Gospel Dialogue (CFP white cover), by Watchman Nee
What is meant by having “fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5.4)? Will a person who has fallen away from grace be saved?
There are several books in the New Testament which bear a close resemblance to each other in reading them—books such as Ephesians and Colossians, Galatians and Romans. Why do they have such a resemblance? Because one makes a positive statement while the other discusses the matter in a negative way or in opposite terms. Ephesians tells us that the church is the body of Christ, but Colossians turns around and says that Christ is the head of the church. Romans presents from the positive side that justification is by God’s grace, based on God’s righteousness, and obtained by man’s faith; Galatians proceeds from the negative side to say that no one is justified by works nor saved by the law. Romans advances what the truth is, whereas Galatians declares what is not the truth. By knowing what is not the truth, the knowledge of the truth is increased.
The believers in Galatia had a good beginning, for they were clearly saved through faith. There then developed a danger among them because some people maintained that though the beginning of salvation did come through faith in Christ, the operation of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, yet once having been saved, people must keep the law of God and try their best to do good if they would merit God’s pleasure. If you were to ask someone how he was saved, he would answer, By faith. But if you were then to ask him how he could obtain God’s pleasure, he would say, By doing good. This is precisely the condition of the Galatian believers. They knew they were saved by faith but they must now maintain this salvation by keeping the law: first they must be circumcised, and next they must observe the many ordinances of the Old Testament. In view of all this Paul had to reprimand these people by saying: “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace” (5.4).
What does “fallen away from grace” mean? From Galatians 5.1 we know that these people had already entered into grace. “For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Christ had set them free; therefore they should now stand in this freedom and not be entangled again in the yoke of bondage. So what is meant by “fallen away from grace”? Well, if one moves away from the place of freedom in which he originally stood, he makes for himself a yoke to bear. This is viewed as a having “fallen away from grace”. Yet this basically has nothing to do with whether or not one can be saved. Quite the opposite, only he who has already been saved is able to fall away from grace.
Every Christian obtains a new position on the day he is saved. He also has obtained a liberty which is his as a child of God. Liberty is not licentiousness. It is having a free spirit to come before God. We are not required to do hard labor, neither keep the days, nor to be circumcised.
What is the difference before God between a Christian who is not free and one who is free? When a Christian who is free comes to God, all he remembers is that he is accepted by Him through the Lord Jesus. He forgets himself, not even does he look into himself; for he knows that he has boldness to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. However, a Christian who is not free will be most wary from morning till night. If during the day he treats people well, reads the Bible with joy, and prays at some length, he will seem to become bolder when he attends the church meeting, and his amens will be uttered more loudly than usual. But if on a particular day he has not done too well, he will imagine that God is displeased with him. Such kind of Christian always turns his eyes inward, thus forgetting to see what Christ has already accomplished. He surmises that God will be pleased with him if he does well, but that God will be displeased with him if he does not do so well. From dawn to dusk he is fashioning an iron yoke for himself, a yoke composed of the strictest laws for himself to keep.
We should realize that the freedom which Paul talks about refers not to position, nor to salvation, but to the Christian’s daily enjoyment of that freedom in grace which God has given us. Such freedom is not licentiousness, not an unrestricted permissiveness to do anything one wishes. This freedom is a freedom before God, given to us through Jesus Christ. If a person comes before God and forgets the blood and looks at himself he is committing a great sin, because he has neglected the blood which God highly values. Hebrews 10.29 tells us that whoever counts the blood of the covenant an unholy thing commits a grave sin. The blood is so valuable in God’s sight that the Bible calls it “precious blood”. Anyone who fails to look at the precious blood before God will lose the enjoyment of grace in this life.
“Ye are severed from Christ” in Galatians 5.4 means not having the blessings of this life. If one is saved, he naturally will have the blessings of after life; but if he does not know how to live daily by that which Christ has accomplished, he is not able to enjoy the blessings which Christ gives to him day by day. A shackled Christian makes a yoke for himself to bear; he lives as a slave, not as a freeman before God.
The Bible places a great emphasis on the work of Christ. It tells us that God accepts us because of the work of Christ, not because of our own works. Each time we come to God it is based on what Christ is before God, not on what we are before Him. For He esteems Christ highly and not us. Even if one should act better than Peter, John and Paul, he still comes to God through Christ. It is Christ who brings a person to God, not his own good works.
Yet having said that we come to God by what Christ has accomplished, we need to say something about our coming before men. For can we say that since our coming to God is through what Christ has accomplished we need not have good works before men? Let it be understood that our light should shine before men. Let our light shine before them that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5.16). If our conduct is bad, who in the world will acknowledge us as Christians?
The position which Christ has given us before God is most secure. Each day each time we come to God we ought to come with a conscience void of offense. Nevertheless, some Christians always feel guilty as they come before Him. But has not Hebrews 10.2 declared that “the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins”? With our conscience once cleansed by the blood, we are forever free before God.