Fallen From Grace

Relationships are never easy. They’re complicated, and none more so than my relationship with the church. I love Jesus’ church. It’s where my faith was birthed and nurtured; not to mention Christ is it’s head. But as the old adage goes, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Only someone you love can evoke such strong feeling. Christ alone keeps me on the fair side of that thin line.

I am amazed by how many deeply rooted and tightly held unfaithful notions the church can hold. I have had to unlearn so much over the years.

We have an intolerable propensity for unbiblical quips and antithetical quotes. Our very own portable doctrines.

I remember the first time I heard someone had “fallen from grace.” It was as a teen in the late 80’s, and it was used in reference to televangelists involved in public scandal. The church was as outraged, if not more so, than those outside the community of faith. Although my religious fish bowl wasn’t big enough to include televangelists, I remember feeling ashamed, uncomfortable and even afraid. If it happened to them it could happen to me. Can anyone survive their sins being exposed publicly? I was too acquainted with my sin to pretend I could be sinless, so the only option was to work desperately to avoid public exposure. Like so many, I put on the mask.

That there had been a “fall from grace,” was strange to my ears. Something didn’t quite fit, but in my youth I concluded it must be appropriate. There must have been something I didn’t get. It seemed to rightly characterize the humiliation of public exposure of one who had been highly respected. They had failed to practice what they preached. So it stuck, and I went with it. I had no idea at the time the stench of hypocrisy had been obscured by the scent of legalism.

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

Ironically, the phrase is also found in scripture. When I saw it in it’s biblical context, I was shocked at how clearly it was misused. I was ashamed I hadn’t seen the irony of it’s cultural use and it’s inappropriate connection with fallen church leaders. The way it’s used in the Bible made sense. Paul’s use of the phrase fit wonderfully, but it contrasted terribly with how I had heard it used. Something else to unlearn.

In the passage, it’s not those who have sinned who have fallen from grace, but those sinners who have found grace but are now seeking to be justified by their behavior. If our validation before God and before others is determined by our efforts to be sinless or even to sin less, then Paul argues that Christ died needlessly.

Grace is not a high place of status and prestige from which we fall. We do not preach a righteousness of our own. Grace finds us at the lowest levels of humanity. Grace is not what we fall from, but what we fall into. Grace is what catches us when we fall. How could we have missed this one so badly. That there is grace for the fallen in Jesus Christ is our proclamation. As such, having fallen and found grace, we have practiced what we preach. This freed me from the long held feelings of shame, humiliation and fear.

Jesus endured my shame and bore my humiliation on the cross that I would not have to. Knowing this, I was free to take off the mask.

2 thoughts

  1. Trevor,
    Hebrews 12:15 discusses “falling from grace” that might be more fitly describe the moral failures you’re referring to in the post: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Was interesting reading this after the recent news about John Crist, the Christian comedian.


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