false gospel of justification by works as we shall prove.

‘Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if you are circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man who 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; you are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith’ (Galatians 5:2-6).

Paul is writing to the disciples in Galatia who were being influenced by false teachers. These Jewish teachers were saying that in addition to faith in Christ, one must also be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul writes an impassioned letter to warn them against this deceptive and false ‘gospel’.

Paul emphasizes that salvation is a matter of grace, received by faith, and apart from the merits of the works of the Law. No one can be justified - declared righteous by God - by obedience the Law: ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified’ (Galatians 2:16). And again: ‘But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Galatians 3:11).

Yet, sadly, there are many people who suppose that they can work their way to heaven. They fancy that if they obey the Law (or think they do!), then they will be all right in the end. One thing is sure about these people - they are not saved by grace, for grace is God's unmerited favour, his free gift to the undeserving. That is exactly what Paul has in mind when he says, ‘Whosoever of you are justified by the law, you are fallen from grace.’

It's either grace or law; it is either Christ or self – but you can’t have both of them.

Paul does not mean to say that someone was saved, and after committing some heinous sin, he loses salvation or falls from the state of grace. That's completely foreign to the context. He is speaking about two principles of salvation - grace or law. It's either one or the other.

You might say, ‘fallen from grace’ seems to imply that this person had already been saved. Yes it does seem like that, but ‘justified by the law’ also seems to imply that this person was actually justified by the works of the law. But we know that this is impossible, as Paul emphatically declares. One cannot fall from grace by actually becoming justified by the law, but one may certainly vainly attempt to be justified by the law, and thus miss grace altogether.

In a word, we either choose to attempt justification by obedience to the Law, and therefore reject grace and forfeit our souls; or else, renouncing all personal merit for justification, we rest by faith solely in the grace of Christ Jesus.

Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Oct 2011.
Permission is given to copy and distribute this article without textual changes.

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