Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
True, born-again Christians can become so deluded by false teachers that they compromise their belief in the Gospel—for a while.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter of encouragement and challenge to the churches of Galatia when they were struggling with such compromise. In the fifth chapter of his epistle, he encourages these Christians to “Stand fast…in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (v.1).
Certain seemingly-converted Jewish preachers (who are sometimes referred to as Judaisers) went around visiting the Christian churches after Paul had moved on in his missionary journeys and they taught that it was vital that the Galatians, being gentiles, must become circumcised. This was what Paul meant by “the yoke of bondage” (see Acts 15:1,5; Galatians 2:4; 4:21-26).
The Judaisers’ doctrine clearly denied the sole sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Paul warned the Galatians against this “another gospel, which is not another”, and he solemnly pronounced preachers of “any other gospel” than the true one to be liable to the Divine curse (Galatians 1:6-9).
A Debtor to Do the Whole Law
The apostle continued: “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” (Galatians 5:2,3). These Judaisers were preaching the necessity for circumcision only at first; but Paul knew that this was merely a tactic and that their agenda was to bring the Galatian Christians under the entire Law of Moses (see Romans 2:25; 1 Corinthians 7:19).
Paul therefore pointed out that for those who seek to save themselves by their own attempted works of Law-keeping, that “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). This is because it was only if a person kept the Law of Moses perfectly and completely would God then could count them as justified in his sight (Lev 18:5; Romans 10:5). No fallen sinner can actually save himself or herself by this way, or by any other (see Romans 3:20).
Paul’s point was that if people in the churches of Galatia accepted this foolish false gospel that required both legal works (such as circumcision) and faith in Christ in order to accomplish salvation, then they have really been seeking to be saved not by grace but by their own works—with the works being the deciding factor in whether they are saved or not.
It is the same for people who profess to be Christians today.
Reject the true Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone—and “Christ is become of no effect” (Galatians 5:4) to you whatsoever.
This works-religion error teaches that Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to fallen human beings out of the sheer grace of God, is not adequate of itself to save us. We must also receive circumcision and keep the Law of Moses, or we must do some other work of merit, self-improvement or personal development to make ourselves worthy of salation. We must do something—whatever is alleged to be necessary—to save ourselves.
But what can we do to make ourselves worthy of salvation? It is not that Christ steps in and adds his saving work to us “after all that we can do”. Even if that were true—who can say where that point is, where we have done enough?
You should never dare accept the words of anyone who contradicts the Bible, even if he of she claims to be a prophet.
The apostle Paul was so determined to make this clear to his readers that he goes so far as to say—and to say it twice: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8,9).
Once you start down this path of works-religion, you are “a debtor to do the whole Law”. God holds all mankind accountable to the whole of his perfect moral law. And now you are in the most serious trouble, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
You can be sure of this: there is no salvation for you, or anyone, that way.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that all you need is for Christ to be a supplement to your own “good works”. You cannot do any good works, according to God. All your own so-called righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Have you not yet learned that in you, that is, in your flesh, there dwells no good thing? (Romans 7:18)1
You are totally depraved and you need a total Saviour.
Can You Fall From Grace?
So, was the apostle Paul saying that people can fall from grace? Yes, clearly he was. But was he saying that true, born-again, saved Christians can fall from their state of grace in Christ? No. Paul argued against the Judaisers’ false gospel without implying that genuine Christians could lose their salvation—although they may indeed struggle with this false gospel for a time.
It was true that many Christians in the Galatian churches—for whom the Lord Jesus Christ had given himself for their sins (see Galatians 1:2-5)—were temporarily “removed from him who called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (1:6,7; 5:6-8). These Christians were, at Paul’s time of writing, “bewitched” so that they did not “obey the truth” (3:1).
However, Paul well remembered their personal history, from which he knew that they were true Christians notwithstanding their present delusion. And delusion it was, hence the term “bewitched”—the Greek word being translated here has the idea of being mislead by fascination or peruasive charm, which the Judaisers excelled at. (It is not that he suspected the Judaisers of witchcraft.)
Concerning the Galatian Christians, Paul knew that:
they “did run well” at first (5:7);
they had been made free—liberated by Christ (5:1);
they belonged to the free “Jerusalem which is above,” the mother of all true Christians (4:26) (i.e. they belonged to the Gospel kingdom of Christ and its freedom from Law-works);
Christ had redeemed them from the curse of the law (3:13);
they had received the Holy Spirit, having “begun in the Spirit” (3:2,3,14);
they were children of the promise who were born after the Spirit (4:28-31);
because they were now adopted children of God, God had sent forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying, “Abba, Father” (4:6).
and most significantly, notice that Paul still included these Galatian gentiles as his own brothers and sisters in Christ—in that “our” when he opened his epistle with that affirmation that Christ “gave himself for our sins” (1:4).
Paul would not have affirmed that all the above was true of these Galatian Christians if they had lost their salvation, or were in danger of losing it. No, they had not fallen from their state of grace when they were bewitched by the Judaisers.
Knowing therefore that he was dealing with true Christians, Paul grabs hold of them with his words and remonstrates with great strength of feeling out of an overflowing heart: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth…?” Paul considered them “foolish” for having been charmed and influenced by the Judaisers, because evidently they had not thought the whole matter through and understood the utter contradiction between the true Gospel and this false gospel.
True Christians are distinguished as those who are brought out of error by exposure to the truth. They have the Holy Spirit as their teacher, and God brings them to a better understanding by sending them faithful witnesses in the form of preachers, friends, pastors, books, tracts, and so on.
Pre-eminently through all these means God uses the Holy Scriptures ministered by the Holy Spirit—which is how he recovered these bewitched Galatians.
To be continued.