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Does Galatians 5:21 Refer to Losing One’s Salvation?

Dr. Grant C. Richison

 

Some people believe it is possible to lose one’s salvation if one commits one or more of the sins of Galatians 5:19-21. Let’s examine the passage.

The most important interpretative principle of any passage is the argument of the book as a whole. The overarching argument of Galatians is a warning to believers about reverting to legalism and not living by the grace principle. Some had fallen from the grace principle (Ga 5:4). Thus, the argument of the book addresses Christians, not non-Christians. The Galatians 5:16-26 passage falls in an exhortation warning Christians against fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.

The argument of chapters five and six of Galatians is how to apply the principle of grace to the Christian life. In this immediate passage, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, argues the Spirit-filled life. Those who walk in the Spirit are Spirit-controlled, and those who walk according to the sin-capacity (the flesh) produce different kinds of results. We find the sins of the flesh in 5:19-21 and the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22-23.

It is very important not to be selective about the “sins of the flesh.” Note the sins of “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy” are included in the list of “works of the flesh.” If a person argues that a person who commits the sin of anger will not go to heaven, for example, that would make salvation impossible. It is inconsistent to say that an adulterer will not inherit the kingdom but a person with an outburst of wrath will.

Also, the “sins of the flesh” describe a believer out of fellowship with God on a temporal basis. If a person argues that someone can lose their salvation by committing one of these sins, then the standard for salvation rests on what they can do. If a person commits the sins of anger, envy, or outbursts of wrath, would that make them a non-Christian? We find the so-called go-to-church-type sins lumped with sexual perversion and other gross sins. No person could live up to that standard.

Genuine believers such as David committed adultery have committed adultery. David confessed his sin, and God restored him to fellowship (Ps 32; 51, two Psalms written to return to fellowship after David’s sin with Bathsheba).

The New Testament often refers to the “flesh” as the sin capacity of the believer, such as Galatians 5:24. The argument of chapters five and six of Galatians is how to apply the principle of grace to the Christian life. In this immediate passage, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, argues the Spirit-filled life. Those who walk in the Spirit are Spirit-controlled, and those who walk according to the sin-capacity (the flesh) produce different results. We find the sins of the flesh in 5:19-21 and the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22-23 making them parallel. Either a believer is out of fellowship with God, or they produce the fruits of the Spirit.

This reference to the “kingdom” is Paul’s only mention of the term in the book of Galatians. The word “inherit” indicates reward, but heaven is not a reward but a gift. That is why I consider this usage of “kingdom” to be the Millennium. The book of Revelation indicates that there will be a rebellion against the King, so there will be sin in the Millennial kingdom. The idea is believers who practice sinful behavior will not rule with Christ in the millennial kingdom, although they will be in the kingdom.

Thus, to “inherit” is not the same as entering the kingdom. Instead, “inherit” carries the idea of ownership (Jer 8:10; Ro 8:17). If Galatians 5:19-21 argues that believers will not enter the kingdom, then there would be no motivation to live godly. However, rewards are good motivation for godly living.

The Galatians passage does not refer to perseverance in the faith because God does not condition salvation upon keeping good works. Salvation in Christ has one condition: belief in Christ (Jn 3:16; 5:24; Eph 2:8-9). Paul addresses Galatians to genuine believers (Ga 1:8-9) and brethren (Ga 5:13-26; 6:1). Galatians exhorts believers to “walk in the Spirit” and not in the “flesh.” These admonitions would be misplaced if entering the kingdom rested on committing the sins of Galatians 5:19-21. The issue is spirituality, not the condition for salvation. Thus, it is Christians who walk in the flesh by committing the sins of Galatians 5.

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