Fallen From Grace
From Notes of an Address
There is no salvation at all apart from the Grace of God. This being so, grace is a thing to which we all are indebted, and yet so few of us seem to really understand its wonderful character.
The word, grace, is used with at least two shades of meaning in Scripture. It signifies, firstly, a principle of blessing opposed to law: secondly, a position of favour before God, into which we are introduced by the Lord Jesus on the ground of His work, when we believe.
There are a number of contrasts found in Scripture, such as Christ and Satan, who are always opposed the one to the other; as also the Spirit and the flesh. Law and grace furnish us with a contrast of this sort, and it is the confounding of these two which plunges so many into distress. So let us point out some of the differences between them.
Law makes demands upon us, whereas grace gives to us.
Law aims at producing goodness from us; grace brings goodness to us.
Law says, love God; grace says, God loves us.
Law says, do and live; grace says, live and do.
Law condemns; grace justifies.
Law entails bondage; grace leads to liberty.
Law was definitely imposed upon Israel; grace addresses itself to all mankind.
“Fallen from grace,” is an expression which occurs in Galatians 5:4, and it is usually taken to mean that we may fall out of the grace of God altogether, that we may utterly lose His favour. Now there is a very vital question to be raised and answered. It is this, How can we be brought into God’s favour at all, and how can we be kept in it? If it can be shown how we get into His favour we may then see how we can be kept in it, and whether it is possible for us ever to fall out of it. One thing is certain, one day or another everyone will be anxious to be in the favour of God, for to die under His frown will mean banishment from His presence for ever.
We are not left in any doubt as to what the answer to this important question is. God has “made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). He has taken us into His favour in that way and upon that ground alone. So it is what God sees in Christ that is the measure of our acceptance before Him.
We do not stand in the favour of God, on account of our love towards Him, but on account of His love towards us. It is not because we have done something for Him, but because Christ has done something for us. In other words, God acts towards us on the ground of what He finds in Himself, and not on the ground of what He finds in us. Otherwise it would be our merits, our deserts—could He find any merit at all in us, or were our deserts anything else than His unsparing judgment—and not grace at all. Nothing can be plainer than that merit and grace are contrary the one to the other. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt,” and again, “If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 4:4; 11:6).
It was the law that supposed there might be some merit in us to be rewarded. Grace supposes no merit in us at all. What we get we have no title to in ourselves, it is only ours as being in Christ. Alas! the idea of merit is so deeply ingrained into us that it is most difficult for us to get away from it. We may even think that our good conduct as Christians is necessary if God is to continue to smile upon us and keep us in His favour.
Now these Galatian believers had fallen from grace. This does not mean that they had turned away from Christ, or that they had fallen from salvation, but that they had descended to the lower ground of doing instead of believing. The Apostle did not charge them with committing gross sins. That he did say that if they thought to increase their place in the favour of God, or increase their own holiness by adopting the legal rite of circumcision, they put themselves under the liability to do the whole law. That meant that they would even have to be justified by law, and that meant that in their thoughts they had fallen from the high place in which grace sets the believer. Read verses 3 and 4 of Galatians 5, and you will see this.
To be, or seek to be, justified on the principle of law, or in any way to seek blessing from God on the ground of our being what we ought to be, is to drop from the lofty standard of God blessing according to what He finds in Himself, to His blessing according to what He finds in those He blesses. So it comes to this, that the moment we begin to think that God will be toward us according to what we are toward Him, we have fallen on to the ground of law. If we think we have got out of God’s favour because we have not been what we should be, we have in our minds fallen from grace. How easy for us to begin by grace and yet get before long on to the ground of law!
It is grace to start with, and grace to go on with, and God will never deal with us on any other ground; if He did we should soon lose our blessing. The idea, that so many have, is that bad conduct upon our part will make us fall out of God’s favour, so that no longer will He smile upon us. Then of course we have to suppose that something must be done by us to re-instate ourselves in His favour. Some even go so far as to imagine that in such a case we need to be converted over again.
God however never deviates from grace in His dealings with His people. Once having taken them up in grace, He holds them fast in grace; and thoughts such as these only show that those who entertain them have in their minds dropped from grace to the far lower level of law. Many a man has fallen from grace who has not fallen into positive sin.
One thing however we must always remember. There is such a thing as the smile of complacency and approval as well as the smile of favour. It should be our ardent desire so to live to His glory that we may be always conscious of having the smile of His approval resting upon us. If our ways please Him He can give us a sense of it. Then it will be with us as with Enoch, of whom it is said that, “he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
Yet even so, it is of the utmost importance that we have it ingrained into us that we are not brought into God’s favour by anything that we can do, nor are we kept in it by anything that we can do. That would be to make our acceptance, or our being held in favour, depend upon ourselves and upon our works, which is the very principle of law, and a tremendous fall from grace. It would mean that our conduct determined our blessing, either getting it or keeping it, and thus we should have whereof to boast, though not before God.
Everything however reaches us through the merits of Another. Our conduct good or bad adds nothing to, and detracts nothing from, the perfections of Christ in whom we are brought into favour. We are in Him, and it is on His account that we stand in God’s favour, so when He gets out of favour, we shall get out of favour. Only then, and not before!
Someone perhaps still would like to ask—Will not security and certainty such as this have a tendency to make us careless about our life and service?
We will answer by asking another question. Here is a young woman who has just obtained a situation as a nurse. She knows very well that if she wishes to retain the favour of her mistress she must nurse the child well. Her situation depends upon her devotedness to her charge. Now who will nurse the child with greater tenderness and love—this nursemaid or the child’s own mother, who nurses it from another motive altogether and with no such fear hanging over her head?
Anyone of us can supply the answer to that question for ourselves!