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Those Gullible Galatians
Trampled on the Ground
Those horrible words: "Fallen from Grace"
The term "fallen from grace" has made its way into the everyday of our lives. News announcers speak of anyone who has stumbled into scandal or lost his or her popularity in the polls or in Hollywood as having fallen from grace.
But where did the term come from? What does it really mean?
The only time that phrase is used in the Bible is in the book of Galatians. The apostle Paul accused these people of having fallen from grace. That's pretty strong language! What was he talking about? And how can we avoid falling into the same thing?
Paul wrote to the Galatians because he had heard some pretty disturbing things about the way that a new group of people came in and started diluting the gospel of "grace through faith in Jesus Christ." What these folks were doing was trying to convince the church members that it was all fine and good to believe in Jesus, but that in order to keep themselves from falling away, they had to follow the laws of Moses on top of believing the gospel. The idea was essentially a simple equation that made sense and appealed to people that were offended by the simplicity of the Good News (Jesus and Jesus alone as one's only hope). The new equation could be simply expressed as, "Jesus plus works equals salvation." This new teaching talked about the need to guard the salvation they'd been given by keeping the major points of Mosaic law. Top of that list was ... you guessed it ... circumcision.
Then there were the dietary laws and all that. But Paul focused on circumcision because it was, well, the most drastic of the new measures. And because grown men were actually going to Jewish priests and getting circumcised! Yikes! I'm sure many people would think, "Wow. They were really gullible. Would could get sucked into that kind of thing?"
Let's hold that thought for a moment.
Paul reminded them how Jesus had saved them and that there was absolutely nothing that they could do to earn that; it was a free gift. And then he pointed out the futility of the idea that they could add ANYTHING to it. Not circumcision, not ANYTHING. In chapter 3, he says, "Oh foolish Galatians! who has bewitched you? having begun by the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?"
And then he hit them with the crux of the matter. Adding anything - for any reason - to the finished work of Christ diminishes that work and makes it ineffective in someone's life. It tramples on Grace, and drags it in the dirt. People so deceived to believe that they can add anything to either improve upon or keep from losing that right standing with God ... have fallen from grace. They have gone from a higher and freer lifestyle to a lower state of existence, slipped from the pure and perfect call of God and chosen to wallow in the mud of trying to do it on their own. Try doing it on your own for any length of time and you know how frustrating and impossible it is. It's a recipe for burnout - pure and simple.
Grace is Key
Grace is more than just the only ticket to escape hell. Grace is God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Grace is daily strength to live in relationship with God instead of having to rely on our own strength.Grace means that we don't get to boast. Only God gets the credit. He designed the plan of salvation, He carried it out, and He will finish it by the power of the Spirit.
We just get to go along for the ride. It's humbling, and the more we realize how deep grace goes, the more grateful we are for His salvation, and the less we'll want to do anything that will displease God. Living a grace-way-of-life is relying on Him, totally. Listening to Him. Thanking Him. Worshiping Him. Loving Him.
Falling from that means going to a substandard way of life: adding conditions and rules to our freedom in Him, stressing ourselves out about trying to measure up, never knowing if we really are doing enough. Whether we pursue this thinking because we can't believe it's by grace alone, and we have to do something to contribute to it, or whether we do it because, by some misplaced sense of guilt or shame, we are afraid of losing what so freely was given to us, it undermines everything for which Jesus died ... and makes a mockery of the cross.
The pinnacle of grace is what happens when we sin. (No, I'm not advocating sinning just so we can experience grace!) Even at the best of times, when we are living in a moment-by-moment relationship with God, hearing His voice and obeying Him - we can get pulled off-center and slip into sin ... out of our own selfish, self-centered tendencies. And Grace means that we can realize that and say, "You know what, God? I messed up. I fell short of what You wanted for me in this situation. Please forgive me - through the blood of Jesus." And it's gone. Just. Like. That.
"A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, You will not despise," wrote the Psalmist (51:17). Paul wrote, "You have been severed from Christ, those of you who seek to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:4)
So it isn't the broken televangelists on TV that weep before their congregations in shame and remorse who have fallen from grace. It isn't the pastor that had to resign in scandal because he wasn't making enough money to get by, and had to steal from the church fund, and then was so overcome with guilt that he confessed to the whole congregation. It isn't the ministry leader who got involved with a board member who wasn't her husband, and had to resign ... and leave. Instead, it is the self-righteous ones who seem to be doing all the right things, and are secretly relying on all their good works to win brownie points with God, who are in danger of being severed from Christ.
That brings a whole new definition to the table, doesn't it. It makes us reconsider the things we think are important.
The Penitence Paradox
How do I keep from falling from grace?
There's a couple of verses from an old hymn that go like this:
"Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling -
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die." (Rock of Ages: Toplady, Hastings)
It sounds cliché, but it's true: the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. The capstone of the gospel is Grace. Without it, everything crumbles. Anything of human effort that adds to it, only subtracts from it. Keeping Jesus central, the focal point, and the source of everything, helps us guard against falling into rules-based, formula-driven drudgery and helps us live an adventurous, connected life.
The truth is, He is the source of everything. Every heartbeat, every breath. Grace, love, even the faith we believe with - everything comes from Him. If He is at the mid-point of it all, if we get out of the limelight and give Him center stage, the rest will fall into place.