|Posted on May 12, 2021 at 4:50 PM|
I want to accept that we are not condemned in Christ and nothing can separate us from God. But doesn’t Paul also say we can fall from grace? Is that true and, if so, at what point can we fall?
The answer for your questions starts with our ability to choose. Unless you live by the view that life is predetermined and we have no choice, then the fact you are a Christian means you chose God rather than not God. Does becoming a follower of God take away your ability to choose? No! We can always choose not to follow the Lord at any point in our life. Note, though, the possibility of something happening does not mean necessarily that it will happen often or that it will happen to us.
When we are told in Romans 8 nothing can separate us from God, that means no outside forces can overcome God’s being there for us and holding on to us. Paul gave several examples of these possible interferences, all of which are part of the creation. Paul does did not say we are prevented from separating ourselves. God is faithful and does not give up on us. That should give us a great deal of confidence and assurance. For those Christians who believe in the “once saved, always saved” interpretation, their assurance comes from the idea they are among the group that the Almighty has chosen, and that group cannot ever lose salvation. For those of us who believe in free-will or choice, our assurance of a saved position can sometimes be more tenuous. While we believe God will not let go of his end of the rope, we think that we might. In other words, our confidence in God’s promises is sometimes limited by the confidence we have in ourselves. Since we have walked away from the Lord in the past, might we do so again?
Any doubts on our part can be accentuated by confusion over the phrase “fall from grace.” That term is a bit misleading and therein lies the rub. We think of a fall in terms of an accident. We want to trust God on his end, but we live in constant fear an accident on our part will leave us behind. That is because we do not fully accept that God has both the desire and the power to save us from all sin and guilt. We say we have no sin or guilt, but we have a hard time giving up the feeling of guilt. But if we are not guilty then why do so many Christians still feel guilty? It is because they fear the accidents and slipups that will cause them to “fall” into the water and drown. They do not doubt God, nor do they doubt their intentions. Instead, they doubt their ability to stick to the plan.
In other words, those who continue to live with guilt and the fear of failure are likely still relying on their own efforts to obtain righteousness before the Lord. They are not trusting in the power and the grace of the blood of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are trusting in their perfection and their ability to avoid mistakes. When Paul addressed the people in Galatia and spoke of falling from grace, he was talking to those who had known God but were turning back by trying to keep the whole law (Galatians 4:9). And those same people were putting added law requirements on others as well. Specifically, they were requiring submission to circumcision before salvation could happen. Paul says, “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:4 NLT). We think following the law and the rules is a good thing. It usually is, but it becomes a problem when we use our compliance as a path to God in place of Jesus Christ. That is why Paul said Christians had been set free, but some chose to return to slavery. By requiring circumcision, they were, in fact, saying that Jesus and his death really do not have the power to save us. In the same way, by living in fear that our future sins or mistakes will overcome us, we are not trusting in God’s forgiveness and grace.
When Paul said we can fall from grace, he emphasized that such a condition was equivalent to alienation from Christ. We can only be detached from Jesus Christ when we choose to do that. Separation from the Lord does not come through a mistake or a sin on our part. We can only leave God when we choose to leave either through direct confrontation or through our actions. Conversely, God will never leave us. We do not need to fear or agonize over the fact that some people have chosen to leave the Spirit and therefore have rejected grace. That is not, however, our choice nor our destiny.
The second question has to do with when someone might fall from grace. It helps perhaps to focus again on the concept of free-will. For me, it does come down to our choice. There are two basic ways I can get out of my relationship with, say, Smith. I can make the choice to terminate the relationship and even declare that decision to Smith. Or, I can simply quit participating socially with Smith, not returning calls, giving excuses, etc. The effect is the same in both cases--a broken relationship. The "point" at which a relationship ceases is the decision by at least one of the parties. When my decision is not well-communicated, Smith may not get the point at first and it may seem like there is no specific point. For me, the other party, the point is the decision. Of course, God does not sit around trying to wonder when someone does not show up for a while. He knows our heart so knows the option we choose and the timing of that choice. The good news is that we should not worry about some possible future choice, unless we plan to make that choice. It is not worth any anxiety for a Christian who cannot even imagine a life apart from the Lord. God will not leave us, and we have no desire or thought of leaving him. Hence the assurance and confidence.
If we are not careful, we deny ourselves the freedom of living in today because we fear we might leave God in the future. Our emphasis on the possibility of choosing not God indicates a reliance on ourselves for our own salvation instead of the trust we are saved. We have often been hesitant to say, “I am saved,” precisely because we worry our future actions and choices will disqualify us somehow. We often think our future actions and goodness will save us in the end. The future is not real. It has not happened and never will. It is interesting Paul says, “Neither the present nor the future will separate us from God” (Romans 8:38 NIV). We do not have to worry about the future, because God is not going to let the future separate us. We cannot let the future do that either, by our continued anxiety. We absolutely do not need to worry that the Savior will give up on us. Dwelling on our own rejection of God at some future date is a fool’s errand. Certainly, Christians do sometimes hang on to feelings of guilt from past sins, despite our constant assurance that God has fully forgiven and forgotten them. However, Christians also harbor equally strong feelings of anxiety over unrealized future sins or choices. We need to think in terms of being saved today instead of thinking we will be saved in the future only if we do not mess up.
I appreciate your honesty about your wrestling with the grace and forgiveness of God. It is not uncommon for Christians to want to believe in the power of forgiveness and to live in confidence and security, yet to have some feelings of doubt or anxiety. I like to call these the “Yes, but….” moments. We might say, “Yes, of course, I believe in forgiveness, but we are also miserable sinners, right?” Or, “Yes, I know nothing cannot separate us from God, but what if we fall from grace?” Whenever we encounter one of the great promises of God, but then go somewhere else in the Bible to explain them away or soften the power, we need to stop and think about what we are trying to do.
Ask yourself: “Do I let the future control me? Am I confident in God’s desire and power to forgive all my sins today, or am I anxious about possibly rejecting God tomorrow?”
Categories: Erased: God's Complete Forgiveness of Sins
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