Galatians 5:4 and Assurance of Salvation

by Roy Howdyshell

Many say that Galatians 5:4 proves that one can fall from grace and lose his salvation. Let's take a very close look at this with a word study, and not feelings. Let's let the Bible do the talking. After all, it is God's Word.

In Galatians 5:4 there is a phrase that comes up all the time when we discuss falling from grace. In describing a person who claims to have once had salvation and then lost it, supporters of conditional salvation often use the phrase "fallen from grace" and point to Galatians 5:4 to support their point. However, it seems that this meaning attributed to this passage is totally foreign to the original context in which it first appeared. Now just what did Paul mean by this phrase?

First, let's take a look at the context in which the phrase appears. Notice that it is right after the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in chapter 4:21-31. Hagar is representative of the law and the bondage legalism brings. Sarah represents grace and the freedom it brings. Paul recalled the command God gave to Abraham in Genesis 21:10: "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman" (Galatians 4:30). The admonition to the churches of Galatia is based on this Old Testament passage found in Galatians 5:1: "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." The yoke of bondage, of course, is the law. Paul then began to describe the consequences of attempting to attain righteousness by means of keeping the provisions of the law. One example is circumcision (5:23). If a person tries to save himself by works, then "Christ will profit him nothing" (v. 2); the death of Christ will no longer be effective for him (v. 4). By that one act (aorist tense), you are placed in the category with Hagar, your mother, and therefore are to be driven out or banished from Christ.

The phrase "whoever of you are justified by the law" also needs some explanation. The verb "justified" (dikaiousthe) is in the present tense so it should carry the idea of a continuous action. Burton argues against this conclusion in favor of the view that it cannot be taken in the present tense (are justified) because Paul "thinks of justification not as a process but an act, and more decisively by his repeated assertion that no man is actually justified in law." It is clear from Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:11 that no one was ever justified by works. But still, Paul used the present tense for a reason. Though individuals cannot be saved by works, many are attempting to be justified in this manner, and all those who do so must continue to do so. The present signifies that it is a never-ending job. All who start out to follow the law can never stop or they will fail to reach their ultimate goal.

On the other hand, those who make this attempt, and there evidently were some among the Galatians who had made this choice, have already by their choice made the death of Christ of no effect for them and have "fallen out of grace" (aorist tense). "Grace" is preceded by a definite article and should be rendered "this grace." This grace refers specifically to the grace of God, which is the distinctive element in the gospel Paul preached. To "fall out of grace" is to separate oneself from the grace of God by the deliberate choice of the futile attempt to justify oneself by the keeping of the Mosaic law. These two approaches to salvation are mutually exclusive. "One cannot with intellectual consistency conceive of God as the bookkeeping God of legalism and at the same time the gracious God of the Pauline gospel, who accepts men because of their faith." One cannot live keeping the statutes of the law and live a life of faith at the same time. In conclusion, it should be clear to any student of the Scriptures that Galatians 5:4 has nothing to do with the losing of one's salvation. It has to do with rejection of the grace of God in favor of the law. Those who have made such a choice will demonstrate ultimately that they never experienced the grace of God in the first place. Those who want to argue that persons may lose their salvation will have to argue from some other point, because this teaching is not to be found in this text.

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