CAN A TRUE CHRISTIAN FALL FROM GRACE?
Pastor John Samson
Some passages of Scripture are easier to understand than others. While some passages are extremely clear, others require a good deal of prayer, thinking and study before the meaning finally becomes apparent.
In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul instructed Timothy – “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
Here it is as though Paul says “Think Timothy.. keep on thinking.. mull it over and over in your mind… think about everything I have said.. think it all the way through.. God is not against you thinking.. in fact, He actually commands you to use your God given intelligence.. think through the implications.. use logic.. use rationality.. think everything through all the way as you seek to gain sound conclusions.. yes, even as you look to God for the understanding… think, and go on thinking.. don’t stop Timothy because understanding will come.. the Lord gives understanding, remember that.. even as frustration seems to be your only friend, persevere… keep on thinking.. understanding will come.. think, think, think.” Even though it is the Lord who gives the understanding, we are often called upon to do a whole lot of thinking before illumination comes.
If you have struggled as I have to try to understand some things in the Bible, you are in very good company. It is something of a comfort to know that even the Apostle Peter found some of Paul’s writings “hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16)
One of the basic rules of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) is that on any given subject we should start by examining the clear passages before moving on to the seemingly unclear. Then we should use the clear passages to determine what Scripture teaches and use them to interpret the unclear. I am sure you will agree that this is an immensely helpful rule.
How heartening it is to read clear passages like John 3:16 which says that all who believe in Christ will “not perish but have eternal life.”
John 6: 37-40 is equally clear – “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
I cannot for one moment conceive of the Lord Jesus failing to do the will of His Father and here the passage teaches us that it is God’s will that He will not lose any of those given to Him by the Father but will raise all of them up to eternal life at the last day. Jesus is the perfect Savior who saves perfectly.
Notice the words of John 10: 26-30, “… but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Jesus the true and perfect Shepherd loses none of His sheep. What could be clearer?
In the final words of the epistle of Jude we read, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24, 25. Properly understood, these words leave no room for any doubt on the issue. I have written a short article on this here.
Romans 8:29-30 is also a clear passage: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
In what theologians refer to as “The Golden Chain of Redemption,” God is revealing to us an unbreakable chain that starts in eternity past, goes through time, and on into eternity future. This chain is forged by God Himself, and has five unbreakable links: God foreknows, predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifies.
Notice that there is one ambiguity in the text; something that is not actually stated but is definitely implied – that being the word “all.” Let’s see this clearly by inserting another possible implication by way of contrast, the word “some.”
“For (some) whom He foreknew, He predestined; (some) He predestined, He called; (some) He called, He justified; and (some) He justified, were glorified.” What kind of comfort and security would that give to us? Would we be able to say “who can separate us from the love of Christ?”
I think our answer would have to be that “many things” could separate us from the love of Christ (if the intended implication was the word “some” in this passage). It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and certainly would not give us any kind of security in Christ, which is the very thing Paul is seeking to provide for us in this passage.
No, I believe 100 out of 100 Bible scholars would all agree that the implication of the text is that ALL He foreknew, He predestined; ALL He predestined, He called; ALL He called, He justified; and ALL He justified, He glorified.
Notice the statement “these He justified; He also glorified.” If this was the only verse in the Bible on the subject, it would be enough on its own to show us that no truly justified person loses salvation. All those who are justified end up being glorified. None fall through the cracks, so to speak. So certain is the final outcome that God speaks of glorification in the past tense. Though in this life we are not yet glorified, so certain is God that we will arrive at this condition that He announces it ahead of time “these He justified, He also glorified.” I don’t know how the Scripture could be written with any more clarity. Case closed!
Let me quickly point out that we are not justified by the mere profession of faith but by the possession of faith (Romans 5:1). Not all who make a profession of faith have possession of genuine saving faith. Only true genuine faith justifies, and true faith will show itself (reveal itself) by works.
In a verse that gives terrific insight into this whole question, the Apostle John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). John makes it plain that those who leave the Christian faith were never truly a part of it. I don’t know of a more emphatic statement that could be made on this issue.
Then there’s Jesus words to those who seem to have exercised Christian ministry and who are shocked when at the Judgement, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, “˜Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matt 7:21-23)
Jesus words give great insight when He says, “I never knew you…” It is important to note that He did not say, “I knew you once for a short period, but you blew it!” No, the phrase “I never knew you” indicates that those who are sent away to a lost eternity are people who were never in any kind of saving redemptive relationship with Christ.
However, at least at first glance, some scripture verses seem to undermine these precious truths. Because the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is consistent throughout. It never contradicts itself.
On this question about whether a true, genuine Christian can lose salvation, it is good to ask this question – are there any actual verses that show a true believier actually losing salvation? Can we point to anyone by name? As I have looked through the Scriptures, my answer has to be “no.” That’s because I cannot think of anyone who was saved and then lost that salvation.
Some raise the issue of Judas Iscariot as he was one of the original twelve disciples and had a successful ministry amongst them until he betrayed Christ. However, Jesus made it clear that rather than him being a true disciple, Judas was in fact “a devil.” (John 6:70, 71) Jesus words make it clear that Judas was never a true child of God.
True saving faith is not the product of man’s hostile heart of stone human nature, but is in fact the gift of God (Eph 2:8, 9; Phil 1:29). Its nature is one of continual trust in God even during hard times. Jesus is “the author and perfector of our faith.” (Heb 12:2) What He starts, He finishes. Those who fall away show themselves to have cheap imitations of the real thing (genuine faith), for the real thing endures – that is its very nature – (as we saw in 1 John 2:19)… it presses, it strives for holiness and relationship with Christ, showing evidence of a new affection and nature.
If there is no spiritual fruit we can be sure that there is no living spiritual tree for its by our fruit that we are known as Christ’s disciples (Matthew 7:20). True Christians must endure, and the fact is, true Christians will. The One who started the work in us will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).
These things are clear. We now turn to a passage that is not quite so clear, Galatians 5:2-4, and for this I quote material provided by my friend, Dr. James White on his blog at www.aomin.org. I trust you will find it to be a blessing.”
– Pastor John Samson
Question: How do we explain Galatians 5:4 which talks of people falling from grace?
Answer: Gal 5:4… you have fallen from grace. – This shows that you can receive God’s grace and then fall. Quite true: but what kind of grace, and in what context?
These words are addressed to a particular group, as the context shows:
Galatians 5: 2 “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”
So in what way had those seeking to be justified by law “fallen from grace”?
The assumption that is usually made is that to fall from grace proves that you once received saving grace; evidently, the same assumption would follow that one who is severed from Christ was once joined to Him savingly.
Aside from the contradictions such a position creates with the plain assertions of Scripture elsewhere, the fact of the matter is Paul is addressing those who were seeking to add to faith in Christ the single act of obedience encompassed in circumcision–clearly the Judaizers were not saying you did not have to believe in Christ, nor were they importing the entirety of the law of Moses (Paul argues their inconsistency at this point as part of his refutation of them); instead, they were adding a select list of things one had to do in addition to faith to be right before God. Paul has already laid out the stark contrast between the path marked by law-keeping obedience and that marked by grace-inspired faith in Christ. One cannot go down both paths.
These men were still seeking their justification, unlike true believers who look back upon theirs (Romans 5:1). They had not yet found peace with God by faith in Christ Jesus alone, and Paul says they will never find it going down the path they are going. They have been severed from Christ not in the sense that they had been salvifically united to Him and now He was failing to save them, but that by seeking to be made justified by something other than faith alone, they were severed from the only true source of life in Christ; they have fallen from grace not that they had been salvifically regenerated and justified and sanctified by grace already, and were now destroying that grace by their beliefs, but that they have fallen away or failed of grace (literally) by proceeding down a path grace has never, and will never, mark out, that path of human cooperation and works righteousness that is so much the desire of the unregenerate heart.
To prove that God’s sovereign electing grace can fail to save the elect would require a text far more to the point than one addressing false teachers who are perverting the gospel and thus cutting themselves off from salvation.