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According to Paul - what is his reasoning to claim it is possible to "fall from grace" by keeping the law?

NASB, Galatians 5:3 - And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Where is the boundary between law-keeping that indicates being fallen from grace, (Gal 5), and Paul's willingness to be all things to all men, (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) i.e., his law-keeping in Acts 21:26?

  • Hi Anna - welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE. Since you've taken the site tour, you'll know we're different from a "forum". Please also see what we’re looking for in questions. As it stands, your question won't work well for this format, mostly because the judgement you're looking for between Gal 5 and 1 Cor 9 (via your Acts 21 example text) will be opinion based. Try to clarify what the issue is for you in understanding each of those texts on their own terms, first. As it stands, I think your question is in danger of being closed. – Dɑvïd May 8 '17 at 19:30
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    @Dɑvïd - As a community, we have a bad habit of invalidating questions from people when it is very clear what they are asking - when we should instead improve the questions, setting a good example teaching how to write in the correct "format". I think what Anna is asking is very clear. Instead, Could you perhaps help improve the question? – elika kohen May 8 '17 at 19:58
  • @elikakohen Instead of hijacking Anna's question, I made a suggestion about how she could re-think the issues, and get a more satisfactory set of Q&As. Now we await her input, rather than trying to second guess what she is really after. I think you have been over-hasty here. – Dɑvïd May 8 '17 at 20:17
  • You might find an answer to your question in the accepted answer to this question: How can we reconcile Galatians 5:3 & Galatians 5:4? – user33515 May 8 '17 at 21:17
  • Thanks all - I understand the need for the rules of the forum, but wasn't sure how to reword. Thanks for the help with that - and the replies; very useful. – Anna Jun 6 '17 at 14:58
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1. Question Restatement

What is Paul's reasoning to say it is possible to fall from Grace, by obeying the law?


2. Answer :

There is a very, very, important "qualification" that clarifies this:

NASB, Galatians 5:4 - You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

When Paul states that he is "being all things to all people", (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), by obeying the law, (or not) - he is NOT doing this for the purpose of "being justified by the law".

As long as he wasn't doing this, (in his heart), he submitted to the law, (or didn't), in order to be a "Minister of Reconciliation", (2 Corinthians 5:12).

This has nothing to do, at all, with someone obeying the commandments of Jesus - as a demonstration of "Love", and proving a covenant relationship already there.

"Justification by the Spirit" Definition: Under Christ, in order to be judged "moral", that one walks "justly": Christians live under the law of mercy and favor by forfeiting the right to accuse, (which is granted under laws that condemn). Christians forgive unconditionally because it is the only "just response" to having been forgiven unconditionally, (this is walking in the ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness). Because of this, Christians might naturally obey the commandments of Jesus. Judgment will be merciless to those who do not show mercy, (James 2:13).


3. Explanation - Consistent Theology Regarding Favor and Mercy

Seeking to be "Right and Moral before God" by complying with "divine morality", is not trusting in a promise. By relying on "the law" for "spiritual intimacy", or "morality/justification" - is a rejection of relying on Jesus' unconditional advocacy on the Cross, not trusting that Jesus' advocacy is completely sufficient for justification.

Paul uses Scripture as the premise that Christians can be severed from Christ, if one chooses to live under law, rather than trust:

NASB, Galatians 4:23 - But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

The Two Laws are Anti-Thetical towards each other:

NASB, Galatians 5:17 - For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Paraphrase: But you, who are under the law of the Spirit, are not under law [the condemns] - and therefore forfeit any right under that law, not under its obligations. You cannot appeal to a judge that you are dead to a law, to escape judgment, and then assert a right to accuse under that same law that you claimed you are dead to.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 - Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; ... 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; ... 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Conclusion: Seeking to be justified by the law, by definition, is a fear that God WILL count trespasses against you, regardless of what Jesus did on the cross. This is in effect, "Being severed from Christ" - since one judges Jesus' unconditional advocacy for the world as insufficient.

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Galatians 5:3-4

3 μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι 4 κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ οἵτινες ἐν νόμῳ δικαιοῦσθε τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε.

3 Again, I testify that every man who recieves circumcision is bound to keep the whole Law. 4 You are severed from Christ who are justified in the [keeping of the] Law; from grace are you fallen away.

Another translation of this word (ἐξεπέσατε), in this context, though it means more literally fallen away (and theologically, retention of such phrases and terms is desirable), should be, I argue, expelled, excluded, disqualified.

This is because he argues (in verse 2) that by undertaking to obey the whole Law (which circumcision obliges one to do) you no longer are offered salvation by faith in Christ; by grace:

v2. "Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you shall be circumcised, Christ will proft you nothing."

He is saying that by taking the 'Law' route, you have to take it until the end, and Christ is no use to you because the Law is not compatible with, and makes you not eligable for, New Testament Law, which is the Law of Christ, an easier yoke and based on grace.

St. Paul is counseling his readers to not sign up for having to keep all the Law in order to be saved, but to assent to the faith and the Law of Christ which is salvation by grace and the spirit of the Law, rather than the letter, which was introductory and prepatory in nature—he is telling his readers that you don't need scaffolding anymore, the building is ready to live in. Putting up scaffolding again would not make sense. It would be wasted effort. At the end of the day, those saved by the Law were still being saved by that same grace all along, which is why he counsels them to understand and come to know the Bestower of that grace first-hand.

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The gospel of Grace is all about depending on Jesus' righteousness for justification (right standing before God) instead of our own righteousness.

You can either depend on Jesus or you can depend on yourself (self righteousness by keeping the law)

If you're depending on your righteousness (which can never be perfect), you are no longer depending on Jesus' righteousness (which is perfect) to have right standing before God.

So you have fallen from perfect righteousness (imputed) to your own law keeping imperfect righteousness.

Though we are free from the mosaic law, we are to walk in love (the new royal law), so that we don't offend people, so that we can win more ppl over to the Lord by our love. So Paul was all things to all men.

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  • Hi @HannahGrace As written your post does not provide any primary source, such as a scripture passage or even a commentary to show that what you are saying is anything but personal opinion or tradition. I'm not saying that you are wrong, only that your position is unsubstantiated. Please provide sources. This is required on this site. Thanks. – Ruminator Sep 9 '17 at 3:51

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