Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
One of George H. W. Bush’s campaign promises for the 1988 election was that there would be no new taxes – in fact, you could just read his lips, No New Taxes! As is the nature of campaign promises, they are made to get elected, but broken once in office, Bush did raise taxes and it caused issues with his base, and, arguably so, that it impacted the 1992 election as Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton. This tax increase wasn’t the only thing folks took issue with, but it was a larger issue, and perhaps the pinnacle issue. Bush had fallen from grace with his base over this issue.
We use this phrase today (“fallen from grace”) to describe folks who have once held a favorable status but through speech or action have found themselves lower on society’s scale. But, is this the idea Paul has in mind in Galatians when he uses this phrase? I’m not sure he has the modern view of this phrase in mind, but I’m also not convinced that our usage of this phrase is not totally foreign to the point Paul is trying to get across.
The Galatian believers were having issues with what Paul calls, false brethren. And, these false brethren were coming in to “spy out” the liberty the Galatians had in Christ. In other words, these “brethren” were integrating themselves among the Galatians for the pure purpose of sabotage these believer’s liberty, which was afforded to them by faith, having been placed into Liberty Himself. The entire point of Galatians is Paul’s refocusing the Galatians back to what is true, where their liberty is concerned.
What sabotages liberty? It is tyranny. These “brethren” were attempting to convince these Galatians that their liberty (by faith) meant nothing because they only way they could have liberty was to submit themselves to the law and to ritual. In other words, Galatians, if you want true liberty, you’ll submit yourselves to the bondage of law-keeping. However, Paul writes in Chapters 2 and 3 of Galatians that by the deeds of the law shall NO FLESH be justified in the sight of God.
Galatians 2:16 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 be justified.
This has been the grand truth from day one – no one has ever possessed, within their flesh, the means to convince God to justify them – to make them righteous. And, when a law is added (i.e. of Moses), it actually makes it worse because the law then exposes just how insufficient the flesh is, for keeping the law, continually and perfectly, is impossible. This is why it is the antithesis of liberty to conclude that by law keeping one attains liberty. However, deception rarely cares about the means and completely justifies itself to accomplish its mission by whatever means necessary. These “brethren” were deceiving these Galatians and robbing them of the surety of their faith. In other words, these “brethren” weren’t stealing the salvation of the believers, but were creating obstacles for the Galatians to enjoy their salvation.
Throughout the letter, Paul is hammering home the fact that they were justified by faith, not the law and not of ritual (namely, physical circumcision). He confirms that their familial association to Abraham was a PRODUCT of their faith, not their circumcision. (Recall in Romans 4, Paul states that Abraham was justified by faith while he was yet in “uncircumcision.”)
Galatians couldn’t be more clear – we began in faith, we are perfected by faith, we are justified by faith – it’s all faith! So, what if these Galatians were to fall for the deception of these other “brethren”? Would they lose their standing with God? Paul says in Chapter 5 that they are fallen from grace – is that what Paul means – that they would no longer be in God’s grace? Actually, this is not what Paul is talking about. Paul is doing nothing more than pointing out the ultimate reality of what being justified by anything else other than faith would result in. He is not talking about those believers who mess up and sin that they have to get “re-saved” or “re-justified”. He is letting the believers at Galatia know that the ultimate finish line of these the message of these false brethren isn’t a finish line of grace. Why? Because as Paul write in Romans 4:4-5, to him that worketh is the reward not given of grace, but of DEBT. But, to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his FAITH is counted for RIGHTEOUSNESS.
If someone wishes to be justified before God by their law-keeping/fleshly ritual, then they have fallen from grace because now God must examine their work and determine if their work is worthy to be justified. I’ve got news for you – when God examines the state of your work, compared to His as the ultimate standard, He will NEVER be indebted to reward you with a righteous standing. This is why it had to be of grace.
When we are justified by grace, we let go any work of our own and simply rest in His. But, for those who seek to be justified by the law, they will never approach God on the grounds of grace, but will only do so on the grounds of their own works, which unfortunately dead-ends at the pothole of their own performance.