I am so glad the book of Galatians is in the Bible because we can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes.
The Galatians lost their liberty in Christ by allowing themselves to be enslaved to the yoke of the law. In their case the issue was circumcision, but for us it could be anything that puts a price tag on grace—church rules, confession of sins, the spiritual disciplines, whatever. I’m not against these things. I’m saying there is nothing we can do to add or improve upon Christ’s perfect work.
We stand by grace alone.
The Galatians had a different view. Some guys with long faces and long knives came preaching mixture and the Galatians bought it hook, line, and sinker.
But does this mean the Galatians were now unsaved, under condemnation, and hell-bound? No. Falling from grace does not mean falling out of the kingdom.
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:4)
The NIV Bible says the Galatians alienated themselves from Christ. Other translations say they became estranged, separated, severed, and cut off. These are serious words with serious implications, but they do not imply condemnation.
Who cut them off? It wasn’t Christ.
Who did the separating? Not Jesus.
Paul never tells the Galatians, “You are losing your salvation.” Instead, he says, “You are indulging the flesh” (Gal. 5:13).
The Galatians were becoming carnal, biting and devouring one another in vicious arguments. The danger was not that God would destroy them, but that “you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15).
Remove grace from any community and you will soon have quarrels, strife, bickering, manipulation, envy, hatred, and all the other works of the flesh that Paul lists in Galatians 5:19–21. But none of these things will send you to hell.
When Paul reminds the Galatians that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom,” he’s saying, “Those who belong to Christ shouldn’t act like those who don’t.”
The righteous may fall seven times, but they remain righteous. We who drift can, with the aid of the Spirit, come back on course. If you have fallen from grace into dead works, the remedy is to remember your First Love (hint: it’s Jesus) and do what you did at first.
If Christians were kicked out of the kingdom every time they walked after the flesh, heaven would be empty.
Extracted and adapted from chapter 19, “What happens to Christians who stray?” in The Gospel in Twenty Questions.
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