What Does the Bible Say About Falling From Grace?

“You have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:4

You often hear this quote from church groups that believe that it is possible for people to lose their salvation. They will tell you that this means that a person can live like a believer for many years, attend church, tithe, and perform all the outward works of a good Christian. At some point, the person “backslides” and loses his or her salvation. They either commit some egregious sin, or perhaps a large number of lesser sins, and they fall from grace. In all the years that I have discussed this topic with those who believe in falling from grace, no one has ever been able to tell me what that point is. How does a person know when he or she falls from grace and loses his or her salvation?

One of the major themes of the Book of Galatians is the conflict between the doctrine of grace and works. Paul wrote Galatians in response to the movement of the Judaizers. This false teaching arose from a group of people who felt that it was necessary for people to become Jewish before they could become Christian. This meant that males would need to undergo the ritual of circumcision, which had been a standard mark of being Jewish or an Israelite for centuries going back to the time of Abraham.

The question of circumcision was one of the first controversies of the early church. The record of the Jerusalem Council is found in Acts 15. Verse one explains the controversy. “And certain ones came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and dispute with them” (verse 2). The question went to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to deal with it.

The Apostle Peter testified at that council about his dealings with Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian (Gentiles) Regiment (Acts 10). He gave as evidence the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles without their being circumcised. Peter concluded, “God shows no partiality” (verse 34). The Jerusalem Council rendered their decision and wrote a letter to the Gentiles: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29).

Notice they said nothing here about circumcision, Sabbath worship services, animal sacrifices and Jewish feasts. This would have been a good time to have said, “Look guys, if you want to be good Christians, you must be circumcised as we are. You must do church on Saturday as we do, and you must observe the Passover and all the other Jewish feasts as we do. If you do these necessary things, you will be good Christians as we are.” Remember Peter’s question at the Jerusalem Council: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Not even good Jews could be good-enough Jews. Why then demand that Gentiles become Jews first?

We cannot keep the law. That is the point that Paul is making in the Book of Galatians. In Galatians 4, Paul compared the Law to a guardian to have authority over the son until he matured. The guardian took the son to be trained. He pointed the way to his teachers. The Law was never meant to save. It was only meant to point out our need for a Savior. Dealing with a similar problem in Colossians 2, Paul pointed out that laws regarding festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were “only a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17).

For Christians, trying to be saved by observing the Law is very dangerous. The Apostle James wrote: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10). If you are going to emphasize going to church on Saturday, then you are obligated to keep all the Sabbath law, not just Saturday church attendance. The Commandment reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-10ff). Notice it does not say to work five days and have a two-day weekend. You must work six days. That is the commandment. If you fail in one point, you are guilty of breaking it all.

These same principals can apply to many man-made requirements today. Acts 15:1 “Unless you…, you cannot be saved.” You fill in the blank. Unless you get baptized, go to church, take Communion, speak in tongues, wear certain clothing, read the Bible, tithe or whatever you want to add to it, you cannot be saved. That is what Paul meant by falling from grace. It means the exact opposite of what groups use it for today. They say unless you keep our list of rules, you will fall from grace as though we maintain grace by our own ability. In fact, Paul wrote that ones who are fallen from grace are precisely those who come up with lists of saving activities.

The rest of Galatians 5:4 reads: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” In verse 1, Paul referred to the observance of the Law as a yoke of bondage”. He wrote that if anyone submitted to circumcision as a basis for salvation, that person was obligated to keep the whole law (verse 3), “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

“Falling from grace” is a club that is often used to beat people into submission to a group’s distinctive marks. It compels people to regular religious activities and compliance with group standards, but it leads to a yoke of bondage. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. Stop trying to please people. Relax in Christ. “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

FEEDING THE SHEEP OR ENTERTAINING THE GOATS?

After Christ’s resurrection, he met his followers on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. One morning he asked them if they had any fish. Peter told him that they had been out all night without success. When Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat, they hauled in a large number of fish.

Peter realized who it was on the shore and jumped overboard to swim to him. After eating breakfast, Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Do you love me?” Each time when Peter said yes, Jesus told him to feed and tend his sheep. That is what a shepherd is to do.

At Pentecost when the church was born, Peter preached the first sermon. He explained to the crowd what was happening at Pentecost. Then he proceeded to talk about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. At the end of his presentation he pointed out, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). He squarely blamed them for crucifying Christ. They asked what they should do. Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v. 38). He did not sugar coat the reality of their crime and their need. That is how you feed the flock. You give them the word of God even when it is unpleasant.

In the 1970’s, however, a shift began to take place. In an effort of make church “relevant,” pastors tried different techniques to get people to come in the doors. One pastor went so far as to do a survey where he asked people what kind of church they would want to attend. Using that information, he set out to build a church that unchurched people would attend. Rather than call them to repentance as Peter did, this built the church  on the principles and desires of unregenerate people. The goats started coming in to the churches and crowding out the sheep.

Churches began all kinds of activities to keep the goats coming in so that they could pay the bills. This is not new to our time. Charles Spurgeon recognized this trend more than a century ago. “An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_cbaMBoDac).

Churches today go to great lengths to get people to come into their buildings trying to win them. They have contests and entertainment, concerts, clowns, drama, motivational speaking, life enhancement sermons, and entertainment evangelism where they discuss popular television programs from the sixties, but they are afraid to preach the gospel for fear of offending the goats. Spurgeon said, “Providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church.” Christ said to go into the world and preach the gospel, not to placate the goats so they will feel comfortable. Spurgeon commenting on the crowds leaving Jesus in John 6: “I do not hear him say, ‘Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow.’”

Using carnal means to attract people only attracts carnal people. Watch Paul Washer’s video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6w3qZjp3jYU) Whatever you use to get people into your church, you will have to top next time to get them to come back. You will continually have to outdo yourself to keep entertaining the goats, because they are not coming for the right reasons. The church cannot compete with the world on the same level, because it lacks the financial resources that the entertainment world has, so we come off as a cheap imitation.

Pity the poor sheep of the church who languish and go without food as the pastor runs off trying to amuse the goats so they will come back. Sheep need feeding and tending, but many are starving spiritually. Pastors need to return to tend the flock that God gave them and quit trying to appease the goats who will only be separated from the sheep at the judgment. Remember Paul Washer’s words, “If you use carnal means to attract people, you will only attract carnal people.

 

 

Living By Faithfulness

One frequently misunderstood Bible passage is Romans 1:17, which states: “The just shall live by faith.” Some interpret that to mean that you do not need to plan for the future, you just have faith and everything will work out. The summer before I entered seminary, I found myself in the living room with some sales prospects to purchase insurance products. Since I was in training as an insurance salesman, I simply observed the whole process. The conversation turned to me as the mentor was explaining to the prospects that I was about to enter seminary. They asked me why I was learning to sell insurance if I was going to enter seminary. I told them that I needed to make a living somehow while attending class. They literally asked me, “Can’t you just live by faith?” I said, “I have to live like everyone else. The money has to come from somewhere.”

Several years later as I was conducting a Bible study class for young married couples, one of the young men asked me, “Why don’t we all sell everything we have and just live by faith?” My answer was the same. The money has to come from somewhere. People think that if you just “live by faith,” money just somehow magically appears in your bank account allowing you to pay your bills. So, what is faith? Just believing something and hoping it comes to pass?

Imagine farming by faith. A farmer lies in his hammock every day believing that one day he will reap a harvest. He actively visualizes his crops. He does not cultivate; he just farms by faith. He does not plant; he just farms by faith. He does not irrigate; he just farms by faith. It does not matter how strong his faith is or detailed his visualization is; he will still not reap a harvest if he skips all the steps necessary for a harvest.

Romans 1:17 quotes a passage from Habakkuk 2:4. There the prophet says, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” Psalm 96:13 uses the same Hebrew word, but translates it as “faithfulness.” Living by faith is not living with no cares, and hoping that circumstances will somehow work themselves out. It is not living by emotions, passions, or impulses over which you have no control. It is not capricious living doing only what you feel like doing. It means being faithful despite feelings. In Sentimentality or Spirituality, I wrote about persons who were driven by feelings and passions. If they do not feel like doing something, they simply do not. They only do what they feel passionate about.

Living by feelings can lead to depression. For example, Christians may struggle with feelings of acceptance by God. Since they do not feel close to God, their feelings lead them toward sadness. Rather than trusting by faith what God has said in His word, they rely on their own feelings. Believing your feelings rather than God’s word is calling God a liar.

If you feel that God has not accepted you, you are not living by faith. Ephesians 1:6 says that God has called us to be adopted as his children, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” His word said that he has made us accepted in Christ. We are accepted in Christ. If I do not feel accepted by God, then I am the one at fault, not God or his word. I am not a child of God, dearly loved and accepted by him because of what I feel is true. It is so because his word says so. To follow my feelings and feel depressed is to call God a liar.

Living by faithfulness means living according to God’s word and promises regardless of how I feel about circumstances. When you begin to feel depressed or anxious, go to God’s word and find a truth to trust. If you feel anxiety, for example, go to First Peter 5:6-7, which says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (NKJV). Focus on the meaning of these words. You are to humble yourself before God, casting all your anxiety on him. Trust what it says, then go to God in prayer and do that.

If you feel guilty about sins you committed in the past, turn to First John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). Focus on what it says. If you have confessed your sins to him, he has cleansed you from all sin. This should eliminate guilty feelings. Believe what these words say and act accordingly.

Living by faithfulness means living to please God despite how you feel. Rather than following your heart, or your emotions, focus on the facts of God’s word. Several years ago, Campus Crusade for Christ put a diagram in one of their tracts. It was a drawing of a steam engine train with three parts. They labeled the locomotive Fact, the coal car Faith, the passenger car Feelings. They said that the engine could run with or without the passenger car.

Another book used a similar drawing. It showed three people walking along the top of a brick wall. The first was Fact, the second was Faith and the third was Feeling. The book said that if Faith kept his eye on Fact, he would not fall off the wall, but if he looked over his shoulder at Feeling, he would fall off the wall. Remember that Christians are to live by faithfulness, not feelings. If you look to feelings for assurance, you will be derailed. You can always trust God’s word no matter how you feel.

 

 

 

 

Do You Have “the Gift”?

Part of my role as pastor is to teach my people how to do evangelism. Many times, they respond by telling me that they do not have the gift of evangelism. They feel as though that excuses them from doing “the work of the evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Not long ago, a vocational evangelist asked me if I had “the gift.” He said that if I had the gift, I would not be content to be just a pastor, but that I would have found a way to speak in front of crowds at crusades. I told him that God had not opened those doors for me.  If I really had “the gift,” he reasoned, I would make a way.

Similarly, I have been told that I do not have “the calling.” A little more than twenty years ago, I was the pastor of a small, struggling church in south Texas. Because the church was not growing very much, one of the deacons implied that I did not have “the calling.” If I did, he reasoned, then the church would be growing. Since the church was not actively growing, apparently I was not called to the ministry.

At an Evangelism Conference of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2011, one of the speakers addressed the group of pastors. He said, “Pastor, if you can’t get at least one person to walk down the aisle of your church and get baptized each year, you should question your calling.” It did not matter what kind of spiritual climate your church may be in, you are only effective if you are producing numbers.

Obviously, the gift is evaluated numerically. If your church is growing, and people are coming in (especially if they are getting baptized) and your church budget is expanding, then you must have “the calling.” If you speak at crusades and large numbers of people make decisions, then you have “the gift.” In some denominations, it is also called the “anointing.” You will hear church members say, “My, that sermon sure was anointed,” or “had the anointing on it.”

So, how do you know if you have “the gift?” Most would say that if you are not producing numbers, i.e. new converts, new church members, or dollars, you are not called, gifted or anointed. Biblically, none of these factors indicates calling, gifting or anointing.

Look at some of the Old Testament prophets, for example. Jeremiah did not have a large following. He found himself at the bottom of a cistern, and ultimately in exile. Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God. God definitely called him for service, but in Isaiah 6, he asked God how long it would be as the people would not listen. Even God’s response sounds like a lament. God answered Isaiah’s question: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The Lord has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isaiah 6:11-13). God had promised that the people’s hearts would be dull and their ears deaf, certainly not the testimony of a widespread revival in the land. Yet God did not say that Isaiah was not “called” because he did not produce large numbers of converts.

At Christ’s ascension, he only had 11 followers with him. Judas was gone and Mathias had not yet replaced Judas as one of the Apostles. If Jesus had tried to build his church today, the sending agency would have given him three years to make it. They would have evaluated the effectiveness of his ministry by looking at the numbers. They would have said, “Well, we have funded you for three years, with a decrease in funding each year, hoping you would become self-sustaining. It has been three years, and you have only made eleven converts, so we are going to de-fund you.” That is modern church planting, so, apparently, Christ did not have the calling, the gift or the anointing.

A quick search of the scripture will not reveal the phrase of the gift of evangelism. The Bible refers to the gift of the evangelist in Ephesians 4:11, but the gift of evangelism. All believers are commissioned to be disciple-makers, which involves the task of evangelism. Paul commanded Timothy to do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). He did not say, “Don’t worry about it, Timothy, you don’t have the gift.”

While we may not have the “gift, the calling or the anointing,” we all have the task of evangelism. Christ commissioned all his followers in Matthew 28:18-20, among others, to do that job. Do your task and leave the numbers to God.