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The DEEP

Fatal Error

A key example.

Galatians 5:1–6

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Of all the questions anyone can ask about the Bible, or even about religion in general, none is more prominent than, “What does it take to be saved?” That question is asked dozens of times in the gospels, sometimes without even using the word “saved.”

“Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” — Luke 18:18b

The flip-side is equally important—“What things must I not do, if I am to be a true Christian?” The best-known example of this is Matthew 7:21–23.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ”

I like to call Matthew 7:23 the scariest verse in the Bible because it’s not easy to see what these “practicers of lawlessness” did wrong. How come Jesus never knew them, and what can we do to assure that He knows us? “How to make sure Jesus knows me,” would be an interesting Sunday School topic.

Today’s passage is another key flip-side reference. Paul is undoubtedly saying here that if you buy into the circumcision doctrine, Christ will profit you nothing. You have become estranged from Christ.

Estranged” parallels “I never knew you” perfectly. That’s fatal.


My go-to verse on the topic of how to be saved is Romans 10:9—that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

This allows for a lot of error without jeopardizing one’s salvation. I like that because unity in the body is key. While I strongly advocate reformed theology, other views aren’t fatal. We need to keep this front and center when debating doctrine. Better doctrine is useful in significant ways, but it’s not unto salvation.

But today’s passage does show an error that is critical—a fatal error. But what’s so different this time?

Circumcision strikes at the heart of the covenant. It was the official sign of the covenant. You cannot receive salvation by grace through faith while looking to a work of the flesh for covenant inclusion.

That’s signing up with the old covenant, effectively renouncing the new.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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