The Bible teaches that salvation is of the Lord ( Jonah 2:9 b ). Man is born dead spiritually and cannot repent or exercise faith apart from God’s grace working in his hard heart. Yet, men try to earn salvation by doing religious activities and reforming their lives according to God’s laws. Even Christians attempt to keep the law of God as a means of keeping their salvation. This is recorded in the book of Galatians. ( Gal. 1:6 ; 3:1 ). The Apostle Paul had preached in Galatia and God saved many of the Galatians but they quickly were deceived by false teachers known as Judaizers. The Judaizers taught that to be saved, one had to believe in Jesus but also be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. ( Acts 15:1,5 ). How could born-again Christians think that either justification or sanctification could occur by law-keeping?
Salvation is always by grace, through faith, unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10 ) in Old and New Testaments. If that Biblical order is changed, there can not be salvation in that individual. Grace is God’s unearned favor that He bestows on whom He will; it cannot be merited by any religious actions of men. When God’s grace works in a sinner’s heart and life, faith will be given as a gift of God and the sinner will exercise faith in God’s Son. The sinner affected by God’s grace will know from Scripture that believing in Jesus means acknowledging that Jesus kept God’s law and took the penalty he deserved resulting in justification and forgiveness. The good works come after a person is saved by grace. These good works are not an attempt to keep a person saved but, rather, an indication that he has been saved. Remember the Biblical order: grace, faith, good works. Changing the order of God’s plan of salvation results in man’s plan of salvation which is self-righteousness, works salvation, and legalism. Man’s plan leads to eternal death.
The law of Moses could never save anyone so it is foolish for anyone to try to keep the law to be saved or sanctified. The whole purpose for Jesus’ incarnation and redemptive work on the cross was to accomplish what sinful man could not accomplish: namely, living a righteous life by keeping God’s law perfectly. To try to be justified or sanctified by law-keeping is to bypass the finished work of Jesus Christ and count it as useless. Not only that but Galatians 3:10 says all who try to keep the law for salvation are cursed: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone that does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Jesus came to stand in the place of lawless, unworthy, and ungodly sinners and be crushed by His Father so we could have eternal; life. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to call the foolish believers back to proper thinking and believing. They started well but had been deceived into thinking they must keep the old covenant law to be saved. They had departed from the proper doctrinal understanding of grace and had begun to believe their human effort and good works could make them acceptable to God. That’s why Paul said that if the Galatians thought circumcision was necessary for salvation, then Christ was of no profit to them. In Galatians 5:4 Paul said,“ Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.” The meaning is not that they would lose their salvation because that is not the point Paul is making in this context. Also, the Bible teaches that when God saves a person, he cannot lose his salvation; “whom He did predestinate, them He also called and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” ( Romans 8:30 ). God does not stop loving His elect or “uncall” them or “unjustify” them. Jesus said about His elect, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” ( John 10:28 ). To fall from grace is to be “driven out of one’s course or to lose one’s grasp.” The Galatians had been driven out of the course of grace and faith to try the self- help, law-keeping, human effort style of Christianity. They did not lose their salvation; they lost their way for a time.
What can we learn from the Galatians’ mistakes? First, we should be warned that Christians can be deceived by false teachers. Study the Bible and be in a church that preaches Christ and the whole counsel of God. Second, make sure you understand that salvation is 100% grace. Even our good works are because of God’s grace. Ephesians 2:10 says, ”For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are responsible to work out our salvation with fear and trembling ( Phil. 2:12 ); that is our human responsibility. But remember who gives us the “desire” and “power” to do the good works: Philippians 2:13,”For it is God who works in you both to will and do of His good pleasure.” Lastly, be on guard and watch always that you are not believing that any acts of obedience to Christ-like Bible study, prayer, church attendance, witnessing, giving money to the Lord’s work, etc., are the reasons God saved you or keeps you saved. If you trust in any of your works to save or keep you, you are adding to the work of Christ like the Galatians. God accepts us 100 % based on the substitutionary atonement of His Son. It is a complete salvation with perfect righteousness imputed to our accounts and nothing can be added to that perfect state of grace God put us in. Our good works are a manifestation of our love for God in light of His gift of salvation ( John 14:15 ).
The legalism of the Judaizers was a deadly doctrinal error. Many today are trapped in systems of works-righteousness. They think that their religious activities, good nature, genuine effort to keep the commandments, etc., make them acceptable to God. Some think that not drinking alcohol, not dancing, not wearing certain kinds of clothing, not gambling, etc., is their righteousness. We must not add anything to the finished work of Christ. It is faith in Jesus and all He did for us, period! If you add anything to simple faith in Christ, you enter into deadly legalism. Faith plus baptism, faith plus church membership, faith plus being a Sunday School teacher, etc., as reasons for being right in God’s sight, lead to hell! The Apostle Paul tried to be saved by law-keeping before he was saved and later confessed that he wanted to be”found in Him not having my own righteousness which is of the law but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. ( Phil. 3:9 ).
Pastor Bob Dennis