You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.Galatians 5:4(NASB)
Paul's energetic defence of the doctrine of grace was matched only by his equally passionate opposition to the perils of legalism, in his letter to the Galatians. Various forms of legalism have been entertained over the years by different religious groups, but the particular brand of legalism that he opposed so vehemently, was the one that rendered Christ's death on the Cross as insufficient and the sacrificial offering of Himself for our sin as irrelevant.
It was Jewish legalism that required all Gentile believers to be circumcised, arguing that without participation in this ritual no-one was able to be redeemed by Christ's death and would have no part in His Resurrection victory. They argued that unless Gentiles were circumcised they could not be saved. Jewish legalism dictated that Jew and Gentile alike, must be circumcised or remained unsaved - with no part in salvation.
However, as Paul clearly explained, the 613 individual rules and requirements that made up the entire Mosaic Law, were exclusively and completely ONE Law. To break even one, single regulation of this Law was to break the entire 613 regulations. By insisting that circumcision was necessary for salvation, Jewish legalists rendered Christ's death on the Cross irrelevant and His sacrificial offering as insufficient.
The Law given to Moses was perfect but was designed to identify sin in the life of a sinner, causing them to recognise their sinfulness and need of a Saviour. The perfect Law of God could never be kept by sinful man but was skilfully designed to point fallen sinners to Christ. God purposed in His heart that salvation was a free gift of God's grace - by faith in Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless, Lamb of God and the only means of salvation.
Paul recognised that any attempt to maintain one or more regulations in the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation, was diametrically opposite to the glorious gospel of grace, which was why he wrote so passionately when refuting this unbiblical practice, arguing, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace."
Many contend that Paul is saying that when a truly born-again believer falls into sin by trying to keep the Law, they are immediately cut off from Christ and have irredeemably fallen from grace - indicating that they have lost their eternal salvation. This erroneous teaching suggests that if believers do not live a completely righteous life, they are eternally lost and can never be saved again.
Others interpret this to suggest that a believer who sins immediately loses their salvation and will have to be saved again and again and again - according to preferred doctrinal views. Both interpretations are in error, for Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved once and for all by grace - through faith in Christ. We are not saved by works of the Law, nor are we re-saved again and again and again - according to some unbiblical denominational interpretations.
A second incorrect explanation is that Christians who were saved by grace through faith in Christ are hoodwinked into believing that they must keep certain laws to retain their salvation - either from the Mosaic system or some denominational requirements. These saved saints a) choose to place themselves back under law to retain their salvation, b) do this in an attempt to become a super spiritual Christian, or c) believe it will achieve the holiness God requires... but Paul says to each one, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace."
Sadly, these incorrectly taught Christians believe that having been saved by grace through faith they must now maintain their salvation by works of the law or keep themselves saved by legalistic observances, external rights, denominational rituals, or religious ceremonies. They believe that having been justified by faith they are now required to be sanctified by works of the Law. This is also an unscriptural interpretation.
A third unfounded exposition of this verse is that unsaved people who profess to be Christians but have never trusted Christ for their salvation - (that Jesus Christ died, that He was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures) religiously keep the Law in the hopes that they will be justified by their good works and legalistic rituals and get into heaven, because God is pleased with them!
No wonder Paul so energetically defended the gospel of the grace of God. No surprise that he so passionately opposed any form of Jewish legalism or works-based religiosity, for when any work of the law, legalistic observances, external rights, denominational rituals, or religious ceremonies are proudly added to Christ's finished work of salvation - it renders His death on the Cross as insufficient.
To seek to be justified, sanctified, glorified, or gain entrance to heaven other than through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, is to render His perfect sacrificial offering as irrelevant, or as Paul stated, "You are severed from Christ... and you fall away from grace." You are still saved by faith, but have destroyed your earthly testimony. And although justified, will lose any heavenly reward and suffer loss at the Bema seat of Christ.
There is only one way to be forgiven. There is only one way to be justified. There is only one way to be sanctified and there is only one way to get to heaven - and it is by God's amazing grace, through faith in the sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, the eternal Son of God and perfect Son of Man.
Heavenly Father, thank You that I have been saved by grace through faith. Keep me from adopting any legalistic practices or assuming that I have to maintain my salvation in my own strength. Thank You that I am not justified by the Law but by faith in Christ. Thank You that neither my justification nor my sanctification depends on my good works but the good work that Christ has done on my account. I pray that I may never be so foolish or proud that I think that I have to add to Christ's finished work at Calvary. I pray that I may carry out the good work that you have prepared for me to do in the power of the Holy Spirit and not by my own efforts. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.