|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Two-faced Christianity
Gal 2:11-13 When Peter came to Antioch , I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
In the previous meditation we saw how Paul submitted himself to the apostles in Jerusalem to verify and confirm his calling, to support the Gospel that God had given him directly through Jesus. Now we see the other side of the coin. Having been confirmed in his calling Paul was now secure and sure of the Gospel and so when Peter came to Antioch, Paul saw something happening which made him speak out against Peter's actions. Apparently, when Peter first arrived he had no problem eating and fellowshipping with the Gentile believers, but then a group of Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem (from James) who still felt upset about the question of circumcision and so Peter stopped meeting with the Gentile believers. Indeed Peter's actions led other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas, to also step back from meeting with their non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.
Circumcision, or the insistence on it for even Christian believers, had become a cause of division. It is at this point that Paul spoke out. First the apostles at Jerusalem have approved his Gospel and agree that it wasn't necessary to DO anything beyond believing to become a Christian – and Peter had been part of that agreement. Then when Peter had come to Antioch he confirmed that agreement by fellowshipping with Gentile believers but, and this is where he was wrong, the moment the Jews insisting on circumcision turned up, Peter stepped back. This was hypocrisy! One minute he was agreeing with the ‘Gospel-without-circumcision' and the next minute he had backed off – simply because he didn't want to upset the Jewish believers. Paul confronted this: “ When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (v.14)
Paul was making the point in his letter that not only had the Gospel been confirmed by the Jerusalem apostles, but Paul himself had stood up for it when it had come under challenge back in Antioch, and had had to even stand up against that leading pillar, Peter. That was how important this issue was! Paul was going to let neither the pressure of the Jewish believers nor the two-faced action of Peter, detract from the Gospel.
What we have here is a record of the historical putting to death of Old Testament customs, at the very highest level of authority in the early church, not because they had been bad customs (because they weren't; they had been instigated by God), but because the Gospel of God about Jesus was about a free, unearned gift from God. All it required from us was belief, NOT belief plus something!
For the Jews at that time the ‘plus something' was circumcision and given half a chance would have probably included carrying on bringing offerings into the Temple. For us today, that ‘plus something' can mean a whole variety of things. If you think you are only a real Christian if you have believed and then HAVE to be baptized, read your Bible, pray, go to church on a Sunday, worship and witness, you have subtly made each of those things a condition of your salvation. They are not! They are all of them good things and things which we may expect to be the outworking of spiritual life or of a real relationship with Jesus, but they are not the reason you are saved.
The only reason you are saved is that at some point in your life you came to believe that Jesus is God's Son and that he died to take your sin and punishment on the Cross and you gave yourself to God on that basis. Your basis of salvation is the Cross plus nothing. Everything else is an add-on or outworking of the faith, outworking of the life that you then enter into when you have been born again by God, justified by Him, and made His child, when He put His Holy Spirit into you.
You couldn't DO anything except believe. He did everything which results in you coming alive and the things that you then go on to do, are the outworking of His Spirit's life in you. He is the energizing or motivating force within you that leads you to do various things as the expression of your faith today. It is an inner energizing or motivating, not something that is an external force. You don't live the life you live because of what people say, but because of what God says from within you. Yes, it is confirmed by His word, the Bible, and yes, we do use that for guidance and direction, but it is guidance and direction that HE applies. If it is anything less than that, then it is man-inspired, whereas we are called to be God-inspired or ‘Spirit-led'. If you struggle with these things, it is possibly because, like Peter, you have listened more to people than to God. May that not be so!