"You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen away from grace."
When someone has sinned or failed greatly, many times we hear the phrase that this person has fallen from grace. The common belief is the person who has sinned greatly has fallen from a right standing before God. They have fallen outside of God's acceptance because of the wrong they have done. However, according to the Bible, when we fail greatly, we fall into grace, not out of grace.
The phrase fallen from grace is found only one time in the Bible, Galatians 5:4. Therefore, we must allow the context of this verse to determine its meaning. By context, I mean the verses before and after must be taken into account in order to have a proper interpretation of what Galatians 5:4 means. Galatians 5:4 says, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen away from grace." So what is the context of this verse?
The author of Galatians is Paul. Before Paul came to faith in Jesus Christ, he was fully committed to daily obedience to the Law of Moses in seeking righteousness or acceptance before God. He was committed to a system of moral and religious obedience to God believing this made him righteous before God. After coming to faith in Jesus, Paul began teaching that righteousness or a right standing before God is based upon grace, or what Jesus has done for each of us on the cross. According to Paul, through faith we receive grace which makes us completely righteous before God. Therefore, a right standing before God or to stand before God completely forgiven and totally accepted comes through faith in Jesus and not through moral or religious efforts.
Paul had started several churches in the region of Galatia based up grace. His goal was to reach people with the good news about all that God had done for us through Jesus. His message was that by grace (all that God has done for us through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection) and through faith in Jesus (receiving all Jesus has done for us) we become totally righteous, innocent, or not guilty before God of our sin. However, something was happening in Galatia that was turning people away from grace for acceptance with God and turning people toward seeking to achieve acceptance with God by moral and religious behavior.
Religious people zealous for obedience to the Law of Moses had infiltrated the churches in Galatia and were convincing the people that acceptance with God had to be achieved by being good morally and religiously rather than by receiving grace. Many in the churches of Galatia were turning away from grace for acceptance with God and were embracing moral and religious obedience as the way to be accepted by God. In order to combat and expose these false teachers who had gained influence over those who once previously embraced grace, Paul wrote a letter to the Galatian churches. This letter is entitled Galatians in the Bible.
In this letter, Paul defends the message of grace by saying, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." (Galatians 2:21) Furthermore, he declares that those who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, they have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4). According to Paul in his letter to the Galatian churches, to fall from grace is to fall into a religious or moral system where obedience to this system is required in order to be righteous or accepted by God. This was the very system of which he himself was once a part. Fallen from grace, according to Paul, is alienating oneself from Christ by believing obedience to a religious and moral system makes us righteous before God. These people alienate themselves from Christ because they are depending upon their own personal obedience and goodness to gain acceptance with God rather than on depending completely upon the finished work of Christ that provides righteousness before God for us and is received by faith. Righteousness before God comes through grace by faith in Jesus and not by following moral or religious requirements.
Fallen from grace is when people are committed to doing good works morally and religiously and believing those good works give them a righteous standing before God. It is the very opposite of what many believe about what fallen from grace means. Again, the common belief about one fallen from grace is to have failed or sinned so greatly that this person has fallen outside of a right or acceptable standing with God. However, according to God's word, this person has fallen into grace. This person has fallen into the unconditional love of God...much like the prodigal son. This person's behavior has not caused him to fall outside of God's love, forgiveness and acceptance. Rather, he has fallen into God's love and forgiveness, his grace, and through faith in Christ is accepted by God.
As believers in Jesus, we do not live according to a moral or religious system to obtain or maintain acceptance with God. By grace and through faith, we have been declared righteous before God permanently. We now live by the Spirit of God within us where we call God our loving Father (Galatians 4:4-6). We are led by his Spirit where the fruit of the Spirit or what comes from our loving relationship with God is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:13-23).