Monday, October 15, 2012

Adding to Grace Is Falling from Grace

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  (Galatians 5:2-6)

Judaizers had been working overtime to nullify the effects of the gospel in the lives of the Galatian believers.  Promoting obligatory external manifestation of God's working in these Gentile believers, they had been successful in turning hearts by adding to what God had accomplished in the cross of Jesus.  No longer was the atoning sacrifice sufficient.  These believers were being taught that, though baptism was a public repudiation of the past life and a declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus, it no longer buried someone with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).  Circumcision was now the required addition to complete the work of salvation.

According to the Galatians passage, the reverse is true.  When we add to grace, we actually fall from grace.  When we attempt to complete a finished work, Christ is no longer the all-sufficient sacrifice.  He is not the offering who removes our sin from us.  Much as the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were former Jews tempted to return to their sacrifices, the Galatians were pushed to confirm that Jesus' suffering and death was not able to cover their sin and take the same Old Covenant path.

This is no small matter.  Above, Paul speaks of those who take would circumcision as "severed from Christ" and "fallen away from grace."  These are serious words.  A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) writes that these have made their identification with Christ "null and void" and "left the sphere of grace in Christ" to took a stand "in the sphere of law as your hope of salvation."  He goes on to say:
Paul does not mince words and carries the logic to the end of the course.  He is not, of course, speaking of occasional sins, but he has in mind a far more serious matter, that of substituting law for Christ as the agent in salvation.
Clearly, Paul marks those who now want to take circumcision—not stating that any had already taken this step but is warning against this act of apostasy—as fully turning their backs on the grace of God found in Christ Jesus and as those of whom "it is impossible to restore again to repentance … since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt" (Heb 6:4-6).  They have no further recourse for salvation after abandoning the redemption and reconciliation won by Jesus.

Conversely, those who live by grace through faith are "eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness" through the Holy Spirit.  They live in full assurance that what Christ promised and won on the cross is waiting for them in the final resurrection.  Let us then hold fast our confession of faith (Heb 4:14).

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