CLAIM: Paul says that believers can be severed from Christ. Does this mean that Christians can lose their salvation?
RESPONSE: It is clear that these are believers (v.1; 7-10). However, this doesn’t refer to losing salvation. These believers did not break the law; instead, they kept the law (i.e. circumcision). The sin of Galatians 5 is going back under law—not breaking it. It would be way out of bounds to use this passage to threaten Christians, who are living for sin. Instead, this refers to sanctification and spiritual growth. In a sense, Paul is saying that the power cord on their spiritual life will be unplugged, if they fall under law. There are a couple of reasons to adopt this view.
First, the CONTEXT shows that this is sanctification (v.7-26). Paul isn’t addressing justification in this section of Galatians. He is addressing sanctification. Earlier, Paul wrote, “If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal. 5:2). The term “benefit” (ophelēo) means “to provide assistance, help, aid, benefit, be of use” (BDAG). The threat is not a loss of salvation, but a loss of Jesus’ transforming power.
Earlier, Paul wrote, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” (Gal. 3:1-4). The change from justification to sanctification is crystal clear, and the problem Paul sees is the fact that they are trying to be sanctified under the “works of the Law.”
Second, the LANGUAGE supports the concept that this is referring to sanctification. The term “severed” (katargeō) means “to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust, waste” or “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG).
Circumcision itself was not the problem. Later, Paul writes, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). In the next chapter, he writes, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Instead, the act of circumcision symbolized going back under law, and this was the surest way to being severed from Christ’s power in sanctification.