“Once Saved, Always Saved” - Fact or Fiction?
Part II of V
The reader is reminded to think of the seriousness of this issue. Untold millions have trusted the doctrine of “Once Saved – Always Saved,” and too many go about their lives without ever giving another thought to participation in reverent worship or obedient service to God. The Lord’s Day has become just another day in which the pleasures and riches of this life are to be enjoyed. Sin is neither shunned nor spoken against; rather, it is enjoyed to the max by those claiming to be saved by “trusting Christ as their Savior.”
But what is the outcome if this comforting doctrine is not what Jesus and the apostles taught? The day of judgment will commence with quite a shock to masses who thought all was well while living a life free of restraint. But Jesus conversed on the need for restraint and the narrowness of the gate leading to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14), even discussing the shock and surprise of many on that day (Matthew 7:21-23). With these thoughts in mind, give special attention to the following warnings from Christ.
Warnings from Jesus
(1) Jesus counseled His Jewish brethren, saying, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under the foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). Keep in mind, Jesus is comparing God’s people to salt. If “tasteless salt” that is “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out” does not indicate a worthless child of God that has no value to God except to be cast out, why did Christ choose this parabolic warning, speaking of God’s people as the “salt of the earth”?
Notice in the parable that it is the salt that has become tasteless; not an imitation salt or pretentious salt, but true salt that, over time, has become tasteless. The value in salt is in its influence of taste, and the child of God that loses all influence by returning to ungodly living is viewed by God as “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out.” The evidence of this analogy was demonstrated in the overthrow of Jerusalem and the loss of multitudes of those who were once called God’s people. The salt had become tasteless.
(2) Comparable to the tasteless salt metaphor is the Lord’s description of the tree and its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). He introduces the analogy by warning His auditors, “Beware of the false prophets…” Jesus would not issue such a warning if the child of God was not in real spiritual danger. To contend that a child of God can never fall away and be lost is to mock the cautioned urged by Jesus.
Jesus further taught, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 19). The “trees” under consideration by Jesus are the Jewish people of that era. Although the Jews were called to be God’s children, the individual person (tree) could bring forth bad fruit, thus proving to be worthless, destined only to be cut down and thrown into the fire (cf. tasteless salt thrown out). The tree had become diseased and was fit only to be cut down.
(3) In the explanation of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23), Jesus described the seed which fell on the rocky soil as “the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (vv. 20-21). Calvinist insist the man never “trusted in Christ” in order to be saved, but bear in mind, Jesus never promised salvation to those who simply “trust in Christ” – that is a modern expression coined to disconnect any required obedience by the sinner in order to obtain salvation.
Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man” (Matthew 7:24). He further cautioned, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus hinged salvation upon obedience to His teachings – not upon “trusting Him for salvation” without and apart from obedience to the things He taught. “Beware of the false prophet” remains beneficial instruction to those seeking salvation today.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus says the man “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy” (v. 20; cf. Acts 2:41). But “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (v. 21). If the man has not become a child of God, why is he suffering “because of the word”? If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself. The effect of the suffering is that the man “falls away.” Is it possible to fall from where you have never risen? Jesus uses coherent, lucid language to describe the fall of the man who had received the word (i.e. the gospel of salvation).
The verb “falls away” – skandalizo – is defined “cease believing…fall into sin” (Swanson, 1997). The verb is in the passive voice, indicating “give up one’s faith, be led into sin, fall into sin” (Newman, 1993). The man gives up his faith on account of the persecution. He literally falls into sin by his apostasy from the faith, choosing to “cease believing” in order to escape human persecution. Jesus warned the apostles against such (Matthew 10:28). He admonished the Christians in Smyrna to “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The same possibility of apostasy brought on by persecution is in view in all these instances, including many more.
(4) The parable of the sower also described a man who allowed “the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth” to choke out the word. Again, if the man had not received the word (cf. Acts 2:41), it would have been impossible for the word to be choked out of him. Here we have a man who comes to God, receiving the word, but because of worldly concerns, he “becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
Was the plant not a real plant simply because it became unfruitful? If an actual plant had not begun growing from the seed, there would have been no anticipation of fruit; but the plant (child of God) “becomes unfruitful” on account of materialism and thinking on things of the earth rather on things above. The man in Christ’s analogy failed to obey a fundamental teaching concerning Christian faithfulness (see Colossians 3:1-2; Philippians 3:17-20; cf. Matthew 14:28-31; 16:23). Like Peter walking on the water, a man will sink away from the Lord when he becomes preoccupied with the things of the world. Only repentance and returning to the Lord makes recovery possible.
(5) Jesus outlined the procedure to follow when dealing with a “brother” who sins (Matthew 18:15-17). If the brother in sin remains unrepentant after a first and second attempt at restoration, Jesus says, “tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” That this procedure was implemented in the church of the first century is evident (cf. Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:6ff).
If a brother can be expelled from fellowship with the church and yet retain a place in heaven, why was the church of God purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28)? The church is the body of the saved (Ephesians 5:23-32). To be disfellowshipped from the church on account of unrestrained sinful behavior is to be disfellowshipped from the body of the saved. Jesus teaches the necessity of dealing with the incorrigibly wicked “brother” who will not repent, and His remedy is exclusion from His body, the church.
(6) In the parable of the vine and the branches, Jesus states, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away” (John 15:2). As a branch does not have existence without proceeding from the vine, it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking of those who at one time grew from Him, but due to unfruitfulness, is severed from the vine. Speaking to the apostles, he continues the thought, saying, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (v. 6).
The word “abide” is used 10 times in the narrative of the vine and the branches. The Greek is meno, defined “to remain…to stay…to reside…to persist…to continue” (The Lexham Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament, 2011). Jesus says, “If anyone does not meno [abide, remain, stay, continue] in Me, he is thrown away as a branch.” This is what occurred with Judas. He did not remain or continue in Christ, therefore he was thrown away as a branch, the Lord commanding him, “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27).
Judas did not continue to bear fruit, and was therefore eliminated from the vine; but as the other apostles remained or stayed in Christ, they were able to “bear much fruit.” The word “abide” implies an existing relationship. Jesus told the apostles, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). The unequivocal negative connotation of this statement is: If you do not keep My commandments, you will not abide in My love. In the same way we have previously noted (Matthew 7:21, 24; Luke 6:46), Jesus commands obedience to His teachings as indispensable to remaining in His love. The word “if” denotes condition. To disobey Christ is to not abide in Him; and absent repentance, that person is “thrown away.”
(7) While discussing the various signs which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus told the apostles, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:9-12).
The events mentioned in this verse unfold in the book of Acts, and many of the epistles are written to warn the early Christians of the danger of false teachers, the coming apostasy, and the need to persevere, not allowing one’s love to grow cold. Jesus says “many will fall away” (24:10). The verb is again skandalizo, meaning “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey; to cause to fall away,” and in the passive, “to fall away” (Thayer, 1958). Jesus is speaking of Christians who will “fall away,” “cease believing,” “give up one’s faith,” and “fall into sin.” The word is a specific reference to “apostasy” (Strong, 2009).
Who are we to believe concerning the possibility of apostasy – uninspired preachers of today or Jesus? The conclusion of millions of uninspired preachers today claiming a child of God cannot lose salvation carries no weight whatsoever when compared with the simple warning of Jesus that “many will fall away.” A man cannot “fall away” from that which he has never attained. May the sincere student recognize the false teachers of our day regarding this issue. Jesus spoke of the possibility of apostasy.
Although numerous other warnings of apostasy are found on the lips of Jesus, we will conclude the examination with these seven examples. Additional warnings from Christ will appear in another section as we consider the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Our attention will now focus upon warnings of apostasy from the apostle Paul.
Warnings from Paul
There are scores of warnings issued by the apostle Paul, some instructing Christians to live and act in such a manner as to avoid negatively impacting their fellow kinsman in the church by causing them to stumble, fall, and ultimately perish. He also warns of false apostles, false brethren, and false accusers, exhorting the churches to remain pure in doctrine and in personal morality. If it is impossible for the child of God to abandon the way of righteousness and to become eternally lost through doctrinal error and/or moral corruptness, why does Paul admonish the church to endeavor to persevere in the faith, guarding against false doctrines which – according to modern theology – could have no effect or impact on them?
These matters are serious, and must be evaluated by what is actually said by the apostle as he seeks to counsel the church on proper Christian conduct, warning against doctrinal corruption so that the salvation they possess in Christ Jesus may be maintained. As will become apparent through an examination of his writings, the apostle Paul knew nothing of the modern day allegation that a Christian cannot sin doctrinally or morally so as to be lost eternally. Paul was well aware of the danger faced by all of God’s children.
(1) The church in Rome was admonished, “Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (14:15). The word “destroy” translates the Greek apollymi, which is defined “ruin; perish…to destroy” (Lexham Analytical Lexicon, 2011). Paul repeats the warning in verse 20, saying, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” The verb “tear down” is katalyo, meaning “to destroy, overthrow” (Thomas, 1998). If the weaker brother is led to violate his own conscience, Paul says he stands “condemned” – i.e. “worthy of punishment” (Strong, 2001).
The three terms used by Paul offer combined denunciation of the doctrine of “Once Saved – Always Saved.” Paul employs strong language to insist a brother can be led to stumble, experiencing even ruin or destruction, and being “worthy of punishment.”
(2) In similar exhortation, Paul warns against using one’s personal liberty to eat food sacrificed to an idol in a situation where one may “become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). The pagan practice of offering meat to an idol made it difficult for these new converts to Christianity to separate the meat from the idol; in their thinking, the meat and the idol were welded together as one. These early Christians were therefore susceptible to having their conscience “defiled” (v. 7).
Paul cautions the knowledgeable brethren to be mindful of protecting the weaker brother’s faith, doing nothing by which the weaker brother “is ruined” (v. 11). The verb is again apollymi, meaning “to destroy…to suffer loss or lose…to perish…to be lost” (Kittel, 1985). Evidence that Paul uses this term in the sense of being lost eternally is witnessed through a contrast of terms in 2 Corinthians 2:15: “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing [GK apollymi].” Paul uses the word apollymi as an opposite of those who are saved, thus referring to those who are lost. The term is clearly applied in 1 Corinthians 8:11 to a “brother for whose sake Christ died”; but a “brother” who was susceptible of being lost.
(3) Paul admonished Timothy to “fight the good fight, keeping the faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). If it is impossible for a child of God to fall away from the faith, why would Paul urge Timothy to keep the faith? If salvation cannot be lost, what difference would it make if Timothy kept the faith or lost the faith? Unlike men today, Paul knew keeping the faith was vital to eternal security. He even makes the admission on behalf of himself, saying, “I have kept the faith,” by which he is assured, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Those not “keeping the faith and a good conscience” have “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” Could a shipwrecked faith provide any possible benefit? The phrase speaks of a broken faith, or a destroyed faith, or a ruined faith. If a Christian with a shipwrecked faith is not in danger of being lost, why is emphasis placed upon “keeping the faith”? Such would have no benefit at all, only becoming burdensome to the one striving to keep himself pure; meanwhile, the one who denies every essential Christian doctrine, practices evil of every kind, and suffering a shipwrecked faith, sails into the harbor of heaven for eternal bliss. Nothing of the sort is taught in the Scriptures.
(4) Two men are identified by Paul as possessing a shipwrecked faith – Hymenaeus and Alexander. These wayward brethren were guilty of blasphemy and had been rightfully disfellowshipped. Paul says they had been “handed over to Satan, so that they might learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Hymenaeus may have been the one who taught the absurd doctrine that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Timothy 2:17-18), indicating that teaching false doctrine is to speak against God – obviously a detriment to “keeping the faith.”
Whatever the actual sin engaged by these two brethren, the danger they posed to the faith of others in the church is shown by Paul’s decisive action to disfellowship these erring brethren. Of course, the purpose of the action was to bring these men to repentance. Paul explains, “The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
The discussion here involves Hymenaeus and Philetus, “men who have gone astray from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18). Paul desired that these brethren could be brought to repentance, leading to knowledge of the truth, and by returning to their senses they could escape the devil’s hold on them. One should think of Judas and his failed attempt to escape Satan’s grasp. If Hymenaeus and Philetus are not in danger of being lost eternally after going “astray from the truth,” then one in the snare of the devil and doing the devil’s will is just as well off as the one abiding in truth and doing God’s will! Believe it who will, who can?
(5) Paul spoke of a significant apostasy that would occur within the church (recall Jesus’ warning “that many shall fall away”). In discussing a particular false teaching that was disturbing the church, Paul cautioned the Thessalonians to “not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3). Although the false teaching is to be rejected by the church, Paul prophetically spoke of a coming “apostasy” – apostasia - “rebellion, an abandonment, an apostasy” (Swanson, 1997).
The Calvinistic rationalization that these apostates were not genuine Christians is without merit. Paul also warned Timothy of a coming defection, saying, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1; cf. Hebrews 3:12). To “fall away from the faith” implies a previous adherence to the faith. If those involved in the apostasy were never in the faith, it could not be said that they abandoned or fell away from the faith; yet this is the precise language that Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, employed in describing these coming apostates.
Those who have never named the name of Christ could never be referred to as apostates. One cannot fall from whence one has not risen. Those in the world are never described as having fallen away, but it is Christians who are described as “falling away” from the faith, having “turned aside” from the truth, and suffering a shipwrecked faith. The coming apostasy would involve a sizeable segment of the church falling into religious corruption, setting itself up in direct opposition to God and true worship (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Paul is warning of a major apostasy; the evidence that such occurred is seen today.
Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by letter from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). To fail in this matter would possibly involve the Thessalonians in the coming apostasy, but Paul makes every effort to avoid such, encouraging the brethren to hold fast what they had received from the apostles of Jesus Christ. We must do the same today.
(6) The Galatians’ letter opens with an admission of amazement by Paul that the brethren were “so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:6-7). The distortion was simply an amalgamation of the Mosaic Law with Christianity. Judaizing teachers were troubling the Gentile churches by insisting upon circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses. Shamefully, many modern sects of Christianity have fallen prey to the very same ensnarement, never comprehending the truth from Jesus that “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old” (Luke 5:36).
The word “deserting” translates metatithesthe, a strong word of apostasy. It is defined “abandon loyalty to, desert (Gal. 1:6+)” (Swanson, 1997). Another lexicon explains the meaning as “to change loyalty to, to turn apostate from” (Lust, 2003). The Galatians were “deserting” (a present process of apostasy) from God, being attracted by a “different gospel” which Paul staunchly condemns as a perversion of the true gospel of Christ. It is impossible to deny these were Christians, because Paul was writing to the “churches of Galatia” (v. 2), referring to them as “brethren” (v. 11).
Paul’s warning is one of impending apostasy – a process presently begun. We find here an interesting example of a gospel truth which permeates the New Testament. The gospel of Christ provides provision for the Christian who sins (1 John 1:7 – 2:2). The grace of God does not cast one away at the first instance of sin, but only after sustained activity by a heart hardened in rebellion (either through doctrinal perversion or moral depravity). God allots a period of time in which opportunity for repentance is granted.
Consider the case of Judas: The Lord did not sever His relationship with Judas when he first began pilfering from the money box; neither did He cast Judas off on the night he bartered with the chief priest about betraying the Lord (Matthew 26:14-16). But only after Judas was fully committed to evil, having given his heart to Satan, did the Lord break Judas off from the vine, ordering him, “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Judas was provided ample opportunity to repent of his sinful activities prior to the Lord sending him on his own way that he had prepared for himself.
The same grace of Christ is seen over and over again in the New Testament. All Christians sin (1 John 1:8-9), but it is what the Christian does about sin that determines the outcome. The gospel provides a cleansing from sin, but it is most certainly not a blanket cleansing from which one cannot escape. The Lord has never forced anyone to remain clean who became opposed to the Lord’s design. A child of God can abandon the fountain of cleansing, and Paul is greatly concerned that the Christians in Galatia are moving quickly toward that end.
He said to them, “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (4:11). The Galatians at one time “did not know God,” and were in bondage to a false system of worship involving idols (4:8), but having received the gospel (1:9), they had “come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (4:9). The Galatians had become Christians when Paul first preached the gospel of Christ to them, but now they had begun to “turn back to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again” (4:9). The Galatians were submitting to the Judaizing teachers and their perverted gospel (4:10, 17).
Paul was astounded by their departure from the faith (1:6), but tenderly admonished them, saying, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (4:20). Throughout the letter Paul is begging these converts to Christianity to stop flirting with Judaizing teachers and their Mosaic bondage. He had once been bound by that system, but had been liberated through the gospel (1:13-16), and now he pleads with the Galatians not to depart from the freedom of Christ by becoming enamored with a false gospel whose teachers will incur the wrath of God (1:8-9; “accursed” – anthama, “under the curse of God,” Newman, 1993).
The Galatians were in danger of apostasy. The language Paul uses offers no other possibility. One can not be charged with “deserting,” “abandoning,” or “apostatizing” from God if one has never been received by God. Despite modern day assertions to the contrary, Paul knew the looming possibility of apostasy, and in the Galatians, Paul recognized Christians who were already on the road to apostasy.
(7) Continuing in the Galatians’ letter, the certainty of apostasy is made evident by Paul in a statement deserving careful attention and grave respect. The comments of Paul which begin the 5th chapter again proves the recipients were Christians who had experienced freedom in Christ, but were presently in danger of departing from the gospel which provided that freedom.
The Galatians were “sons of God” by their obedience to the terms of the gospel (3:26). Paul affirmed, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” (3:27). It is sad indeed to realize that those insisting on the doctrine of “Once Saved – Always Saved” among us today are also those who insist one is saved by simply “trusting Christ as your personal Savior.” In this statement we encounter “a different gospel, which is not another” (1:6). Paul never taught anyone to simply “trust Christ as your Savior,” but he instructed sinners to be “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Acts 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; etc.).
Having been “baptized into Christ,” the Galatians belonged to Christ (Galatians 3:29), but if they turned away from the truth unto a corrupt form of teaching, regardless of how sincere they might be, Paul warns of impending eternal danger. “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). The word “benefit” is opheleo, “to help, aid, assist, succour, to be of use or service to anyone” (Liddell, 1996). Christ would no longer be of use to the Christian abandoning the apostles’ doctrine.
The Judaizing teachers were insisting that Gentile Christians, in order to be saved, had to submit to circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1). This teaching was an addition to the gospel of Christ, and Paul categorically denounces such, throughout the entire Galatians’ letter, as a gross perversion and damnable doctrine which must be rejected out of hand. If such an addition to the plan of salvation would result in Christ being of “no benefit to you,” what will become of those who refuse baptism into Christ as a condition of salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; etc.)? Is it less serious to add than it is to subtract to the Lord’s plan of salvation (cf. Revelation 22:18)?
Paul pressed the urgency of the issue, exclaiming, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:3-4). The intent of Paul’s language is so obvious that it is regrettable when uninspired men attempt to explain it all away, insisting that the passage before us does not teach that a child of God can fall away from eternal security.
The unassailable force of Paul’s message against the “Once Saved – Always Saved” doctrine caused Dr. Stanley to devote an entire chapter of his book to this passage, desperately attempting to convince his readers that “fallen from grace” had nothing to do with losing salvation, but was Paul’s way of explaining that the Galatians were simply wasting their time seeking justification through the Mosaic Law (Stanley, 1990, p. 135). However, regardless of the many words used by Dr. Stanley to defuse the passage, the inspired testimony of the apostle remains impregnable to such an assault and unscathed by the ranting of uninspired men speaking in direct opposition to the unequivocal language of the text.
Consider the phrase, “You have been severed from Christ” (NASB). The word “severed” is from katargeo, meaning, “to be severed from, separated from, discharged from, loosed from any one” (Strong, 2001). Verse specific definitions include: “to be alienated Gal 5:4” (Lexham, 2011); “be cut off from (Ga 5:4)” (Newman, 1993); “The sense in Rom. 7:6 and Gal 5:4 is ‘taken out of the sphere of operation’” (Kittel, 1985); “to terminate all contact with’ one…Galatians 5:4” (Thayer, 1958); “those who seek justification by the Law are ‘severed’ from Christ, they are rendered inactive in relation to Him, Gal. 5:4” (Vine, 1996).
The consistency of respected translations is also worth noting: “Ye are severed from Christ” (ASV); “You have become estranged from Christ” (NKJV); “You are severed from Christ” (ESV); “have been alienated from Christ” (NIV); “Ye were freed from Christ” (YLT). These translations harmonize with the definitions cited above; therefore, in English, we have an accurate reflection of the meaning of the Greek text. By turning away from the truth and turning to a false doctrine, Christians are “severed,” “alienated,” or “estranged” from Christ.
The meaning is further discernible through a comparable usage by Paul in Romans 7:2 where it is said, “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released (katargeo) from the law concerning her husband.” To argue that Christians remain bound to Christ in Galatians 5:4 is to argue that a woman remains bound to her dead husband in Romans 7:2; and this despite the obvious connotation in both passages.
Paul uses katargeo again in Romans 7:6, indicating the Christian is “freed,” “released,” or “discharged” from the Mosaic Law. To be “severed,” “alienated,” or “freed” from Christ in Galatians 5:4 carries the same meaning as the identical term in Romans 7:6. Unless one is inclined to argue that Christians remain “bound” to the Law, it is just as ludicrous to argue that Christians remain “bound” to Christ. Paul uses katargeo in both passages, indicating a severance of relationship. In fact, to be “severed from Christ” by not continuing to abide in Him is exactly what Christ had foretold (John 15:6; cf. Matthew 7:15-20). Is it possible to be severed from Christ and still enjoy salvation?
In the event any reader misunderstood, Paul repeats the warning in other words, saying, “you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). It is by “the grace of God” that salvation has appeared to men (Titus 2:11), and “by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). Paul also spoke of “the grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2), being himself urged “to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). Since salvation is indispensably connected to grace, what happens to those who “have fallen from grace”? Have they not “fallen from salvation”? If the phrases “severed from Christ” and “fallen from grace” do not indicate the loss of salvation, how do we know that “united with Him” (Romans 6:5) and “our introduction by faith into this grace” (Romans 5:2) refer to salvation?
Conclusion (Part II)
These warnings represent stern denunciation of the modern popular doctrine that it is impossible for a child of God to be lost eternally. If nothing can be said, done, or believed by the Christian that would have an effect on eternal security, why did Christ and His holy apostles warn against “false Christs,” “false apostles,” “false prophets,” “false teachers,” “false brethren,” “false witnesses,” and “false accusers”? If the child of God cannot be negatively affected, these warnings are but toothless snarls of a paper tiger, representing deceptive admonitions that serve no purpose.
But the truth is a Christian can fall from the grace of Christ, being severed from Christ whereby salvation is lost. The devil has employed “false apostles, deceitful workers” who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14), but these deny, not only the apostles’ doctrine of salvation, but also the grave warnings of possible apostasy. Let the reader beware: Both Jesus and the apostle Paul speak coherently regarding the danger of apostasy. The passages examined are only a sampling of the evidence flowing from the pen of the Lord’s great apostle to the Gentiles, and the reader is encouraged to read all of Paul’s epistles with the thought of apostasy in mind.
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