Falling from grace?

If one defines “grace” as “unmer­it­ed favor,” as I think is typ­i­cal, why do we even have the phrase “fall from grace”? If one could fall from it, that implies that there was some­thing going on to mer­it or deserve that grace. If that is the case, then grace is no longer grace — it is reward.

I think the fact that sal­va­tion is by grace through faith is enough to prove that sal­va­tion can­not be lost. If we did­n’t deserve it to begin with, then there cer­tain­ly isn’t any­thing that we could do to “unde­serve it” even more to the point of falling from it.

Grace is free. It is unmer­it­ed, unde­served, even unsought. It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who has mercy.






4 responses to “Falling from grace?”

  1. Justin Avatar

    Rick, that was so sim­ple. I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly thought about it that way. Thanks!

  2. Johnie Avatar

    What about Gala­tians 5:4? Paul says: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whoso­ev­er of you are jus­ti­fied by the law; ye are fall­en from grace.” If it is not pos­si­ble to fall from grace, how could Paul tell the peo­ple in Gala­tia that they did? What about the book of Hebrews and the warn­ings of apos­ta­sy there?

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      The warn­ings in Hebrews — I assume you refer to chap­ter 6 — are most­ly hypo­thet­i­cal; the author is respond­ing to peo­ple who believed that they could lose their sal­va­tion, and the point is made that if it were pos­si­ble to fall away from Christ, the only way to attain sal­va­tion again would be to cru­ci­fy the Lord again; in oth­er words, the author of Hebrews makes the point that falling from grace is an impos­si­ble absurdity.

      In Gala­tians 5:4, Paul is not speak­ing of believ­ers — of those who have received grace. Paul is speak­ing of those to whom grace was offered, but the peo­ple chose instead to seek jus­ti­fi­ca­tion from the Law, effec­tive­ly mak­ing what­ev­er evan­ge­lis­tic offer of grace giv­en to them meaningless.

      Had these peo­ple actu­al­ly received grace, well, now, that’s a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion entirely.

  3. Lawrence Bednar Avatar
    Lawrence Bednar

    Rick: I agree with most of your eval­u­a­tion, but the idea that some per­sons referred to in Hebrews chap­ter 6 thought they could lose their sal­va­tion, a doc­trine com­mon to Armini­ans, is not found there. Fur­ther, your appar­ent uncer­tain­ty that peo­ple in the epis­tle reject­ing God’s sal­va­tion grace could ever have received it at any time, requires clar­i­fi­ca­tion. The epis­tle reveals that God is just in His grace to a degree that is mind-bog­gling, and it’s very impor­tant to clar­i­fy what it teach­es in this matter.

    6:4 For it is impos­si­ble for those who were once enlight­ened, and have tast­ed of the heav­en­ly gift, and were made par­tak­ers of the Holy Ghost,
    6:5 And have tast­ed the good word of God, and the pow­ers of the world to come,
    6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repen­tance; see­ing they cru­ci­fy to them­selves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

    This speaks of an impos­si­bil­i­ty of sal­va­tion for unbe­liev­ers guilty of final rejec­tion of the sal­va­tion offer after com­plete enlight­en­ment in every­thing vital for sal­va­tion. It doesn’t speak of believ­ers falling from grace and an impos­si­bil­i­ty of restor­ing them. The top­ic regard­ing believ­ers is mis­lead­ing appear­ances they may present. The mean­ing of the pas­sage about believ­ers devel­ops from Heb.5:12–14 & 6:1–3.

    5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teach­ers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first prin­ci­ples of the ora­cles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
    5:13 For every­one that useth milk is unskill­ful in the word of right­eous­ness: for he is a babe.
    5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by rea­son of use have their sens­es exer­cised to dis­cern both good and evil.

    In 5:12–14 the writer admon­ish­es pro­fes­sors of the faith who do not advance from chil­drens’ milk to the strong meat of mature believ­ers, due to hard­ships. Their devo­tion to Christ suf­fers since they resem­ble unbe­liev­ers who ques­tion the wis­dom of pur­su­ing all that applies to liv­ing for Christ. 

    6:1 There­fore leav­ing the prin­ci­ples of the doc­trine of Christ, let us go on unto per­fec­tion; (matu­ri­ty) not lay­ing again the foun­da­tion of repen­tance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
    6:2 Of the doc­trine of bap­tisms, and of lay­ing on of hands, and of res­ur­rec­tion of the dead, and of eter­nal judgment.

    In 6:1,2 the writer speaks of the need to leave the basics, and go on in the faith. There is no need to repeat repen­tance of for­mer evil works that led to sal­va­tion, once God for­gives us for them. Once faith in God is estab­lished, there’s no need to seek it again, and once we’re bap­tized unto Christ, we don’t need to do so again. Once we’re aware of the res­ur­rec­tion and judg­ment to fol­low, there’s no need to learn this again, and once we’re com­mis­sioned to the work by lay­ing on of hands, we must get on with the work. 

    6:3 And this will we do, if God permit.

    In 6:3 the writer indi­cates that, by God’s enabling, pro­fes­sors of the faith will grow in Chris­t­ian life & duty. In 6:4–6 he tells read­ers that if, after receiv­ing God’s grace in sal­va­tion, they real­ly need­ed to repeat the basics, they would be in a trag­ic state. They would be like apos­tates offered God’s sal­va­tion grace, and seem­ing to accept it, actu­al­ly nev­er do. The falling away refers only to unbe­liev­ers, for the writer’s ter­mi­nol­o­gy is indica­tive of those who explore the sal­va­tion offer, but do not actu­al­ly accept it. They taste of (sam­ple but nev­er ingest) the heav­en­ly gift, Christ’s offer of sal­va­tion, and par­take of (sam­ple but nev­er pos­sess) the Holy Ghost, the one who puts us in Christ, and taste of (sam­ple but nev­er apply) the good Word of God & under­stand­ing of future judg­ment. The writer says that, after receiv­ing all of the enlight­en­ment vital to sal­va­tion, some turn away from the offer, pre­fer­ring dark­ness. Full enlight­en­ment bestows all that’s need­ed for sal­va­tion, includ­ing par­tak­ing of the Word of God (sat­is­fy­ing the intel­lect) and the Holy Ghost (sat­is­fy­ing the spir­it and emo­tions). These agents are cru­cial to show us the truth of sal­va­tion. Such enlight­en­ment reveals all real­i­ty and truth of God about sal­va­tion. This breaks the hearts of all who now see their sin sep­a­rat­ing them from God, and the Sav­ior’s great love and will­ing­ness to rec­on­cile them to God by His great self-sac­ri­fice. Belief after such enlight­en­ment brings per­ma­nent cleans­ing of sin by the blood of Christ (1 Jn.1:9).

    But, even after this enlight­en­ment, some Hebrew pro­fes­sors of Christ might see lit­tle val­ue in His love & sac­ri­fice, real­ly pre­fer­ring a sup­posed sal­va­tion by keep­ing of Old Tes­ta­ment law, as taught by lead­ers per­vert­ing the pur­pose of the law. Heb.6:6 says that such per­sons can­not be renewed in full enlight­en­ment to bring them unto repen­tance of sin that pre­cedes con­ver­sion. Enlight­en­ment by the Holy Ghost and God’s Word is the means God chose to endow sal­va­tion. To pre­fer Old Tes­ta­ment ways after receiv­ing all enlight­en­ment nec­es­sary for sal­va­tion, would be to tri­fle with Christ’s holy sac­ri­fice and with the Holy Ghost, and shame Him who died to make for­give­ness pos­si­ble. In effect, such a per­son says of Christ’s sac­ri­fice, “Do it again, it did­n’t work the first time.” This is a refusal of cleans­ing by Christ’s blood, though God allows only cleans­ing by that sac­ri­fice for atone­ment. Thus one who dis­dains Christ’s sac­ri­fice in full knowl­edge of its holy pur­pose can’t be con­vert­ed. Sal­va­tion for him would require Christ to be cru­ci­fied again (and require rewrit­ing of scrip­ture), an impos­si­bil­i­ty as seen by Heb.9:25–28 that says Christ died once for the sins of many. We see why scrip­ture says “receive not the grace of God in vain…now is the accept­ed time…now is the day of sal­va­tion” (2 Cor. 6:2). The now is that moment of enlight­en­ment by God’s grace as we first tru­ly grasp the pur­pose of, and infi­nite love under­ly­ing, Christ’s sac­ri­fice. At this point who will dis­dain such love but one devot­ed to dark­ness or anoth­er sal­va­tion method?

    Through­out the epis­tle, the author expounds the supe­ri­or­i­ty of Christ over Old Tes­ta­ment insti­tu­tions, to show the error of return­ing to the lat­ter. In verse 2:1 he speaks of not let­ting the prin­ci­ples of Chris­tian­i­ty slip, and in 3:3 he com­pares Christ and Moses. In 4:1–2 he tells of rest­ing in Christ, and fail­ure of the wilder­ness wan­der­ers of the Exo­dus to enter into God’s rest by faith. In 7:1–12 he speaks of Melchisedec, a theo­phany of Christ, as the priest supe­ri­or to the levit­i­cal type. In chap­ter 9 he speaks of the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the New Tes­ta­ment over the Old, and in 10:1–12 he notes the supe­ri­or sac­ri­fice of Christ by con­trast with Old Tes­ta­ment sacrifices.

    The theme of Heb.6:4–6 is expound­ed fur­ther in Heb.10:26–39 where the sub­ject in verse 26 is the apos­ta­sy of those who sin will­ful­ly, despite seem­ing­ly accept­ing Christ’s truth. In vers­es 38, 39 these prove to be unbe­liev­ers who know the truth, but draw back from it. No sac­ri­fice beyond Christ’s all- suf­fi­cient one can redeem them, for Old-Tes­ta­ment sac­ri­fices have been super­seded by that of Christ.

    10:26 For if we sin will­ful­ly after that we have received the knowl­edge of the truth, there remaineth no more sac­ri­fice for sins…

    Verse 10:26 warns against turn­ing from Christ, a con­di­tion of hope­less­ness, and verse 10:39 says true believ­ers nev­er draw back to perdition.

    10:39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdi­tion; but of them that believe to the sav­ing of the soul.

    Thus, to go on in the Chris­t­ian faith in the face of hard­ship is to exhib­it one’s saved sta­tus. To refuse to con­tin­ue liv­ing to glo­ri­fy God after an all-suf­fi­cient final enlight­en­ment is to show ulti­mate ingrat­i­tude and mock­ery of God, illus­trat­ing no repen­tance unto sal­va­tion in a state of con­science that is inca­pable of con­ver­sion. The teach­ing of the Heb. 6:7–10 pas­sages is equiv­a­lent to that of Jas.2:17–20 that says belief or knowl­edge of the truth of God that pro­duces no good works to glo­ri­fy God is dead, being like the belief of dev­ils who know the truth of God, but are inca­pable of conversion.

    Now one who rejects full enlight­en­ment of the pur­pose of Christ’s sac­ri­fice isn’t fall­en from grace, but is incon­vert­ible, reject­ing God’s Word and the Holy Ghost. This is seen also in 2 Pet.2:20–22 in the exam­ple of false teach­ers who, know­ing the truth that cleans­es the soul, turn from it; they’re said to be men for whom Christ died in verse 2:1, but seek anoth­er sal­va­tion method. Their behav­ior is likened to that of a pig washed in a futile effort at cleans­ing of a crea­ture with a nat­ur­al bent for a pig­pen. It is also likened to that of a dog that chews some­thing, seem­ing to eat it, but regur­gi­tates it, then wastes its time on a sec­ond try at it. Unbe­liev­ers who are described in Heb.6:4–6 are those on whom is bestowed all the grace of God vital for sal­va­tion, even par­tak­ing of the Holy Ghost to enlight­en the soul with truth of the Word. Yet they turn from the holy light of grace, pre­fer­ring dark­ness as beasts inca­pable of con­ver­sion. The pure grace of God is extrav­a­gant, being con­ferred on even those who will only des­e­crate it. Per­haps God wills this to guar­an­tee an to all an oppor­tu­ni­ty for sal­va­tion, and get­ting accus­tomed to dark­ness is to risk of being unable to tol­er­ate light. 

    Now in Heb.6:7–10, we see fur­ther evi­dence that the writer doesn’t include saved per­sons when he speaks of those who fall away from the faith and can’t be renewed.

    6:7 For the earth which drin­keth in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth bless­ing from God:
    6:8 But that which beareth thorns and bri­ars is reject­ed, and is nigh unto curs­ing; whose end is to be burned.
    6:9 But, beloved, we are per­suad­ed bet­ter things of you, and things that accom­pa­ny sal­va­tion, though we thus speak.
    6:10 For God is not unright­eous to for­get your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have min­is­tered to the saints and do minister.

    The writer tells believ­ers that fail­ure to pur­sue Chris­t­ian matu­ri­ty imi­tates the fol­ly of know­ing sal­va­tion truth, and turn­ing from it in apos­ta­sy. In 6:8 he speaks of a fiery con­dem­na­tion of unbe­liev­ers who pre­fer dark­ness over light. One who is offered God’s grace, yet rejects the offer of sal­va­tion, is like the earth that receives God’s good rain from heav­en, but yields thorns & bri­ars. This is con­trast­ed with believ­ers in terms of the earth that brings forth good fruit through rain from heav­en. This describes the reac­tion of dif­fer­ent peo­ple to the sal­va­tion offer, the les­son our Lord taught in the para­ble of the sow­er where good seed was cast on dif­fer­ent types of soil (Mt.13:3 9).

    In speak­ing of saved ones in terms of earth that brings forth prop­er fruit under the bless­ing of rain from heav­en, the writer says they have pro­duced some prop­er works to Christ’s glo­ry through sav­ing grace, and such works are those that God will accept. He says that their mea­ger works, lim­it­ed by their poor atti­tude and fail­ure to advance in matu­ri­ty, won’t be for­got­ten. Indeed, he indi­cates that God would be unright­eous to for­get their good works done for Him, regard­less of the devo­tion pro­duc­ing them because these works jus­ti­fy them, or prove their sal­va­tion, as we’re also told in Jas.2:24. Their sal­va­tion is as guar­an­teed as God’s right­eous­ness is guaranteed.

    Now God’s peo­ple can expect chas­ten­ing for dis­obe­di­ence, as the Hebrews writer says in chap­ter 12, and to refuse lessons of chas­ten­ing invites loss of rewards. Fur­ther, through­out eter­ni­ty, we must all face the Sav­ior who gave Him­self ful­ly for us, and we must face His com­pa­ny of great saints who gave every­thing for the glo­ry of God. Might that result in eter­nal embar­rass­ment for those among us who are slack in their devo­tion to Christ? (I don’t feel any advan­tage in this)

    Now many pro­fes­sors of faith fal­ter in the Chris­t­ian walk as pres­sures to mask our faith increase, but repen­tance and even gal­lantry in the cause of Christ, are ever pos­si­ble. The church is oblig­at­ed to encour­age repen­tance from a state of unfaith­ful­ness, and to dis­cour­age per­sis­tence in an unholy state of unfaith­ful­ness that can cause our removal from this world in dis­grace for dis­hon­or­ing Christ in our lives.

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Rick Beckman