Speaking the Truth in Love

Can We Fall?

In his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s children. He says that “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13). According to Douglas Moo’s commentary on this passage, “the Calvinist believes that the truly regenerate believer, while often committing ‘fleshly’ acts, will be infallibly prevented from living a fleshly lifestyle by the Spirit within” (The Epistle to the Romans p. 494). This popular notion is illogical and unbiblical.

If the Spirit of Christ infallibly prevents believers from falling, how are we to explain the spiritual ruin of first century Christians? How, for instance, do Hymenaeus and Alexander manage to reject “a good conscience” and make “shipwreck of their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19-20)? And how can those who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” later “commit apostasy,” “crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6)?

Furthermore, if the Spirit within infallibly prevents Christians from returning to a fleshly lifestyle, why doesn’t he infallibly prevent them from committing fleshly acts altogether? Why does “the truly regenerate believer” think lustful thoughts or say unloving things? Surely, if the Spirit within controls the will and fails to prevent even one trespass, he is responsible for that sin.

Anyone affirming the impossibility of falling from grace must ignore or twist Paul’s plain teaching in Galatians. He addresses the letter to churches troubled by Judaizers, false teachers attempting to bind the law of Moses on the church. Paul’s unmistakable warning is this: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (5:4).

Scan through the pages of the church directory. Do you see the names of brothers and sisters who have fallen away? Send them a note of encouragement. Let them know that they are missed. Urge them to come home.

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