Galatians 2:11 –But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
During his missionary travels, Paul founded several churches in the region of Galatia. He brought them the true gospel message, free from the encumbrances of the law. The Galatians gladly accepted this salvation.
But afterwards, when Paul had departed for other regions, some of the newly converted Pharisees came to minister at these churches. They began to preach a false version of the gospel message; they asserted that Christians must observe portions of the law in order to be saved.
The Galatian churches were led astray by these teachings. What a terrible burden this placed upon the Christians in the region! Satan had successfully introduced confusion, fear and doubt into the church. Instead of being a victorious, successful division of the army of God which warred against evil, it became an ineffective, sickly group of soldiers that needed immediate spiritual help! How sad!
This situation created a ripple effect – now Paul must stop his other missionary work in order to clean up this mess. He must now prove his own apostleship and doctrines. He must attempt to show the Galatians where they went wrong, and bring them back to the true gospel message.
In this section of his letter, Paul now presents an argument to show that the salvation message he preaches (justification by faith alone) is the true gospel. The incident he refers to took place in the city of Antioch and it involved the apostle Peter.
Galatians 2:12 – For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
In order for us to understand the argument Paul is making, we need to acquaint ourselves with some background information.
James was the head of the church in Jerusalem, which was the main house of worship for Jewish Christians. As we noted previously, there were many Jews who continued to practice certain portions of the law, even though the law had been abolished by the death/resurrection of Jesus.
This included things like dietary laws, observing the Sabbath, avoiding things that the law declared unclean, etc. But the law of circumcision was by far the law that the Jews held onto most dearly. They absolutely did NOT want to give it up. There can be no doubt that this was the practice of the Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem church. In fact, they are referred to as ‘the circumcision party’.
Antioch was the main house of worship for the Gentile Christians. These Christians had been taught justification by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Obviously, they did not adhere to any of the rituals or laws that the Jews cherished so highly.
You can see where there might be issues, right?
Now, let’s talk about Peter for a minute. As you recall, God had given Peter a vision of a sheet full of unclean animals and instructed him to kill and eat one. Peter was shocked and dismayed at this command. At the end of the vision, God told Peter not to call things unclean, which He considered clean.
Immediately afterward, God revealed the interpretation of this vision to Peter. God was saying that Gentiles were no longer unclean; He was calling Gentiles into the family of God (see Acts chapter 10 for full details).
As a result of this vision, Peter preached the gospel to a group of Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. Everyone present was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Thus, using Peter as his instrument, God opened up the door of salvation to the Gentile world.
Therefore, Peter was a first-hand witness that God had broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Peter himself concludes that God is no respecter of persons; he views all men equally.
Acts 10:34-36 – So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
So, when Peter came to the church in Antioch, he readily fellowshipped with the Gentile Christians. In other words, he ate with them, visited their homes, made friends with them, and worshipped with them. He had no trouble dropping the practice of the Jewish law as he fellowshipped with his Gentile brothers. This was consistent with the truth God had revealed to him.
But later, some Christian Jews from Jerusalem (the circumcision party) came to town. And that’s when the incident occurred.
When Peter saw them, he began to separate himself from the Gentile believers. In essence, he once again picked up and began to live by the Jewish law.
He did this because he was afraid of what the circumcision party would think and/or say about him. He was afraid of offending them, despite the fact that God had clearly abolished the law and broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.
This was a very divisive issue in the early church, and the leadership needed to have the courage and strength to do the right thing. But instead of Peter leading the way in living out the truth God had revealed, he continued to propagate the separation between the two groups.
James 4:17 – So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Peter’s actions were not helping/healing the church; they were further dividing it. Even though he was one of the apostles, he was sinning and allowing himself to be a tool for Satan. Others joined him in this sin.
Galatians 2:13 – And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
As a leader, Peter influenced the beliefs of those around him. He should have continued his fellowship with the Gentiles in order to show/prove to the Jews that salvation was obtained through justification by faith, apart from works of the law. He should have shown, by example, that the Gentiles were as much a part of God’s family as the Jews.
But instead of publicly embracing the truth (which requires great courage and humility), he chose to go along with tradition and culture.
Consequently, all of the other Jews that were present adopted the same attitude. In their hearts, they were still passing judgment on the Gentiles and questioning their salvation, because they were uncircumcised. Even Paul’s companion Barnabas was led astray!
What can we learn from this?
Even the best of us can sometimes be weak or fail in our duty to God. None of us likes to be rejected or ridiculed. It takes great courage and strength to stand against the beliefs of our culture. The good news is that God forgave Peter, and he will forgive us too if we fail. But it would be even better not to fail in the first place! Sometimes it is good to decide in advance how we will respond (verbally and/or physically) to some of the controversial issues of our day. This will give us a greater chance of responding in a way that magnifies Christ.
Secondly, we need to be aware that anytime we are in a place of leadership or influence, we have an effect on other people. This can be other family members, coworkers or even complete strangers. Anyone in that situation has the responsibility to strive to do the ‘right thing’ and lead others into the truth.
Thirdly, we need to stay humble. Humility is the characteristic that will give us the power to risk rejection or persecution from others when we stand up for the truth and oppose sin.
Galatians 2:14 – But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live as Jews?”
Now we come to the real reason that Paul is relating this story to the Galatian churches.
Peter has failed to stand up for both the true gospel message and the peace/unity of the church. Paul confronts him for his error.
Paul points out that Peter did not hesitate to visit the homes of the Gentiles. He ate whatever the Gentiles were eating. He freely worshipped and associated with uncircumcised men and acknowledged them as his Christian brothers. For all intents and purposes, he was living as a Gentile would!
If Peter can do that and still be a Christian, then he clearly knows and even demonstrates that the keeping of the law is NOT a requirement for salvation. How then, could he possibly expect or demand that Gentiles live according to the Jewish law?
By his own actions, he displays the truth of the gospel – that faith in the shed blood of Jesus is the only requirement for salvation!
Galatians 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentle sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Paul uses his encounter with Peter as the springboard to show the Galatians that salvation comes by faith. Works of the law have absolutely nothing to do with it! A religion that mixes faith with works is a false religion.
If people could have been saved by the practice of the law, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to die. But God has shown us that no one can be justified by the practice of the law.
The Galatians need to understand that salvation is wrought solely by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Mankind was, and is, completely powerless to add anything to it. All we need to do is accept it by faith.
Galatians 2:17 – But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
Let us, for a mere moment in time, adopt the belief that works are required for salvation. If we believe that, where does it take us?
IF it was true that men could not be saved solely by the work of Christ – that is, if observance of ceremonial law was a necessary component of salvation – then the only logical conclusion to be reached is that the sacrifice of Jesus was inadequate to redeem us.
Therefore, it follows that we are not justified by Christ; God has given us a defective remedy for sin! So, by default, Jesus himself is a servant of sin.
Obviously, we can see that this line of reasoning is utter blasphemy! Those who continued to cling to the law as a factor in redemption (like the Galatians) were ultimately blaspheming the very one who provided their salvation.
Galatians 2:18 – For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Paul goes on to point out that if he (or any believer) who has taught (by either word or practice) that observance of the law is NOT necessary to salvation now changes course, and says works are required, it would be like rebuilding a wall that you have just torn down.
You would be making yourself a transgressor or sinner all over again. You would be placing yourself back under the burden and guilt of sin, despite your faith in Christ.
This is the main point Paul wants the Galatians to see and understand. They had accepted salvation on the basis of justification by faith in the shed blood of Christ. Period. Nothing else was required on their part. But if they now change course and add works as a necessity of salvation, then they place themselves back into condemnation, despite the work of Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of that!
Galatians 2:19 –For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
Despite what others may say or do, Paul declares that for himself, he is dead to the law. Paul realizes that the law can never result in life/freedom from sin, because no one could ever fully do all that is contained in the law. Break it just once, and you are doomed.
He also understood that the law was just a shadow or tool that defined sin and pointed out the great need for a redeemer. In this way, it led mankind to the redemptive work of Christ. Once Christ completed his work, the law died. Consequently, justification cannot be obtained through works of the law. Observances of things like circumcision and dietary laws was no longer necessary, since the law was dead.
Paul now considers himself free from the burden and bondage of the law.
Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Sometimes we describe portions of scripture as the ‘milk’ of the word. By that, we mean the doctrines in that scripture are very simple and easy to understand. While they apply to all Christians, they are especially good for those who are new in Christ.
The last half of the second chapter in Galatians is just the opposite – it definitely falls into the category of the ‘meat’ of the word. This means the doctrines are complex or deep. They contain deeper levels of wisdom to be searched out by more mature believers in Christ.
We could probably spend an entire blog on this one verse, but instead we are just going to make three points for your consideration. Keep in mind, there is much more to this verse. Feel free to continue to meditate on it this week and see what else Holy Spirit will reveal to you!
- The Judicial angle (I have been crucified with Christ) – All men are born in sin. So from the very beginning, we are a transgressor of the law and therefore from the standpoint of the law we are as good as dead. We have been charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to an eternity of death/wrath under the law. As soon as we die, our punishment begins.
But wait… Jesus has intervened. He took upon himself the sins of all mankind, taking them to the cross. Through his suffering and death, he paid in full the debt that we owed.
So as far as the claims of justice/judgment are concerned, Paul (actually every Christian) has been crucified with Christ. Because Christ’s death/crucifixion stood for ours, we are personally free. In this way, we have died, yet we live!
- The Spiritual angle (It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me) – The moment you become a believer, the old you is dead. You instantly become a new creature in Christ. This change occurs in your inner man, even though your outward man remains unchanged.
Your inward man has been changed because you have been freed from the bondage of sin and now Jesus (in the person of Holy Spirit) lives within your heart. Thus, once you receive salvation it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you!
- The Practical angle (The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God) – Although Christians live in a mortal body, in a three dimensional world, we are not under the dominion of either. We can choose what do think, what to say and how to act. We can choose to conduct ourselves after the principles of God; we can live by faith in Jesus. By doing so, we allow his law to rule our lives. Therefore, the life we now live as Christians we live by faith in Jesus!
Galatians 2:21 – I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Paul concludes with these thoughts on the doctrine of justification by the works of the law:
ONE, this doctrine frustrates or nullifies the grace of God.
TWO, the logical conclusion to this doctrine is that Christ has died in vain.
For these reasons, this doctrine should be rejected by all true believers.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Peter was a witness to the fact that God had broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. In this case he (most unfortunately) missed an opportunity to share that fact.
What about you? Has God made you a witness to the fact that he heals people today? Has he made you a witness to the fact that people can be delivered from anxiety? Has he made you a witness to the fact that he still performs financial miracles for his people?
If so, I strongly encourage you to share that witness/testimony with others! Your testimony may cause faith to rise up in the life of another believer and assist them in gaining a victory in their own lives.
Let me offer you some relief:
Peter made mistakes – lots of them! Some of his mistakes (like the one at Antioch) even rippled out and affected others. But Peter learned from his mistakes. He sought forgiveness from God, made adjustments, and continued to live the best Christian life he could.
Have you ever made mistakes or led other people astray? If so, take heart – you too can seek forgiveness, change your ways and continue to live a victorious life in Christ.
Let me offer you some strength:
It sure seems like the apostle Paul never got a break – he was forever advancing the kingdom of God, putting out fires (like the one in Galatia), or writing the books of the New Testament! How was he able to accomplish all of that without collapsing?
Paul reveals that in his weaknesses, Christ stepped in to make him strong. In so doing, Christ was glorified through Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:9 – And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
God is standing by to give us the comfort and strength that we need to complete the course he has set before us. Let’s depend on him and allow him to be glorified through us.