Fallen from grace …
Everyone knows what that means.
Somewhere, somehow, someone’s blown it big-time, committed some heinous action that brought humiliation on themselves, scorn from others, and generally disqualified them in the eyes of everyone (including themselves).
For most people, “fallen from grace” refers to Adam and Eve’s game-changing bad choices with forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Although the Bible never calls their actions a “fall from grace,” that’s how people have referred to it for centuries, and as a summary statement, it works.
But it’s fascinating to see how “fallen from grace” is used in the New Testament. The apostle Paul turns the phrase—as we tend to use it—completely on its head, with huge implications for us. “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:4, emphasis added).”
Normally, you’d assume that Paul would use the phrase “fallen from grace” much as we would: somebody has chosen sin over holiness; they’ve messed up, somehow broken the rules. Instead, Paul tells them (and us) that whenever we try to achieve greater personal holiness by “keeping the rules” (in this case, the Old Testament law, as some false brothers were advocating at the time), that constitutes falling from grace.
We tend to approach things perfectly backwards.
Paul writes: “For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope (Galatians 5:5).” And yet we assume that if we work harder to clean up our lives, then – and only then – can we expect more of the Spirit’s presence. “Falling from grace” has nothing to do with us screwing up. It has everything to do with trying to achieve a holy lifestyle (which isn’t optional, just so it’s been said) by our own efforts, and expecting to receive more of God as a reward for our hard work.
Paul puts the theological cart back where it belongs with statements like:
“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort (Galatians 3:3)?”
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves (Galatians 5:16).”
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:25).”
We start with the Spirit, always. Not with our own feeble human efforts. We didn’t enter the Kingdom through our own efforts, nor will we move forward by our own efforts. It’s always been about the Spirit. And it always will be.
Anything else is falling away from grace.