Saved by Grace #6 — GRACE VS. GALATIANISM

In lesson five I said that many Christians lack assurance of salvation because they do not understand how “justification by faith” relates to STAYING saved, once one has become a Christian. It is important to distinguish between these two questions: (1) How does a sinner BECOME saved? and (2) How does a Christian STAY saved?

Many Christians, especially in the Restoration Movement, know how to answer the first question; but many are seriously confused about the second one. A common but faulty approach to this issue is often called Galatianism. It is called this because it is the false view of salvation that Paul is refuting in his letter to the Galatians. This false view—Galatianism—is summarized thus: a sinner becomes saved by grace, but stays saved by works.

An example of this view is someone whom many of us admire for many reasons, namely, Alexander Campbell. In a letter to “Paulinus” in 1827 he specifically said, “Sinners are justified by faith, and Christians by works.” He explained that in the final judgment, faith will not be accounted to anyone for righteousness; “every Christian will be justified by his works. Nothing else comes in review on the day of judgment” (The Christian Baptist, IV:10).

Such a view, like all versions of Galatianism, must be rejected as a denial of the Biblical teaching on justification by faith and thus as a denial of grace. To say we are justified by faith is not just a one-time event occurring at the beginning of our Christian life, but is an on-going state that keeps us saved in spite of our sins.

Unfortunately this Galatianist view has been accepted by many, especially in the Restoration Movement. Why have we been so vulnerable to it? Because several other of our favorite doctrines—also questionable—contribute to it. I will briefly explain three of them.

I. THE “FIVE-FINGER” SALVATION PLAN.

The Restoration Movement has had many versions of the five-point “plan of salvation,” some more Galatianist than others. A common one is that a person is saved by believing, repenting, confessing, being baptized, and living the Christian life. The problem with this is that it is usually presented as if all five of these actions are equally significant in “achieving” salvation. For example, we often see them illustrated as five equal steps in a staircase leading to eternal life.

Where we go wrong here is in the implication that the fifth step, “living the Christian life,” has the same significance for salvation as the other four. This is simply not the case; it is a perfect example of Galatianism. As often presented, in the first four steps we describe the way to BECOME saved, and the fifth step (living the Christian life) is explained as the way to STAY saved. We stay saved, then, by our works. Thus in our presentation of the plan we switch gears, changing from grace to law after the fourth step; and we thereby implant the notion of works-salvation in the convert’s heart from the very beginning of his or her Christian life.

If we are still going to use this five-step plan, the fifth step must be explained as qualitatively different from the others. Steps one through four are the essence of obeying the gospel, whereas “living the Christian life” is the essence of obeying our law code (i.e., it is “works of law). We should still stress faith, repentance, confession, and baptism as gospel or grace commands, and as the Biblical conditions for becoming saved (justified and born again). But we should stress that ongoing faith, repentance, and confession are the continuing conditions for staying saved. We should also make it clear that living the Christian life is the expected and consistent result of these things (a la Romans 6).

II. BAPTISM FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF PAST SINS ONLY.

Another false doctrine that opens the door to Galatianism is an old one, having arisen in the second century A.D. It is the belief that baptism does bring forgiveness of sins, but ONLY for the sins one has committed up to that point. This is a serious error, and it leads to all kinds of works-oriented attempts to deal with sins committed after the baptismal moment.

The earliest approach (later second century) was that there simply is NO forgiveness for post-baptismal sins. At the beginning of the third century, some (e.g., Tertullian) began to teach that God will accept one more episode of repentance, but it must be quite a sensational display. Ultimately the Roman Catholic Church, still believing that only past sins are forgiven in baptism, created the sacrament of penance (today, called reconciliation) as the way of dealing with post-baptismal sins.

This concept has not died out. The idea that in baptism one receives forgiveness only for sins previously committed is still present, especially in the Restoration Movement. A recent testimony in one of our Christian magazines, by a Restoration stalwart, said: “When I accepted and obeyed Christ, I was saved from my past sins.” My farming background has led me to call this “sheep-dip baptism.” For non-farmers we can call it “car-wash baptism.” All the dirt from the past is washed away. Now what do we do if (or rather, when) we sin again? Trying to answer this question almost always leads to a form of Galatianism. (See the next point.)

We can avoid this problem by seeing that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, period. In baptism we enter a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship keeps us in the forgiven state. In baptism we are covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), which covers our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Even though we are still sinners, we are forgiven sinners.

III. A WRONG UNDERSTANDING OF 1 JOHN 1:9.

In the Restoration Movement one of the most common roadblocks to assurance, and a common cause of Galatianism, is a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Assuming that baptism is for the forgiveness of past sins only, many have taken this verse to be the key to obtaining forgiveness for sins committed after baptism.

The result is a ritualized mini-penance. It goes like this: after having our slate wiped clean in baptism, it is assumed that every time we sin we literally fall from grace and become lost again. The only way to be forgiven of that sin and to become saved again is to repent for and confess that specific sin, and pray for its forgiveness. Thus a person is trapped in a revolving door, an endless cycle of saved/sin/lost/confession/saved/sin/lost/confession/saved, etc. This causes a person to live in fear that he or she will die while in the “lost” phase of the cycle. This is clearly an example of “staying saved by works.”

The error here is a failure to understand what it means to be justified by faith, apart from works of law (Rom. 3:28). It means we stay under the forgiving blood of Christ by continuing to trust in his redemptive works, not by how well we keep our law code (sinning or not). We wear his righteousness to cover up our unrighteousness. We live in a forgiven (justified) state, as long as we are sincerely trusting in Jesus as our Savior.

So what does 1 John 1:9 mean? It is not talking about the specific confession of specific sins as the condition for the forgiveness of those sins. The context (vv. 8, 10) shows that John is saying that we must have a constant realization and ongoing confession THAT we are sinners. We must never get to the point where we think that we are no longer sinners, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14). We must be like the tax collector, who confessed no specific sins, but simply acknowledged THAT he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy. This is the man who went home forgiven, said Jesus.

(Confession of specific sins is part of the sanctification process, rather than a condition for justification.)

In conclusion, we must see that to continually trust in Jesus’ blood is to REST the burden of our sin and guilt upon him, as many of our old hymns say. E.g., “Resting in my Savior as my all in all, I’m standing on the promises of God.” This is a rest from worry, not a rest from work (see Rom. 6:1ff.; Gal. 5:6; Jas. 2:18ff.). When we are under Christ’s blood, it is not just our sins that are forgiven, but WE OURSELVES are FORGIVEN PERSONS.

Assurance of salvation depends on being free from the GUILT of sin, even though we are not yet free from sin itself. We want to be, and some day will be, free from both; but while we are working on the sin, God has already taken away the guilt and punishment through Jesus’ blood. We are not yet 100% good, but we are 100% forgiven. The latter is the basis of our assurance.


Full Series

Saved by Grace #1 — GRACE ISN’T FAIR, BUT THAT’S GOOD!

Saved by Grace #2 — SAVED BY GRACE, NOT BY LAW

Saved by Grace #3 — DOUBLE CURSE, DOUBLE CURE

Saved by Grace #4 — SAVED BY GRACE, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

Saved by Grace #5 — JUSTIFIED BY FAITH: THE KEY TO ASSURANCE

Saved by Grace #6 — GRACE VS. GALATIANISM

Saved by Grace #7 — JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, YET JUDGED BY WORKS?

Saved by Grace #8 — SAVED BY GRACE, SAVED IN BAPTISM

Saved by Grace #9 — IS BAPTISM A WORK?

Saved by Grace #10 — SAVED BY GRACE, FOR GOOD WORKS

Saved by Grace #11 — “ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY”?

Saved by Grace #12 — LIVING BY GRACE

Saved by Grace #13 — ORIGINAL SIN–OR ORIGINAL GRACE?

Saved by Grace #14 — Once in Grace, Always in Grace?

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Comments

Saved by Grace #6 — GRACE VS. GALATIANISM — 7 Comments

  1. I believe Jesus was fully human in every way. However, there is a key difference between my humanity and Christ’s. He was untainted by sin. Yet, I’m confused as how to explain because Jesus is God, and the only Son of God, then why did he not know the time of his return? “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour none knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:35-37)

  2. These two statements from your article seem contradictory:

    1. But we should stress that ongoing faith, repentance, and confession are the continuing conditions for staying saved.

    and

    2. (Confession of specific sins is part of the sanctification process, rather than a condition for justification.)

    If confession is part of the sanctification process how can it be a continuing condition for justification?

    • These are two different kinds of confession. In the first statement, the “confession” is the confession of faith in Christ (as in Romans 10:9-10). This is the condition for salvation. In the second statement the “confession” is specified as the “confession of specific sins.” Thank you for allowing me to clarify this.

  3. maybe an analogy would be apropos…when we are immersed we are clothed with Christ with garments that are stain free…we don’t have to take them to the cleaners (penance) every time we sin.

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