David asked this excellent question after a recent YouTube video by me on faith plus works salvation:
If a person believes in Christ alone for salvation and later falls back into works, he is still saved, just fallen from grace [Gal 5:4]. Yet Paul says that if a person turns to faith plus works for salvation, “let him be accursed” [Gal 1:8-9]. How can a person be saved and cursed at the same time? I need some clarity here! Thanks & God bless.
His question reflects the widespread belief in Evangelicalism today that nearly every negative consequence God promises for rebellion against Him refers to eternal condemnation. David seems to think that being cursed by God in Gal 1:8-9 refers to being eternally condemned. But that is not the case.
The command, “Let him be accursed,” in Gal 1:8-9 does not mean “Let him go to hell,” though there is one translation that translates it as “May he be damned.” (Phillips) and one that translates it, “Let him be condemned to hell” (NET).i
The Greek merely says that anyone–including Paul or an unfallen angel–who preaches a false gospel, should be treated by believers as being under God’s curse (anathema). Neither Paul nor an unfallen angel could be eternally condemned. But they could be cursed in this life.
The point is that the churches of Galatia should not listen to these false teachers.ii They should stay away from them as they would someone who had a deadly plague. They should not give them money or pray for God’s blessings on their ministries.
In chapter 2 of Galatians, Paul points out that two apostles, Peter and Barnabas, were “not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” when they withdrew from Gentiles at a Lord’s Supper meeting (Gal 2:11-21). In essence, on that occasion, both Peter and Barnabas were about to be cursed by God. Of course, they repented as a result of Paul’s correction. But the issue was not their eternal destiny. It was their well-being in this life.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) tells us that a born-again person can experience temporal judgment from God, resulting in his experiencing famine and want and lack of sufficient daily food.
Proverbs, Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, and the letter of James, to name just a few of the wisdom literature sections of Scripture, all teach that wickedness is the way of death and righteousness is the way of life. Blessings come to those who live righteously, and curses come to those who do not. That is true for believers as well. We are not immune to temporal judgment from God.
When Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses, Miriam was cursed with leprosy (Num 12:1-15). Here was a born-again person under God’s curse.
God, in His grace, took away Miriam’s leprosy after a week.
Another believer, Elisha’s servant Gehazi, was cursed with leprosy for the rest of his life after he lied to the Syrian commander Naaman and received two silver talents and two garments (2 Kings 5:22-27).
Read Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28. These chapters detail promised national blessings for Israel for obedience and national curses for disobedience. This is called the blessing and cursing motif. That motif runs from Genesis to Revelation.
Great question, David.
i The Voice translation reads, “May [they] be eternally cursed.”
ii The command, “Let him be accursed,” is a command to the believers in Galatia (and, by extension, all believers). Paul is telling believers to separate from those who teach a false gospel. Stay away. Don’t listen. Don’t support. Treat them as if they are radioactive.