We are working our way through a series in the letter of Paul to the Galatians in the New Testament. This is a 10-week series, and we’re up to week 3. We discover as we read the letter that Paul is in shock because the people that he has preached grace to are leaving Amazing Grace and are going off to law.
I was reading in my paper not long ago of a man who was renovating his house in Minnesota in the United States and discovered in one of the walls of the house an original Action Comic #1 introducing Superman. Apparently, the house was worth $10,000, and the comic is worth $100,000. The sad part of the story is that he and his aunt had a fight over the comic and ripped it so badly it lost $75,000 worth of its value in the fight. If you can feel a little of the disappointment in having something precious ruined or destroyed, just multiply that infinitely and you’ll feel something of what the Apostle Paul is experiencing as he writes to the Galatians who have been given the gift of Christ and are now, as it was turning away into this sort of salvation by works.
The way it’s come into the Galatian church is that there’s a sceptical group who’ve come in who are teaching that you need a little bit of ritual, specifically the circumcision ritual, to be really God’s people.
So this group that Paul writes to, this is not a group of Christians. It’s not a group of people who are outside the church and are trying to be good in order to get into God’s family. This is a group of people who do belong, they are believers, and they’re saying that what Christ did was good but just not adequate, and they need to sort of seal the deal with an extra.
So that’s the problem that Paul is facing. There is a tragic system of sort of do-it-yourself salvation, but this is a different situation in Galicia because Paul is writing to Christians who got the gospel, they got it, and now they’re turning away.
Two weeks ago, we saw the shock where he says, “I’m astonished that you’re turning away so quickly.” And last week, we saw Paul give his proof of authority. He wanted to explain to the Galatians Christ had met with him and had transformed him and had tutored him so that he had the information clear of the gospel.
Today we come to this passage in Chapter 2 where there is a clash between Paul and Peter, two of the great leading apostles. And the reason that there is a clash is that Peter, who was a disciple and an apostle and who has loved the gospel, has strangely lost the gospel. Momentarily lost the gospel not, of course, in his confession, he would say the Creed as well as any of us, but he’s lost it in his behaviour.
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So the title this morning is Leaders Go Astray because nobody is beyond the temptation or the subtle distortion of the gospel in doctrine or behaviour, in theology or practice. The church history is littered with people who have got the gospel and then changed in their thinking or their living.
So we’re going to look at the confrontation this morning, and I wanted to begin before we do by asking the question. Why do you think Paul would include this in his letter? Why would he be so offensive as to record a clash between him and Peter?
It’s embarrassing. The answer is that the gospel is more significant than human reputation. The Galatians need to know that if Paul could put his finger on Peter’s deviation, that he could put his finger on their deviation. He has the ability and the authority to do it.
Now, I’m going to divide our section this morning into two parts. The first is called negative excitement, that’s the negative excitement of a clash.
And the second section is titled positive excitement, that’s the positive excitement of the gospel. I know we don’t usually associate excitement with coming to church. We typically associate excitement with sports, so we’re going to get as excited as we can about Galatians Chapter 2.
Here’s an example of how even a senior Christian can lose the plot. Because we read in chapter 2:11 when Peter came to Antioch, that was a fine Christian centre, Paul says, “I opposed him, I stood against him because he was clearly in the wrong,” he was like a man caught holding stolen property. And the reason that Peter was in the wrong is that he was raising a barrier or a wall which Christ had torn down. If you’ve never understood this before, I’ll say this to you that when Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago, he tore down the wall or the barrier between God and His people. But he also tore down the wall or the barrier between Christian and Christian. And Peter had believed the gospel, he loved the gospel.
The barrier has gone between God and him, and the barrier has gone between him and other believers. He had begun to have fellowship meals with other believers, even Gentiles. That was quite miraculous for a conservative Jew.
Until we read verse 12 “Certain men came from James,” and I presume that means they claim to be from James. James would not have sent them to do such a dreadful thing, and he tells us in the book of Acts that he didn’t send them. But they claim to have come from James, and they’re teaching the need for this ritual, this circumcision in order to be really in the fellowship, to have real fellowship with God and with his people, and Peter momentarily falls for it. And he pulls back from the Gentiles, and he no longer has table fellowship with them because we read in verse 12 he was afraid of the legalistic group.
I think this is very strange that a brave man like Peter, and he was a brave man, you remember he pulled his sword out in the garden and fought for Jesus in the dark. Why would a brave man like Peter suddenly get fearful?
I suggest to you there are two possibilities and they go together. One is that he momentarily loses or forgets the gospel and that he is right with God because of Jesus, and therefore he’s afraid of where he stands with God and feels as though it would be a good idea to supplement this. And at the same time, he’s afraid of the legalistic group who are pushing it because they intimidate him in some way or they steamrolled him in some way. One of the reasons that they steamroll him is because they have a much less embarrassing message than trusting Christ crucified.
If I say that I stand on Christ crucified especially in a public sphere it does sound crazy, embarrassing. It’s a costly thing to say. It’s much easier to say in a public sphere, “Listen to what we’ve done for Jesus, listen to what we’ve done in our time as Christian people.” It’s much easier to boast about what we’ve done than just say, “My standing before God is because of Christ’s death.”
He says that Chapter 6 that we must boast in the cross of Christ. But I suspect he was pressured by this legalistic group to stop boasting in the cross of Christ and to start boasting in something that he could do.
Even Barnabas, the lovable, caring Barnabas who had put an arm around him and brought him into the fellowship, even Barnabas fell in the face of Peter.
Alan Coles says in his commentary, “The besetting sin of a loving nature is the desire to please everyone and sacrifice truth to do it”. So the church needs its Barnabas, but it requires a Paul to tackle strong heresy.
In verse 14, Paul sees that they’re not straight. They’re not walking straight. The word in Greek is ortho-pawed from which we get orthodontist or orthopedic surgeon. It’s the straightening of teeth or the straightening of legs or limbs. Paul can see that they’re not walking straight, they have veered, they have drifted.
Even a great man like Peter. And he addresses him publicly, the failure is public, and the remedy needs to be public. This is what Paul said, especially verse 16, and this is probably the most crucial sentence in the whole of Galatians. Look at verse 15-16, “We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
He couldn’t put it any more clearly really, could you? He just says it so plainly. “A person is not justified, we know this,” says Paul.
I’m not talking to pagans. I’m talking to people who know the gospel but have drifted from the gospel. We’ve put our faith in Christ because we know that doing the law to be saved won’t happen. It’s fatal.
Now, faith, in case you’re unfamiliar with Christian faith, means that you leave it to Christ. That’s what faith means. That’s like where you are talking to your surgeon on the telephone, and the surgeon says, “This is what I will do to fix you,” and you say, “I’ll leave it to you.” You don’t say, “Let’s do it together,” because it’s not a team operation. It’s his operation. So it is with salvation. We don’t say to Christ, “Let’s do it together, the salvation.” He does it. We trust him, we leave it to him. That’s what faith is.
Peter seems to have momentarily moved into a kind of a team mentality. Not, that he would abandon Christ. But his life is showing that law-keeping is somehow crucial to his relationship with God, which is a fatal move. Falling into that trap is easy.
In fact, I think it’s human nature to keep forgetting and doubting the Good News and keep thinking and falling into the trap will contribute to our salvation. I’ll secure it. What Christ did is good, but I will just seal the deal. Christ made the cake, but I’ll put the cream on the cake. It’s easy for us to fall into that.
It is, however, a strange move for Peter to make, because Peter was with Jesus and saw Jesus bring down the barriers. He understood the cross. He then was given a vision in the book of Acts Chapter 10 that he was to treat all people the same in the fellowship, a very significant vision. Now he forgets it. He strangely forgets it under pressure. Again, not that he’s trying to win salvation, but he’s trying to establish himself with a piece of ritual, which means he’s lost the gospel in its purity. But Paul has not.
The legalist group that has crept into Galatia has many tricks up its sleeve. There’s the circumcision push, there are the food laws in Chapter 2:11, and in Chapter 4:10 there are the special holy days.
So this legalist group have got many ideas whereby Christians can supplement their salvation which is impossible. Once you start to do these things, and you think that you have put the cream on the cake, and you can now stand before God just a little more securely, and Paul says when you start to think like that, you’ve moved from grace, and when you move from grace you move from God.
One more interesting thing to ask is whether this particular table tension with Peter withdrawing from the gentile table actually involved the Lord’s Supper?
It was very common for the believers to have their meal and then the Lord’s Supper. And so some commentators have asked the question as to whether it’s possible that what Peter is doing is he’s setting up a table A and B for the Lord’s Supper.
A, for the people who have had the ritual, and B, for the people who haven’t. And if that’s true, then what John Stott says in his commentary is that Paul is stepping in to make sure that one saviour is seen to have one table which is exactly how it should be.
Notice how Paul does his confrontation. He doesn’t go up to Peter and say, “You think this, I think this. Let’s argue it out.” He goes up to Peter, and he says, “You’ve received grace, how should grace show itself?”
You’ve got the convictions, Peter, of grace, now put them into practice. And I think this is an excellent way in our dealings with one another that we deal with the differences or the things that need to be faced or confronted.
Because it’s no good one person just saying, “You think, I think.” It’s much better to say, “Since we have received the grace of Christ, how might that look in behaviour and action?” And that’s the way Paul wisely conducts the conversation. So that’s the tension of the clash, what I’ve called sort of negative excitement and the way that Paul deals with it.
The second thing this morning is the positive excitement, and this is where he gets excited about the gospel. And he moves away from the negative clash to the positive Good News, and he especially is rejoicing in what he has collected from Christ with no effort.
Somebody sent me recently a story which I think is true of a man in Bristol, UK, who collected the parking fees at the Bristol Zoo. One day after 25 years, he didn’t turn up. And so the zoo contacted the council and said, “Could you please send another parking fee collector.” And they said, “We’ve never sent you a parking fee collector.” And they realised that this man was not working for the zoo or the council but for himself and had sat there collecting fees for cars and trucks for 25 years, and now with an estimated 7 million pounds was living on the French Riviera in his villa. It’s a fantastic piece of collecting.
The point that I’m making is not that Christianity is dishonest or sneaky. But the point that I’m making is that we are the recipients of what we really don’t deserve when we put our faith in Christ. And Paul is keen to unpack this. And if you look at verse 17 and 18, these are difficult verses.
I’m going to give you a different translation, my own interpretation of these verses and then read them to you. So just listen for 30 seconds as I tell you what Paul is saying in verses 17 to 18.
He’s saying, and this could be to Peter, we don’t exactly know who he’s addressing. We don’t know where the inverted commas should finish. But this what Paul says. He says, “If we enjoy barrier-free fellowship with Christ,” and we do. “And then we sit with other believers. And we enjoy barrier-free fellowship with other believers purely because they’re believers,” and we do. “But we get accused of sin by some people who don’t like the group we’re sitting with, did Christ produce the sin?” And Paul says, “Absolutely, not.” It’s only if we raise barriers again, having said the barriers are gone, that we reestablished this law mentality which is an absolute dead end.
So look at verse 17. If while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we are sinners or we look like sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not. It’s only if I rebuild, verse 18, what I destroyed, in my speaking, preaching, living, that I prove that I am a lawbreaker.
I remind you, the law is not the way to live or boast. The law is the way to despair. That’s why the law was given. It exposes our sin, so we run to Christ, and we receive new life.
And in verses 19 to 20, Paul mentions the privileges of this new life, and he describes the life five times. The law he says taught him spiritual death, but Christ has brought spiritual life.
Look at 2:20. Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ, that is my old separated life has gone. And the new life I live,” he says, “is really Christ’s life which he lives by His Spirit in me, and I live,” says Paul, “By faith in Him, I count on Him, I trust Him, I have confidence in Him, He can do the job of salvation. Because He loved me, and He gave Himself for me.”
Now Paul often speaks about the death of Christ, but he doesn’t often speak of it in such personal terms, that He loved me and gave Himself for me. But that’s true of every believer. We can say, “He died for us. He died for me,” the believer it can use both phrases.
Verse 21 is unanswerable really, isn’t it? “If salvation,” says Paul, “is by our performance, then Jesus needn’t have come, and he needn’t have died.”
Again, Leon Morris, I remember shaking hands with the man at the door and the man said to me as he was leaving, “Preacher, Mr Preacher,” he said, “you do your best.” And Leon Morris said to him, “Sir, then why did Christ die?” And that’s it, that’s verse 21.
Now, I wonder if everybody here this morning can actually agree or tick the box mentally with these statements.
- Can you say, “Christ died for me?”
- Can you say, “My faith and my confidence are in him?”
- Can you say, “I am not contributing to my salvation?’
- Can you say, “I’m not contributing to my relationship with God?”
- Can you say, “I’m free from pressure to do that?”
- Can you say, “I’m rejoicing that he is sufficient?”
He died to give life. I’ve got it. I hope you all can say that.
When unbelief creeps in, and it does creep in, and what happens is that we reduce in our minds the wonder of the cross. And we think, “Well, what can I do? What will I do?”
Not that there isn’t a time for doing, living, behaving, living out salvation. The danger is where we think how can I secure salvation? That’s unbelief.
The other thing that we do is we very easily impose obligations on other people when God doesn’t impose the obligations on other people. Or we withdraw from people because they haven’t qualified with our requirements.
And we can do this with different nationalities, they are not quite on par with us. We can do this with a different class, these people are too classy, these people are not classy enough. We can do this with the intellect, too clever, not clever. We can do it with abilities, too talented, not talented. We can do it with personalities, too difficult, too easy. We can do it with looks. We can do it with people’s impressiveness or non-impressiveness, whether they’re fun to be with, whether they’re not fun to be with.
As soon as we begin to think like this, we’ve set up little barriers and walls which Christ has removed. We who enjoy barrier-free fellowship with Christ, and we do, to have barrier-free fellowship with other believers. If that is not happening because of something going on in your own head, it may need to be confronted. If we see it in the Church, it may need to be confronted and it needs to be confronted with grace.
Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you this morning for the great work the Lord Jesus in removing the barrier, not only between yourself and us but also between us and other believers. We pray that you would forgive us for the ways in which we rebuild those barriers and fail to honour you and also rebuild them in the fellowship and fail to honour you.
We pray that you would impress upon us the gospel so that we might walk with you with freedom and joy. We pray that you would impress upon us the gospel so that we would love one another. And we pray that you would also give us the grace to help one another to believe and live the gospel and that we might do this with the grace that you have shown to us. And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.