Last week we began looking at the passage in Galatians where Paul confronts Peter for his hypocrisy. That hypocrisy centered around Peter putting on a mask when he was with the Gentiles and then putting on a different mask when the Jewish brethren arrived from Jerusalem. Remember the word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek theater where it was used to refer to an actor putting on a mask and playing the part of someone they really were not. We see a great deal of hypocrisy today in our media and in our politics, as people put on masks and pretend to be something that they are not. Unfortunately, there is also a good bit of it within the church as well. Let us read again the passage that we were looking at last week starting in Galatians 2:11 – “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 belong to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 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?” We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentiles sinners’ 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 might be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law because by observing the law no one will be justified,” (Gal.2:11-16 NIV). Remember that it was in Antioch that the gospel of Jesus Christ began to develop a Gentile following and that Peter had been sent there to check out the work that Paul and Barnabas had been doing among the Gentiles and the impact it was having.
Peter’s action had two tragic consequences. First of all, Peter’s actions made him a hypocrite. Peter lived one way before the Jewish legalist had arrived and then he lived another way once they were there. Peter pretended to be more spiritual than he actually was. Now it must be said and pointed out that earlier we had looked at Acts 10 where Peter had gone into the home of Cornelius in Caesarea to take the gospel to his friends and family. I also must say that later in Acts 15 Peter plays a key role in making sure that Gentiles were not put under the burden of the Old Testament law, in order to become followers of Jesus Christ. Peter was an important part of the Jerusalem Council that determined that Gentiles didn’t have to become Jews before they could become Christians. This was the single most significant decision in church history. But, in this incident, Peter is certainly guilty of being a hypocrite, which is a very dangerous thing for a church leader and one of the pillars of the early church. The second painful result of his actions was that Peter was responsible for leading others astray, who were following his example. One of those who were led astray by Peter’s example was Barnabas, who had been so instrumental in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles in the first place and responsible for retrieving the apostle Paul (Acts11:25-26) to begin his ministry of reaching out to Gentiles. Like falling dominoes, the defection of Peter brought the defection of other Jewish leaders and even Barnabas.
What I find fascinating in Paul’s writing here is how he uses Peter’s behavior and actions as a superb transition into what follows as he defends the key doctrine of justification by faith that is found in verses 15 and 16. Obviously, the Jews had some spiritual advantages, but those advantages didn’t relate to salvation, but rather to the revelation and fellowship with God through the Old Covenant. Paul’s gospel was a gospel of equality. Why would the Jewish leaders want to bind Gentiles sinners to a law that had not saved any Jewish people? Before salvation came to the Gentiles the Jews viewed Gentiles as dogs, but now they needed to view them as brothers and sisters in Christ, saved on the same basis as they were saved, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Repeating what Paul said in verse 16 we read, “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”. When we stand at the foot of the cross, we know that we do not merit the salvation that God has provided for us. Therefore, there is no place for prejudice or superiority in the body of Christ. This is the first use of the word “justified” in Paul’s writings. It is a legal term borrowed from the law courts and it means “to declare righteous”. God is holy and we are not, so how can people be justified before Him? Well, it is certainly not by the law as Paul writes, but positively it is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are a very strong statement and affirmation that we are saved through Jesus Christ alone. How can a person be just with God? This is a vital question that our answer will determine our eternal destination.
Paul makes it very clear in this letter that we are justified on the basis of what Christ has done when we trust in His finished work on our behalf. The moment before a sinner trusts Jesus he stands condemned and guilty before God, but the moment he puts his faith and trust in Jesus Christ he is declared not guilty and will never be called guilty again. It is the basis of our justification through Jesus Christ that should also be the foundation of our unity with one another in the body of Christ, regardless of the disunity that we see all around us. Paul uses Peter’s hypocrisy to illustrate that no one is justified by the works of the law, but it is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that we stand before God just and pure. Do you stand justified before the Lord God of the universe today? There is only one way to have this standing and it has nothing to do with our diet or obeying the law, but it is only by believing and trusting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ that we stand before God justified. I hope and pray that you have experienced this joyful state of justification through the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, why not today?
All for God’s glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo