26 Sep Quarter Four Lesson Five
Falling From Grace
We are continuing on in our Bible study lessons on growing in the gospel. We have talked in the past few lessons about ministering the gospel to people who have been beaten up by sin or their circumstances and also people who have been overtaken by sin, fallen and been caught in a sin trap (Galatians 6:1).
In this lesson we want to talk about another kind of falling: falling from grace. When we talk about falling from grace many people think we mean falling into open sin. But this is not the Bible’s definition of falling from grace. Let us notice where this phrase originates to understand further:
“Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:3-4 (NIV)
Question 1. In Galatians 5:3-4, what were the Galatians doing that evidenced they had “fallen away from grace”?
The Galatians had turned to the Law for justification; that is, they were trying to live right to gain God’s favor, trying to obey God’s laws in order to be declared righteous and accepted by God into Heaven.
In other words, they had fallen from grace as a method of salvation and were now hoping their performance would suffice.
The Galatians had started out well. They had initially believed the gospel, but then something happened and they deserted Christ and turned to the Law. Paul wrote about it this way:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7 (NIV)
Question 2. List everything that the Galatians were doing, according to Galatians 1:6-7:
The Galatians were believing some kind of hybrid gospel, which was really no gospel at all, and in so doing they were deserting Jesus and the true gospel. The rest of the book of Galatians reveals that they were believing the gospel only for salvation, but trusting in the Law for sanctification.
Sanctification simply means to be set apart from sin. So the Galatians were trying to measure up to God’s standard of perfection in their own strength, by their own efforts, entirely leaving behind what Jesus did for them on the cross. Paul describes it this way:
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16 (NIV)
“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Galatians 3:3 (NIV)
Question 3. How were the Galatians trying to attain their goal of perfection?
This is a real mistake—to try and become better by working harder to live by certain moral principles, striving and fighting and promising to not sin again—it is futile. This, however, is a common error and one almost as old as time itself. You might recall the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4 which highlights the two approaches to God. Cain brought the works of his own hands while Abel brought the substitutional sacrificial lamb, a foreshadow of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. The Galatians tried to combine these two approaches, but Paul makes it clear that this too is a perversion and unacceptable. Christ is all or not at all.
Quite often new believers, “young children” in the faith, will believe the gospel and be delighted with what Jesus has done for them. Then as they pray and study the Scriptures and begin to grow, they begin to see their sins. It might even feel to them that sin clings to them like their own skin which frustrates and often motivates them to seek freedom. If these young ones in the faith are not instructed in the gospel properly, they will usually try to overcome their sin through their own efforts. Many become desperate and will grasp at anything to become free. In so doing, they lose sight of the cross and begin to set God’s Law, or a set of moral principles, before their eyes trying as hard as they can to keep them They might vow to only read the Bible; they might even read it hour upon hour every day. They might attempt to pray all day long as an attempt to avoid sin. Others become reclusive. Some even become stringent in their eating, speaking, giving, etc.
While the desire to avoid sin is good, those who go this route are misguided in their approach. They have become sidetracked, and have unwittingly turned from the gospel and what Jesus accomplished to their own efforts and what they think they should accomplish.
Question 4. Have you ever had this kind of experience? If so, please share it here:
Look now at how far the Galatians went in their turning away from the gospel:
“But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!”
Galatians 4:9-10 (NIV)
The Galatians had gone so far from the cross that they were now observing the special days of the Law in their attempt to obey God and be righteous. They were observing the Sabbath, the special feast days, New Moon celebrations and many other special occasions that were given under the Law of Moses.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
Question 5. In Galatians 5:1 what did Paul call the Old Covenant Law?
Paul called the Old Covenant Law a “yoke of slavery”. People who want to be right with God by obeying the Law, instead of by believing the gospel, end up as slaves to the Law. This simply means that they are in bondage to the Law, enslaved to its moral principles needing to fully and perfectly obey it without fail, even as a slave must render perfect obedience to his master at all times.
Question 6. According to Galatians 5:1, what had Jesus done for these Galatians, and for you?
Jesus lived His life in perfect and complete obedience to the Law, never sinning one time. His perfect life is credited to the account of every person who believes in Him, as if they themselves had lived that perfect life. Then Jesus, having perfectly fulfilled the Law in his life, died on the cross as a faultless sacrifice making every believer righteous and setting us free from the penalty of the Law.
We can understand Paul’s dismay over the Galatians now that we see that they had turned from believing the good news of Jesus Christ to the slave labor of the Law. They turned from freedom to bondage, from grace to the Law, from Jesus to Moses.
Yet, this same error happens even today. People read Jesus’ statements in Matthew chapter 5 and many other places where He upheld the Law, and they think those words are a guide for their lives. They think that they must be perfect as God is perfect or they will not be accepted. This is because they have not been instructed that Jesus’ teachings on the Law are not there to instruct us for living, but rather to convict us of sin that we might come to Him for salvation and sanctification as well.
For example, notice these few passages:
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 (NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NIV)
Question 7. Upon reading the above passages of Scripture, do you believe that you can honestly obey Jesus’ instructions in them? Please share your thoughts:
The reading of Jesus’ teaching that we have to be more righteous than the Pharisees, that we have to physically amputate parts on our body in order to not sin, and to be as perfect as God Himself, should cause us to be in complete shock and horror. Look at the extent to which we must go in order to not sin and to be righteous. Jesus just set a standard that no human being is able to meet.
The understanding of this high standard should cause us to fall on our knees and cry out to God for another way to be saved for surely those commandments are far too high for us to attain.
And that is exactly the purpose of the Law:
“So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” Galatians 3:24-25 (NIV)
Question 8. What is the purpose of the Law? Are we still under the Law today?
The purpose of the Law is to lead us to Jesus. The Law does this by showing us the standard of perfection and how far short of it we fall. It leads us to despair of ever being righteous, of ever measuring up. As we continue to sin we become desperate and we begin to cry out to Jesus for salvation. We come to Him pleading for mercy, asking for help, crying out for another way to be saved.
And so our sinful flesh combined with God’s Law works on us and leads us to Jesus, there to be saved by believing the gospel. This is the purpose of the Law; and we misuse the Law if we make it a guide for living today.
So the problem of the Galatians was that they had turned from the gospel to the Law. There are many today who do the same thing: take their eyes off of Jesus and fix them on their own performance. They look at a set of moral principles and work to keep them. Indeed, it is such a common experience for Christians that God gave us the whole book of Galatians to address the issue. But we do not want to become slaves to the rules and lose our freedom that Jesus died to buy for us.
What is the solution to this condition of Law-slavery, of performance-bondage? It is that which we have been teaching all along through this course. Notice how Paul words it:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1 (NIV)
The answer to the problem of when we become focused on earning God’s favor through our own efforts is to see Jesus clearly portrayed as crucified. We must look to the cross and meditate on what Christ endured and accomplished on our behalf.
Seeing Christ clearly portrayed as crucified is the solution, friend, and because this is the solution, I want to try to do the same thing for you today that Paul did for the Galatians long ago. Would you come with me on a short journey to the city of Jerusalem in the first century A.D.? We come to a city bustling with religious activity. There is a temple of worship, animal sacrifices, a Law that is read to the people.
Then we notice a strange occurrence: some Roman soldiers are beating a man named Jesus Christ, thrashing Him on His back and putting a crown of thorns on His head. Then they are putting a cross on His back and forcing Him to carry it up a dusty hill. He is straining and even falling under the weight of it, but pressing forward resolutely up that hill.
The Bible tells us He is carrying your sins as well as His cross (1 Peter 2:24). He was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities, and God His Father is punishing Him for your sins, so that you can have peace with God (Isaiah 53; Romans 5). While the soldiers beat and tortured Him, God judged and punished Him. And all this so that you can be accepted by God, declared to be right with God, and live forever with God (Ephesians 1:6; Romans 5:19; John 3:16).
As Jesus hangs there on the cross He prays for you, and for all who will believe in Him (John 17:20). He prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He is dying to forgive you, friend. Through His death you are forgiven of all sin and are made free from the penalty of the Law. He is dying because He loves you.
And then, at that final moment, at noon, the sun goes completely dark. It is midnight and midday. The Son of God has become your Sin-bearer, your Substitute and your Surety. He has taken all your sin and bore all your sorrow and endured all your sufferings. He has received all of God’s wrath and hatred against sin for you. At the right time, He cries out “It is finished”, then He bows His head and gives up His Spirit.
What is finished? He has finished making you righteous, more righteous than the Pharisees. He has fulfilled the Law for you. He has made you perfect, as perfect as your Father in Heaven is. He has met God’s standard on your behalf and has purchased your eternal salvation.
Then, having breathed His last, they took His body and buried it in a tomb, and your sins were buried there, too, never to be seen again.
On the third day, Jesus was raised to life, according to the Scriptures. His historically verifiable resurrection is proof that God has accepted His payment for your sins, and now you are fully justified before God. You will never answer for your sins, they do not exist. God is satisfied with Jesus’ payment.
Question 9. Are you seeing that believing this good news is the way to be righteous, rather than turning to the Law to try to keep it yourself?
Paul set forth the cross of Jesus Christ to the Galatians, “clearly.” He knew this was the way to draw the Galatians away from focusing on their own performance and the Law.
This is how we are also to minister. We minister the same message to those who have fallen into sin, as well as to those who have fallen from grace by turning to their own efforts at becoming righteous. This is our message. It is a truly glorious, wondrous, beautiful and powerful message. The gospel is the proclamation of a way of salvation for sinners, the announcement of grace to the guilty, of Christ’s love for the lost. We at Gospel Growth Ministries do hope that you see it that way as well.
Question 10. What are your final thoughts on this lesson today? Do you see how useful the cross is, both to those who have fallen to sin and those who have fallen from grace? Share your insights here.