Falling from Grace: Why the Different Result in Galatians?

This brings us to Galatians, where Paul wrote,

(Gal 4:9-11) But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Even though Paul certainly didn’t consider honoring holy days to be a salvation issue in Romans 14,  it becomes a salvation issue in Galatians 4. So, why are holy days enslaving in Galatia but “don’t judge” matters in Rome?

Mac Deaver has argued in his debate with David Padfield that the difference is in the kind of days being honored.

The days of Romans fourteen have to do with doing things that are optional, not prohibited. The ones in Galatians four and Colossians two were prohibited!

I just don’t see it. On what basis do we conclude that —

(Rom 14:5) One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

— refers only to certain permitted days, whereas “special days” in Gal 4:10 refers to honoring prohibited days. That seems to be reading into the text rather than reading from the text. And, worse yet, it ignores the fact that the context of both passages is Paul’s efforts to combine Jews and Gentiles into a single congregation. No, in both passages, as nearly every commentator has concluded, the holy days are Jewish holy days.

The difference — the solution to the paradox — is that in Romans Paul was urging the congregation not to let such things divide the church. In Galatians, the congregation was deeper into division, and Paul felt obliged to explain the consequences of dividing over such matters: you can fall from grace.

You see, both statements are true. We should not divide over such issues, but if we do, we can fall from grace. It’s not the merits of the underlying issues that are the deepest concern. Rather, when we let such issues divide the body of Christ, we risk our very salvation.

Same issue, two different results. If we honor Paul’s advice to not judge and to not look down on our brothers, we remain in grace, even though we may be wrong on the holy day issue. But when we divide over the issue — even if we’re right as to the underlying doctrine, we are wrong as to the more crucial issue — the unity of the body — and we may well lose our souls.

Paul’s argument in Galatians

This is hardly an obvious conclusion to most of us, but that’s only because we’ve read Galatians blind to the truth that is written there.

There were teachers in Galatia insisting that the Galatians would not be justified except by honoring those commands in the Law of Moses that served to mark Jews as separate from Gentiles, particularly circumcision and honoring certain holy days.

Circumcision was a command of God going back to Abraham. It’s easy to see how they’d reach this conclusion. The command predated the Law of Moses by centuries — and Paul taught that we are saved by God’s covenant with Abraham (Gal 3; Rom 5). Sabbath observance also predates the giving of the Law (Ex 16:23 ff) and was based on Genesis 1 (Ex 20:11).

But Paul uses some of the strongest language in the New Testament to oppose this simple mistake —

(Gal 1:6-9) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

(Gal 5:4) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Paul wants to have our undivided attention. There is something horribly wrong about circumcision. And yet Paul also writes,

(Gal 5:6a) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

(Gal 6:15) Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

The distinction between Galatians and Romans 14 is plainly not that Romans 14 speaks of matters of indifference while Galatians does not. Paul could not have more clearly said in Galatians that circumcision is morally indifferent.

It’s not the rightness or wrongness of circumcision that’s the problem. Rather, it’s binding circumcision as a requirement to be saved that Paul objects to. (Just as is true regarding holy days.)

(Gal 2:11-14) When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

Peter’s sin was that he discriminated against the Gentiles because of their failure to be circumcised. He tolerated the false gospel of the Judaizing teachers. You see, his refusal to eat with them was tantamount to denying their place in the church.

(Gal 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Paul says that dividing based on circumcision contradicts justification by faith.

Why? Why does insisting on a morally neutral command — considered a good health practice by many — violate the gospel? Why does making circumcision a test of fellowship damn?

Paul gives the answer: because it’s not “faith in Jesus Christ.” He gives the same answer in chapter 5 —

(Gal 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

That’s it. Faith in Jesus saves. When we add a law to that one, extraordinary gift of God, we “fall from grace.” We teach “a different gospel.” It’s a bad place to be.

What is “law”?

Near the conclusion of the book, Paul declares,

(Gal 5:2-4) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Obviously, none of us should want to try to be justified by law! But what is “law”?

The traditional interpretation among the Churches of Christ is that “law” refers solely to the ceremonial Law of Moses — circumcision, holy days, and such like. Obviously, Paul has at least this much in mind. However, the logic of Galatians demands a broader interpretation.

For example, consider that approach to interpretation in v. 3 —

3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole [ceremonial] law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by [ceremonial] law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Why would being obligated to obey the entirety of the ceremonial law cause one to fall from grace? Was it truly impossible for a Jew to comply with the ceremonial elements of the law when Paul was writing?

Or consider —

(Gal 3:10-12) All who rely on observing the [ceremonial] law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the [ceremonial] law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12 The [ceremonial] law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”

Paul is plainly referring to the entirety of the Law of Moses in the these passages, not just the ceremonial elements.

There are, of course, verses that could be interpreted to refer to the ceremonial law, but over and over again we see that the interpretation cannot be consistently applied.

Moreover, Paul makes very similar arguments in Romans, and there it’s quite clear that the “law” in Romans is not limited to the ceremonial law.

(Rom 2:14-15) (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

In this passage, Paul is plainly referring to the moral law, the idea being that God’s moral nature is written on the hearts of the Gentiles, and so they have an awareness of God’s law despite not having the Law.

Just so, when Paul speaks of the Jews, he says,

(Rom 2:17-22) Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

Paul’s point is that the Jews brag about having the Law but they steal and commit adultery — violations of the Ten Commandments and the moral law — not the ceremonial law.

Finally, we have to point out that circumcision, as a command of God, goes all the way back to Abraham and was practiced by the Israelites long before the Law was given. Even if the ceremonial Law of Moses had been entirely repealed, the covenant with Abraham would still call for circumcision. It would hardly make sense for Paul to speak of circumcision being no longer binding solely because the ceremonial Law of Moses had been repealed.

Therefore, in Paul’s vocabulary, “law” includes both God’s moral teachings and his positive commands, that is, commands other than moral commands.

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5 Comments on “Falling from Grace: Why the Different Result in Galatians?”

  1. Royce Says:

    Paul addressed Romans to: “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”. (Romans 1:7) And, he addressed the Galatians letter to: “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2b)

    These letters along with Hebrews (author unknown) and others were widely distributed and read to individual local assemblies. We have no way of knowing how many people heard the letters read at one setting but I think the crowd could have been quite large. It is also very likely that the hearers would include believers and make believers, those who were true Christians and those who were imposters or not yet Christians.

    All of us (even a person with Calvinist tendencies like me) agree that those who claim Christ MUST live lives of obedience if we are saved. As you correctly said in another post, 1st John shows who is and is not saved.

    Jay, if you wrote a letter to my congregation you would likely address it to “Brothers and sisters” but when it was read to the assembled group believers and not yet beleivers would be hearing the message. I believe this truth is part of the key to understanding Paul’s intentions, especially in Galations. Worthy of note is the phrase you quoted in Galatians 4 “Or rather known by God”. That little phrase is very important in my view.

    Thanks for your hard work in presenting these important posts and for your charity to some of us who are at times a pain in the back side.

    Royce


  2. Even a further contrast (as I see it), or paradox, from Galatians to Romans, is the perceived contradiction between Galatians 5.2-3 and Acts 16.1-3 where Paul circumcises Timothy because of the Jews in the area Paul and Silas where traveling in.

    The issue has to be faith in Christ rather than faith in self (self justification) as seen in Gal. 5.4 or else Paul has just condemned Timothy to the fires of hell by obligating him to the “whole law.” Now we know in light of 1 Cor. 9 what Paul’s motivation for such actions would be, “so as to win those…” I assume Paul considered the Jews in Acts 16 not ready for a teaching such as found in Galatians 5, so he circumcised Timothy knowing it had nothing to do with self justification but rather to further the spread of the gospel and God’s grace on free and slave, weak and strong, Jew and Gentile alike.

    Today I know I still struggle with buying into Satan’s garden lie; I will be like a god. Meaning my rightness depends on me, I must self justify. And so our adding requirements to faith fall into the same mind set of we are in control because we can “be like gods”. And because of our self justification we can not see that our law that we add on others is the same as that spoken against by Paul in these verses (i.e. ceremonial law vs. moral law arguments).

    You stated, “That’s it. Faith in Jesus saves. When we add a law to that one, extraordinary gift of God, we ‘fall from grace.’…It’s a bad place to be.” How true, how true.

    Steve Valentine

  3. Jay Guin Says:

    Desertwanderer,

    Thanks. It’s a good point. Paul circumcised Timothy so he could preach to the Jews — but not so that he could be justified. And that was far from a sin. Do the identical thing in order to be justified, and you fall from grace.

  4. laymond Says:

    Jay wasn’t that a way to be justified of men, and didn’t Paul say somewhere he didn’t care what men thought of him, or something to that affect?

  5. Ed Boggess Says:

    Judaizers had come to Galatia and undermined Paul’s authority and taught it was necessary for Gentiles to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul first asserts his authority as an apostle and second shows that the law with all of its commands was to bring us to Christ, that salvation is only in Christ where there is freedom from the law and living in Christ means walking by the Spirit with all of its implications. Therefore, to attempt to achieve salvation by keeping the law, whether days, circumcision or its moral demands is to become estranged from Christ and the promises in Him.
    On the other hand, some brethren in Rome were evidently keeping some Jewish holy days. If they had in doing so believed they were achieving righteousness so as to be saved, Paul would have dealt with it as he did in Galatians. So apparently they were not thinking in terms of achieving justification, but in terms of pleasing God by their walk of faith, just as one avoids the works of the flesh and produces the fruits of the Spirit when walking by the Spirit. It is not to achieve salvation, but to walk worthy of the vocation of being a child of God. So in this sense the matters of Romans 14 were indifferent, weren’t they? Of course, I could be wrong. I’ve been before.


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