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Fallen From Grace

April 28, 2010

In the previous post on Galatians 4, we looked at some of the differences between the two covenants and Paul’s concern that the Galatians had returned to the bondage of the old covenant. Chapter five begins with Paul urging the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty they have been given in Christ.  He uses strong language to express his concern over the disastrous spiritual effects of legalism. First of all, he says that Christ shall profit them nothing if they seek to be justified by the law (2). Further, because they are seeking to be justified by the law, they are now obligated to keep the whole law (3). Their fellowship with God now depends entirely upon their own obedience.  Christ is of no effect for them.  They have fallen from grace (4).

I had to slow down at this verse to do a word search because I don’t think Paul has in mind here that the Galatians are no longer saved.  Notice how he refers to them as brethren throughout the book (4:28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:1).  He also calls them children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (3:26), adopted sons of God (4:5-7), and those who have received the Spirit through faith (3:2-5). Further, the greater context of scripture is against the teaching that a person, once truly saved, can lose their salvation (eg. John 5:24, 10:27-29; 1 John 5:11-13; 1 Peter 5:10, etc).

What does he mean, then, by saying that the Galatians have fallen from grace?  The Greek word here, ekpipto, means “to drop away; specially, be driven out of one’s course; figuratively, to lose, become inefficient:–be cast, fail, fall (away, off), take none effect” (Strongs).

I believe there is a very real spiritual transaction that occurs the moment a believer’s focus shifts from reliance on the sufficient work of Christ to a self-reliance on any work performed in an effort to gain acceptance with God.  The spiritual deadening is not immediately perceptible, but can become evident over the long-term if God grants the discernment to see what is happening.  Such a fall from grace damages fellowship with Christ and, subsequently, results in a decrease in spiritual effectiveness.  I believe this is why Paul made such an emphasis about his relationship to the law – he had to consider himself dead to the law and crucified with Christ – in order that he could live unto God in the Spirit (2:19-20, cf. Rom. 7:4-7, 8:1-4).

For Paul the Christian life is one of faith working by love (6), and he urges the Galatians to use their liberty to serve one another in love (13). He claims the entire law is fulfilled in this one commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (14).  There is this implication that the Galatians’ legalism is affecting their ability to love one another.  Instead of being filled with the fruits of the Spirit, they are manifesting the fruits of the flesh: contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy, conceit, biting and devouring (15, 17-21, 26).

From personal experience in some legalistic corners of Christianity, I can confirm that legalism often leads to the lusts of the flesh that are listed in this chapter.  I have also observed that legalistic sects of Christianity seem to peculiarly germinate sexual sin as well (19).  Although legalizers are obviously not the only ones who struggle with sins of the flesh, there does seem to be both a logical and spiritual connection between legalism and the sins of the flesh.  After all, Paul describes the old covenant as being of the flesh (23, 29) and the new covenant as being of the Spirit (29). A person who trifles with legalism will experience a conflict between the the flesh and the Spirit (17). Those who are led of the Spirit are not under the law (18).

This chapter mirrors some of the same themes as Romans 8:1-9 (the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit) and the expectation that believers who walk in the Spirit will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (16-18).  Paul lists the works of the flesh (19-21), contrasting them with the fruits of the Spirit (22-23), and noting that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (24).  The chapter concludes with Paul urging them to walk in the Spirit (25-26).

I have had several personal experiences with legalism that have had deadening effects on my relationship with Christ for temporary periods of time. When I grasped what was occurring and turned away from the legalism, my joy and fellowship with Christ was restored.  In short, I feel I have experienced firsthand that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Sometimes the legalism has seemed quite minor, almost imperceptible. But as Paul points out “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (9).  It’s too easy for the little legalistic detail to become a message we preach.  Paul refused to trade the message of the cross for the leaven of the Pharisees (11).


1.  How does this chapter impact your view of the believer’s relationship to the law?

2.  Do you agree or disagree with my observations about the connection between legalism and the sins of the flesh?

3.  Has anyone had a similar experience to me in finding that legalism deadened their spiritual life?

4.  What other observations, interpretations, or applications did you have?  There is SO much in this chapter!  I hardly even touched on the huge subjects of the fruits of the flesh vs. fruits of the Spirit.


All scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    April 28, 2010 11:28 pm

    Being a Mormon myself, I feel a need to explain Mormonism as it relates to the above. Mormons are counseled to place their whole trust in Christ. Any thought of being able to succeed by ones self is a form of pride. Mormons are also taught to be self reliant. The idea is that one can only be truely self reliant if they rely on Christ for all of their needs.

    Throughout history, God has always commanded his people to keep his commandments. This did not go away with the advent of Christ. I think that many have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

    Because of the weakness of the children of Israel, God gave a strict law of performances in order to help the people become prepared to live the gospel. After Christ came, the apostles struggeld to help the people realize that faith in Christ is what saves them, not the law of Moses.

    Salvation to Mormons comes from making and keeping covenants. We are then in a relationship with Christ that is similar to a traditional marriage. We as the bride promise to be faithful to Christ. Christ as the husband becomes the provider, protector and saviour. Wives are not perfect but as long as they are faithful to the marriage and do not run away with another man, the marriage covenant is valid.

    Our duty is to repent (a turning away from a habit of sinning to Christ). It is a turning of direction. It is a lifestyle and paradigm change. We now face towards God and away from the world. In our weakness, as we humbly do so, Christ wraps his mercy around us and saves us. We are not required to be perfect. We are only required to be faithful. As beggars, our meager strivings to continually become more like Christ brings the power of the atonement into our lives.

  2. April 28, 2010 11:38 pm

    Hi Peter!

    Welcome! I’m excited for a new participant in this blog series on Galatians. I’m not sure when you started reading, but this series actually started in February with a post explaining the inductive method of Bible study:

    I am just now getting back to this study after a very busy month. In the above post I was listing my own observations, interpretations, and applications from the fifth chapter of Galatians.

    I would love to hear your personal observations, interpretations, and applications from this passage as well!

  3. gloria permalink
    April 29, 2010 7:48 pm


    I love the book of Galatians! Especially in light of the expierences I have had with a legalistic mindset for so many years.
    The grace of our Lord has freed me from that bondage, and I can truly testify that to be crucified with Christ, means saying “good bye” to the legalism we are warned about especially in the NT. Freedom in Christ is that – FREEdom. That does not mean freedom to sin, but freedom from mad made rules and obligations that steal our JOY in the Lord!

    Wnderful post,


  4. June 22, 2010 3:42 am

    I love this chapter as well…my greatest understanding here has come in the area of works versus fruit. To me, works are our conscious efforts to do anything for God, whereas fruit is a natural representation of God’s goodness that flows through us as we accept more and more of His love in our lives. Works give glory to the person for their efforts while fruit gives glory to God for His love in our lives. I think that is why Paul described such a contrast between the two. Any effort on our part to do work for God seems to me to reduce our need for Christ, while anything we do as a result of receiving His love for us reflects our need for Him more and more. As Christ says in John 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” What better witness of Christ is there than a person who lives life authentically, confident in the fact that they are loved and redeemed by their Heavenly Father, so much so that they love others freely and fearlessly without fear of rejection or scorn? That seems to answer Paul’s call to obey the law of Christ, “to love our neighbors as ourselves”, the law that super cedes all others.

  5. June 22, 2010 4:10 am

    ckuhrasch – I love your insights!

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