“ye are fallen from grace.”
There is a stigma among Christians—an ever-present understanding that those who have sinned after salvation are fallen from grace. Of course when I say sin, I mean only those scandalous sins which we Christians have decided are too damaging to our brothers and sisters to allow them to serve in the work of the Lord again. We view those who have committed these sins as fallen, reprobate, evil, untrustworthy, and unworthy of forgiveness until they have proven themselves repentant—by our definition and standards.
But where do we get this idea from? Can a Christian really fall from grace?
Yes. A Christian can fall from grace. We can see in Galatians 5:4 that there were Christians in the Galatian church who had fallen from grace. But how? What had they done? What sin had they committed that had separated them from the bountiful grace of God?
They had not sinned.
The Galatians had no scandals. They were not worshipping idols. They were not committing adultery. They were not allowing the world to infiltrate them. So what were they doing that caused them to fall from grace?
They were seeking justification by works.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
The fallen from grace were not those who had fallen into sin, but those who were seeking forgiveness of sin and freedom from sin by the works of the law. They were the fallen from grace. They were fallen because they were no longer living by grace but by works. They were no longer receiving grace by faith through Jesus Christ, but were striving to earn grace by works through their own flesh. That is how they fell from grace.
That is how we fall from grace.
We know that we cannot earn our salvation by works, but by accepting God’s grace by faith in Christ alone. Yet how many of us, once saved, then strive to earn righteousness, holiness, sanctification through works. We urge the lost to receive grace through faith, but once they do, we hand them a list of things they have to do to be “good Christians.” We preach salvation by grace but judge the righteousness of the saved by their adherence to our list of works. We come to God by grace to be forgiven, then work to earn his favor and approach his throne, not with humility, but with pride in our own merit—for we have obeyed the law and deserve to stand in his presence.
We are fallen from grace.
The Galatians had accepted Christ by faith. But there were saved Jews in the church who were teaching that the saved Gentiles had to be circumcised—and abide by the law. Paul, when he heard this, wrote to them, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7. These Christians were perverting the gospel because they were preaching salvation and justification by works. So do Christians today pervert the gospel when after preaching salvation by grace, preach justification by works.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh by justified.” Galatians 2:16
We pervert the gospel, we fall from grace, when we look at ourselves and say, “I do not drink that. I am holy. I do not wear that. I am holy. I have not committed that sin. So I am holy. I have not gone there. I am holy. I don’t act like sister so-and-so. I am holy. I have higher standards. I am holy.” The Christian who lives under grace does not judge his or her holiness by what he or she has or has not done, but by what Christ did on the cross. We cannot make ourselves holy by our works. We cannot be justified by works. Yes, faith without works is dead. But works are not faith, but the fruits of faith. We are justified by grace.
Even the apostle Peter fell into this thinking. When the gospel was spreading to the uncircumcised Gentiles, Peter at first did not hesitate to eat and fellowship with them. But when he was around the Jews who were preaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised, he separated himself from the uncircumcised Gentiles as he would separate himself from an unclean pig. And Paul confronted him about it. Paul did not want the Jews to compel the Gentiles to live by the law and be circumcised because “… no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11 Circumcision, the law, meant nothing. Faith in the grace of God alone mattered.
“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3
The law cannot justify us because we cannot follow the law perfectly. That is why Jesus came to die on the cross in the first place—because no human could fulfill the law. Our righteousness is nothing—it is filthy rags. We cannot earn perfection through our works. We cannot earn God’s pleasure. We cannot earn holiness. What can we do? Let God work his righteousness in us, which is by faith. God does want to perfect you. But he can only perfect you through the work of his Spirit, not the work of your flesh.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” Galatians 5:6
The Christian who falls and sins is not fallen from grace. In fact, the Bible says we cannot fall from grace.
“But he giveth more grace.” Hebrews 4:6a
When we sin, we are not removed from grace. No. God gives us more grace. Paul explains in Romans, “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” Romans 5:20b. When we have been saved by grace and afterwards sin, God does not remove his grace from us—he gives us more grace.
So why this stigma? Why do we call the Christian who sins fallen from grace? Because we are fallen from grace. We are judging Christianity by works, by the fulfilling of the law. This is not scriptural. Sin does not remove us from grace. We remove ourselves from grace when we stop living by grace. Sin does not separate us from God once we have been saved. Nothing can separate us from God.
If sin separates us from grace, then Christ died in vain. If sinning after salvation removes us from the grace of God, then why would Christ have come to die for our sin? Does Christ’s blood only have power to cleanse the sin we committed before salvation? Can Christ’s blood not cover the “scandalous” sins we commit? Is Christ’s blood limited by a timeframe? No. His grace is greater than all of our sin. His blood covers all of our sin. His love separates all of our sin as far as the east is from the west.
The only thing that can separate us from grace is our rejection of grace. If you are living by works you have rejected grace. And if you are forcing Christians who have sinned to earn restoration through works, you have rejected grace. Christ is standing beside those who have sinned, offering them grace, while you are trying to withhold it from them.
Pride causes us to fall from grace.
What causes a person to reject grace and try to earn it? Pride. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Pride wants to earn salvation. Pride wants to work to justification. Pride demands others who have sinned to earn forgiveness and restoration.
“For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” Galatians 6:13
Pride wants to glory in the flesh. But “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5. If you are relying on your works, you are walking in pride—and God is resisting you.
Have you fallen from grace? Have you been trying to earn your standing with God? Have you been trying to force others to earn God’s grace? Have you been telling the fallen Christian they must work to be restored? It’s not too late to come back. Come back to grace. Humble yourself in the sight of God. Forsake your pride. Forsake your flesh. Start walking in the grace and Spirit of God. He gives more grace. He will forgive you, give grace to you, and lift you back up.
Have you fallen into sin? You have not fallen from grace. You do not have to earn your way back to God. All you have to do is confess your sin to God and accept his bountiful grace.
“Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth them with his hand.” Psalm 37:24
© 2012 Amy Hyles