Justification & the Possibility of Falling from Grace
|Falling from grace is more serious!|
Justification is the doctrine ‘upon which the Church stands or falls.’ So we can't allow ourselves to compromise our doctrine of justification in order to over emphasise another doctrine. Unfortunately, this is sometimes what happens with the doctrine of the possibility of falling from grace. Occasionally this doctrine is overemphasised in a way which distorts the Bible’s teaching on the subject and which does damage to the doctrine of justification. This can happen when it is taught that sin causes believers to lose their salvation. The biblical teaching is that believers are simil iustus et peccator (justified and sinful at the same time); in the words of 1 John 1:8, ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ Thus believers sin and will continue to sin throughout their earthly lives. Our continuance in a state of having been justified does not depend on us or our works, but rather on Christ and His work. If our sin could make us lose our salvation, that would make salvation dependent on us, not Christ. It is just such thinking that Paul teaches to be the cause of falling from grace in Galatians 5:4. Confusing the sins of believers with falling from grace threatens the doctrine of justification and, ironically, begins to take us down the path which actually leads to falling from grace.
The remedy for such a distortion of the doctrine is a close focus on what the Bible actually teaches about falling from grace. In the New Testament, it is not sin which causes one to fall from grace, but rather apostasy. It's ceasing to have faith in Christ and His work alone for salvation that causes one to fall. After all, if salvation is found in Christ alone, those who stop looking to Christ alone for salvation cannot expect to remain in it.
The relationship between justification and falling from grace can also help us to understand another aspect of this doctrine. Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly teaches that it is ‘impossible’ for those who fall from grace to be renewed ‘again to repentance’. Apostasy cannot be remedied; it is a one time change of state. Therefore it isn't possible to fall from grace and ‘come back to the Lord’ over and over again. This will help us to see that, each time we sin, we do not lose our salvation, even momentarily. The loss of salvation is a result of a conscious rejection of Christ and His atoning work for salvation. This is related to the doctrine of justification. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us and so all our sins, past, present and future, are forgiven. Justification is a one-time declaration, not a continuous or repeated event. Thus, when we sin, we are still justified (although this is no excuse for continuing in sin). Just as justification is a one-off event, so is apostasy. Apostasy then, although possible, is not something that we should expect to see regularly. Christ is more than sufficient to keep us united to Him.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Colossians 1:21-23).