Does Galatians 5:4 teach that we can lose our salvation?

by Matt Slick

Galatians 5:4, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."

Galatians 5:4 does not teach that a person could lose his salvation for two reasons. First, it would contradict what Jesus said in John 6:39 (See Scriptural proof Christians cannot lose their salvation). Second, the verse is talking about those who are seeking to be saved by their works. Anyone who would be "seeking to be justified by law" can't be a Christian in the first place because salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. Therefore, those who are seeking to be justified by law are not really Christians. But then, what does it mean to have fallen from grace? It cannot mean that they've lost salvation, but they have fallen away from the grace that is offered without the law. In other words, they have fallen from that gracious provision of salvation through faith alone in Christ and what he did on the cross. Why would they do this? Because they were truly not regenerate - otherwise they would not be seeking to be made right with God by keeping the Law.

"They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us," (1 John 2:19).

Let's take a look at the context of the verse, and then verses that teach salvation is by faith alone without works of law.

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness," (Galatians 5:1-5).

Notice in verse two that Paul says if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit. In verse four he says you have been "severed" from Christ. Do you see the pun as it relates to circumcision? This issue continued in Galatians 5:12, for Paul says, "I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves." The word "mutilate" is apokopto.

"ἀποκόπτω apokóptō; fut. apokópsō, from apó (575), from, away, and kóptō (2875), to cut down, chop. To cut off, amputate. Trans. (Mark 9:43, 45; John 18:10, 26; Acts 27:32; Sept.: Deut. 25:12; 1 Sam. 31:9). In the mid. apokópsomai (Gal. 5:12) as spoken of Judaizing teachers. Paul wished that in their case they would not only circumcise, but even cut off the parts usually circumcised (Chrysostom), meaning to emasculate themselves."1

The church in Galatia had Christians, but it also had Judaizers who were trying to tell the Christians that they needed to keep the law of Moses. Paul then addressed the church as a whole. Now, an important principle is that individuals are not addressed here in the context of what we are discussing. Instead, Paul is writing to the whole of the Galatian church. Undoubtedly, there were true Christians and false Christians within that congregation, and Paul is making the case against the Judaizers who are seeking to bring Christians back under the law. He is not saying individuals are losing their salvation. He is giving a generic warning.

"The apostle is very explicit when he states that he was moved to write the letter because the Galatians were in the process of deserting the gospel (1:6–7). They had, in fact, returned to ritualistic practices reminiscent of their earlier pagan experience (4:9–10)."2

Finally, this verse cannot mean that people lose their salvation since that is not possible. See Scriptural proof Christians cannot lose their salvation. Second, those who are seeking to be justified by the law cannot be saved in the first place. Therefore, when it says they have fallen from grace, it is not talking about the grace of salvation, but that they are rejecting the grace found in the cross and returning to the law. It is either salvation by grace, or salvation by works of the law.

  • 1. Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000.
  • 2. Carson, D. A., R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.