What Does Gal 2:11 Really Say? Part 2

grace2.jpgI’ve decided to add a part 2 to this because it’s unlikely many readers would understand the point of Part 1 without a little more background. I wrote it too fast (I know better, but I was excited).

To explain why this passage is important to me, I need to summarize my peculiar views on falling from grace. I’ll not take the space to explain entirely where my thinking comes from, but I’ll refer to where I’ve explained it more in in depth as I go.

My views on falling away have been evolving since, well, high school or maybe the 3rd grade. A long time. In Do We Teach Another Gospel?, I lay out the three ways I think someone call fall away —

Requirements to be saved
(on the occasion of baptism) and to stay saved

In other words

Accept Jesus as-

In other words

How one can fall away?

reject Jesus as-

In other words

In other words

Hear, believe, and confess the gospel

Faith

the Son of God

the Christ or Messiah

the Son of God

reject the faith

deny the gospel facts

Hope Savior

his works, not ours

Savior

attempt to be saved by one’s own works

add requirements to the gospel for one to be saved

Repent Love Lord

put to death the misdeeds of the body;
live a life of loving service

Lord

deliberately continue to sin

rely on grace
to excuse sin

Now, I likely should explain this a bit. Basically, to be saved and to stay saved we need faith, hope, and love. Faith is, of course, faith in Jesus. Love is the result of submitting to Jesus as Lord, that is, repenting. After all, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that the entire law is found in “love your neighbor.”

“Hope” is found in the fact that our faith is quite enough for us to be saved. Jesus saves. We don’t. Jesus’ works are sufficient. Of course, “faith” as used in Paul’s letters, includes repentance, that is, yielding to Jesus as Lord. But it’s the submission that allows Jesus to save, not whether you and I agree on how best to submit.

Hence, Gal 5:6b makes perfect sense — “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” The “faith” and “love” are obvious. The “hope” is found in the “only.” I don’t need anything more to make it. That’s true hope.

Now, to fall away, there are three stupid things we can do —

* Surrender our faith (1 John 4:2-3)

* Surrender our penitence (Heb 10:26-27)

* Surrender our hope (Gal 5:4)

Here’s another, simpler chart —

To be saved

That is

Baptism

To fall away

That is

Accept Jesus
as-

Have all of-

Reject Jesus
as-

Lose any of-
Son of God Faith Son of God Faith
Savior Hope Savior Hope
Lord Love Lord Love

Now, the next point comes from my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. We’ve not talked much about this in the last several months on this site, but I take Heb 6:4-6 quite literally —

(Heb 6:4-6) It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

My view of this passage is detailed in the book, available for free download. But here’s the gist of it. It’s possible to fall away in such a way that it becomes impossible to repent. God doesn’t prevent you from repenting, but your heart becomes too hard, your conscience too seared, to repent. God is always willing to take you back, but you won’t ever return.

Lots of people agree with that interpretation, although lots do not. But I also think that this is defines the point where someone falls away by surrendering his penitence. Verse 6 doesn’t say “if they fall really far away.” It’s just “if they fall way.” Therefore, you’ve not fallen away until you’ve totally fallen away. I further explain my reading of Hebrews in this post.

Now, I take this as a great comfort. As a child, I was taught I was damned after every sin, until I repented and asked for forgiveness. But under this interpretation, falling away is much harder, salvation is much more certain, but I’m still not preaching once saved, always saved. Most saved people remain saved every day until they die. It’s a delicious thought.

But then, in writing Do We Teach Another Gospel?, I concluded that relying on a works-based salvation can damn. That’s plainly what Paul says.

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

And that teaching has weighed heavily on me for years. After all, if surrendering our penitence damns — irredeemably — there’s at least the possibility that surrendering our hope — that seeking a salvation by works — damns irredeemably. And this would be very bad news indeed. I mean, lots of my Church of Christ brothers and sisters teach a works salvation.

Therefore, if my reading of Gal 2:11 is right, if Peter really stood condemned, repented, and was restored to a saved state, that’s very good news. Better news would be that God doesn’t damn for seeking to be justified by works, but I can’t edit Galatians out of my Bible — as much as I might like to.

And as I explain in Part II of Do We Teach Another Gospel?, there are good reasons why God would consider legalism a particularly heinous sin. After all, look at the fruit of that tree! And, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, there’s good reason to think that God’s judgment falls mainly on those who presume to be leaders and teachers and who lead others into legalism. Paul is not nearly so severe with those being deceived.

Therefore, while I recognize that certainty isn’t possible as to the meaning of Gal 2:11, I hope I’m right. I like having something that assures me that legalism isn’t like the falling away described in Heb 6:4-6. After all, Heb 6:4-6 is specifically dealing with a lack of repentance, which is quite a different sin and so has a different effect on our hearts. Those who preach legalism are actually trying to serve God in their own way. They have good intentions, of a sort. It’s just that they’ve missed the point of Jesus — but it’s a point many can and do later learn correctly.

On the other hand, it’s my observation that many in the legalism camp are extraordinarily difficult (seemingly impossible) to persuade of their error. Some are looking for a way out and readily accept it when they find it. Others fight against grace with extraordinary tenacity, demanding a system that let’s them earn their way in — and they can be remarkably obstinate about it. I worry about them.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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