I do believe in the eternal security of the believer, but I have trouble understanding Galatians 5:4 where Paul says, “ye are fallen from grace.” Does this verse argue against eternal security?
No. The verse does not say, “æye are fallen from salvation,” or “ye are fallen from Christ.” Later on in the letter Paul calls his readers “brethren” (Galatians 6:1) and he uses the word in the normal sense, meaning that they are “brothers and sisters in Christ.” The Galatians were confused about sanctification. False teachers led them astray regarding how we are to live the Christian life. Is it a life to be lived under religious practices and the legalistic teachings of the Judaizers?
The apostle brings the issue into focus when are asks: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). That was their problem. They were relying on the flesh and on works. Hence, Paul says, “ye are fallen from grace,” meaning that they have fallen from grace as the way of their sanctification and had gone back to keeping the Law (Galatians 3:5–7).
Is it possible to lose one’s salvation? It certainly is. If we are honest, we’ve probably lost it more times than we can remember. Eternal security, however, does not depend on our holding on, but upon God who never lets us go.
People often have trouble accepting the doctrine of the security of the believer because they do not know what it means. It is often misrepresented and caricatured.
For one thing, eternal security does not mean that it does not matter if a Christian sins. Sin is a serious matter, even for a Christian. When a child disobeys an earthly father, he is disciplined. However, the child’s disobedience is not grounds for the father to disown the child and to run him out of the house! God chastens His children and has various ways of giving us a good “spanking” (Hebrews 12:6, 8), but he doesn’t disown us (Luke 15:11–32).
In John 10:27–29 Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
Secondly, eternal security does not mean that all those who have made a profession of faith and are “church members” will get to Heaven. The Bible tells the sad story of Simon who was baptized and who believed, but Peter said to him: “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:13, 19–23).
Thirdly, eternal security does not mean that Christians do not need confession, repentance, renewal, and revival. The example of the church at Ephesus makes that very clear (Revelation 2:1, 4–5).
Fourthly, eternal security does not mean that Christians cannot disqualify themselves for positions of leadership and service. Christians are secure in their salvation, but pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and choir members are not necessarily secure in their positions of ministry (1 Corithians 9:24–27).
“Having therefore these promises,” we read in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” It does not say, “Since we are not sure if we have these promises let us perfect holiness in the fear of God.” Being a recipient of God’s promises does not make one spiritually careless.