The point: God calls us to stand our ground, refusing to compromise when the truth of the gospel is at stake.
No one likes to be called two-faced, but here’s the problem: we live in a world of selfies and social media status updates where we present the best version of ourselves for others to see, even if that image isn’t quite accurate. We care about what others think of us, so we only post what we think others will like. Happy. Social. Smart. Caring. Spiritual. It’s easy to stretch facts and exaggerate to make ourselves look good to others.
However, when we do that, we can easily become two-faced, acting a certain way with one group and differently with another. Apart from social media, this reveals another problem: our hearts are bent towards pleasing people. We like certain people and want those people to like us. It doesn’t matter if we are talkative and extroverted or shy and introverted, we all struggle with how we are perceived by others. This struggle causes us to aim our actions, either directly or indirectly, at being noticed and gaining approval from others.
Worries about our image and people pleasing can create conflict when we have to choose between pleasing ourselves or someone else instead of pleasing God. Relationships matter. Scripture teaches that. However, when the truth of the gospel is at stake, we must take a strong stand.
This study begins with a quick look into an intense conversation between the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter. These two giants of the faith – key leaders in the first century church – were having a difficult conversation that was necessary because of the seriousness of the issue. We will see how the apostle Paul confronted the apostle Peter for being two-faced, or hypocritical. Peter acted one way with one group of Christians, and another with a different group. Peter’s hypocrisy wasn’t a small problem.
When Peter chose to separate himself from Gentile believers, his actions denied the truth of the gospel (that it is for everyone). Eph.2:12-16 tells us – that the gospel breaks down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile – making in Christ one new man in place of two, so making peace. Those who are in Christ are not spiritually distinct from one another (brothers and sisters in Christ). A new person in Christ is no longer Jew or Gentile, only a Christian. Peter was putting that wall of separation back up. This is why Paul had to challenge Peter to act in a way that reflected the truth of the gospel to all people. Paul’s challenge reminds us that our salvation rests in our faith in Christ alone – not any religious rituals or any church traditions. Christ’s death in our place and resurrection is the basis of our salvation, not our works. It’s not what we do or what we don’t do – it’s what Christ has already done for us and resting in that truth.
That is why we need to stand our ground, refusing to compromise when the truth of the gospel is at stake otherwise we are allowing others to weaken (corrupt) the gospel – so that grace is no longer grace. That is why we need to confront those, in love, who are veering away from the truth.
Just before this incident Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch when Jews from Judea came down to teach that circumcision was necessary for salvation for the Gentiles to be like the Jews. Paul and Barnabas confronted them and argued about this matter. They knew that salvation came by grace through faith alone. Paul and Barnabas understood that you don’t have to be part of the right people before you can be saved, anyone, anywhere can be saved the moment they trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you remember the apostles and the elders, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James gathered to dispute this matter in Jerusalem before the Jerusalem council. Let’s look back and see what Peter said in Acts 15:6-11.
Sometime after standing for the truth of the Gospel Peter began to act a different way and so when Paul sometime later traveled to Antioch, he challenged Peter’s behavior. Gal.2:11-14
The early church was still grappling with the different ways Jewish and Gentile Christians lived out their faith and how a unified church could work through these differences. Imagine a small rural First Baptist church congregation consisting mainly of families related to one another and having an organ, a piano, and a robed choir. Now, picture an urban, young multi-ethnic congregation in a major city named Grace Community Church that has contemporary dress and music. Both preach the Word, share the gospel, love Jesus, and support missions. These two churches are very different, with very different cultures. Now, imagine what it would be like to merge these two churches together. That might help you understand what was going on in Antioch – a clash between two ways of understanding Christianity. Still, that was no excuse for hypocrisy. There is never an excuse for it.
Paul saw Peter acting differently with two different groups of people. First, Peter would “regularly” eat with Gentile believers. Peter had witnessed the conversion of Cornelius and his family and knew without a doubt that Gentiles could follow Jesus. But something changed when “certain men came from James.” These men were likely shocked to see the way Peter made no distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians. But for some reason Peter gradually gave into the pressure of the group after they arrived. Eventually, even the other Jewish believers followed Peter’s example. Church leaders have an incredibly powerful influence! Paul’s frustration with Peter’s example was made evident in his statement in verse 13: “Even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”
There was no cover up here: Peter was wrong and led others astray. Paul made it unmistakably clear that they were straying from the ultimate truth of the gospel. When our lives openly deny the gospel, rebuke is the necessary response. There is a time to pull someone aside and quietly speak to him or her about error. In this case, due to the public nature of Peter’s sin and the public influence he had, Paul rightly confronted his hypocrisy in front of everyone. Everyone needed to know that this behavior was unacceptable.
This account reminds us that we need to examine our own hearts and get rid of any hypocrisy. We live in a time of obvious racial tension. Do you speak of a certain ethnic group one way when among people of that group, but differently when around others? Is your attitude toward those who do not look, act, or think like you, from a biblical perspective that all humanity is created in the image of God or do you focus on those differences?
How does the gospel propel you toward breaking down racial and ethnic barriers? The gospel itself breaks down barriers by offering reconciliation between broken and rebellious sinners and a holy God. The gospel is also the very thing that unites us all, despite our differences. The ground is level at the cross. Regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity, whether we are male or female or young or old, we all come to God through the same door: Jesus – faith in Jesus. We are only justified by faith in Christ.What is Justification and what does that mean?
Justification refers to the moment a person is objectively declared righteous before God based on the righteousness of Christ’s atoning death. We are not righteous and we can’t do anything to earn that righteousness. We are declared righteous when we place our faith in Christ, not a result of any human work or effort. Christ’s righteousness is imputed (credited) upon us. So it’s being justified by faith in Jesus Christ that a person placed in a right standing before God and our relationship is restored (Rom.5:1)
This is what Paul reminds them. First he rebukes them then he gives them a theology lesson. Let’s read Gal.2:15-18
Earlier, Paul said Peter’s action was a deviation from the truth of the gospel. Then, he unpacked what he meant. When Christians act prejudice toward others, we deny the very gospel we proclaim. We are justified by faith and nothing else, not our works, our ethnic origin, or any other standard. This is why Paul saw Peter’s hypocrisy as being so serious – the gospel was being denied. Paul asked a question that may have been raised by the Jewish brothers when they led Peter astray (v17).
If Jewish believers could eat with “Gentile sinners” who didn’t follow the law, wouldn’t that make the Jewish believers “Sinners” too? And if that was the case, wouldn’t that make Jesus a promoter of sin since He said that what you eat doesn’t make you unclean and He commanded Peter to eat what was unclean? Paul’s answer was certain: “Absolutely not!” It would be sin to restore the restrictions Jesus removed.
Lastly, we see that faithful living comes from being united with Christ. Read Gal.2:19-21
Paul recognized the Law’s ability to reveal our sin and its inability to remove sin. That is why Paul “died to the law,” so that he “might live for God.” The way to life is through death: Christ made eternal life possible for us through His death and we find life in Christ by taking up our cross and following Him.
What did Paul mean by dying to the Law? Was he suggesting that we are free to live apart from all of God’s commands? No! Paul was not saying that in Christ we are dead from the need to obey God; instead he was declaring that we have to put to death the wrong view of obedience. We die to the idea that our obedience can save us. We die to the idea that we are identified by our obedience, taking a stand against the type of non-biblical thinking that was trying to make its way into the early church in this passage.
Paul added the perfect conclusion to his line of thinking with verse 21. Others may try to void the grace of God, but Paul reminded us again of the Law’s inability to rescue sinners from sin. If the law could do that, Christ’s death was unnecessary. Christ came down to earth, and suffered and died – not because of anything He did to deserve it, but because there was no other way for us to be saved. And because of His death, we have received the gift of life the only way we can – through faith in Him. When Peter chose to separate himself from Gentile believers, he denied the truth of the gospel by his actions. Paul’s challenge remind us that Christ alone is the source of our salvation and faith is the sign of it. Christ’s death in our place is the basis of our salvation, not our own works.