Nothing is more frustrating than inconsistency.
In sport, nothing is more annoying when your team can win by 100 points one week and lose the next. Or at work when a colleague or employee can one day be ultra efficient and the next be present only in body.
Inconsistency and hypocrisy are the greatest problems other people have.
We very rarely of course see these traits in ourselves, but every now again, we need reminders that anyone can make a misstep.
Even the great apostle, Peter, shows us even the strongest among us can be inconsistent when it comes to applying the gospel we say we believe to our every day lives and relationships.
Fear of the Circumcision Party v 11-13
Paul has shared about his trip to Jerusalem, and how the apostles had all united in the truth of the gospel, and had not submitted to those who had tried to force Gentile believers to become Jewish in order to be properly saved. Paul now publicly confronts Peter in Antioch because of his hypocrisy in this very matter (v11).
It wasn’t a matter of manners or rudeness on Peter’s part. This issue was much deeper than that. Peter stood condemned because of his change in behaviour towards the Gentile Christians when the Judaisers came to town (v12).
He went from eating with and fellowshipping freely with all Christians to completely withdrawing himself from the non Jewish ones. The reason given for this is put simply, fear (v12b).
Peter had a revelation from God about what was clean and unclean, or what was common and how God had declared His gospel was for all men through his meeting with Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11.
Peter also should’ve had fresh in his mind the situation with Titus in Jerusalem. He had seen the transforming power of the gospel at work in Jews and non Jews alike, and knew the truth that works cannot save.
Peter lost focus of the gospel and gave into peer pressure instead.
We all have our prejudices, and most of the time when we are giving into them, it’s because we’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced and intimidated by people we perceive as powerful. It becomes a kind of moral blackmail to say we won’t do this or that in our ministry expressions here because of what these people over here will say about us.
When we do things like this, we are trusting in men, and not in the gospel, and from that point on, all we do will be out of line with the gospel (v14) because we define ourselves by another’s opinion of us rather than who God has declared us to be.
The fear of man will always bring a snare, and the trap here is in failing to apply the gospel we say we believe.
The fear of man will always lead to hypocrisy.
Peter’s convictions hadn’t so much changed. No doubt he still believed the truth of the gospel and it’s freedom. He knew the Jewish customs in food and dress were not necessary to keep oneself holy or acceptable to God, but here, when it came to Gentiles believers, he stopped acting in accordance with his convictions. His theology hadn’t changed, but he had allowed his fear of what others thought of him override his obedience to God.
When we say the gospel is free, and any who believe in Jesus are saved and accepted in God, but act as if all Christians everywhere should say and act the exact same way we do, we are being hypocrites.
The other danger of hypocrisy, is that it spreads. It’s infectious.
The rest of the Jews started acted the same way (v13). Even Barnabas wasn’t immune to the fear of the circumcision party.
They hid behind a notion of separation and a claim of what would be most pleasing to God, but in distancing themselves from the Gentile Christians, they were distancing themselves from the Gospel. They rejected those whom God had accepted.
When we allow differences of culture, race, gender, upbringing, denomination, and social position to become more important than unity, we have missed the gospel.
“Legalism is looking to something besides Jesus Christ in order to be acceptable and clean before God. Legalism always results in pride and fear, psychologically, and exclusion and strife, socially” – Timothy Keller
Out of Step With the Gospel v 14-16
How do you know you’re out of step with the Gospel? When you add to it and judge others for nothing having the same traditions you do.
Too often we hear of other churches or Christians running events, doing outreach, and instead of praising God, we scoff, we mock and pridefully say, ‘Well, they don’t preach the Word’. When we do this we are being prejudicial and we are out of step with the Gospel.
“Every Christian group or denomination necessarily has many distinctions of belief and practice that have less to do with the core gospel beliefs and more to do with specific convictions about ethical behaviour or church policy. It is extremely easy to stress our distinctions in order to demonstrate to ourselves and others that our church is the superior or best one.” – Timothy Keller
The gospel truth is at stake anytime we turn aside from what God has instructed in order to follow a tradition of men. It breeds pride, fear and division.
Paul points out the clear contradiction of what Peter was doing. He was a Jew, living with Gentiles. He was effectively living as a Gentile on one hand, but at the same time, by his actions on the other hand, he was effectively telling Gentiles to live like Jews (v14). It didn’t make sense.
Paul also points out that although he and Peter are born Jewish, born with a blessing under covenant that Gentiles do not have, they both knew as Christians that a person is not made right with God by observing the law, but only by faith (v15-16). They knew the law could not save from sin, it only reveals it (3:19-24). What the law commands could never be the foundation for justification because no one can keep it, and every part of it must be kept. If we start picking and choosing which parts to follow while not adhering to other parts, none of it matters and we prove ourselves to be hypocrites.
We’re good at writing lists of things we don’t do. It’s easy to not do things you don’t do. What’s harder is to look at God’s list. It’s a higher standard, and surprisingly enough, usually doesn’t actually include the things we have on ours.
A Purpose Driven Life v 17-21
“The main point of this section is that right standing with God does not come from keeping the law, since everyone sins, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. All those who revert to the law only display their own sinfulness in returning to a covenant that has passed away, and hence they end up rejecting the grace of God given in the cross of Jesus Christ.” – Thomas Schreiner
The false charge is bought against the believers that if they are justified only in Jesus and are still sinners, that Christ is responsible for their sin. This is a foolish thing to suggest. On the contrary, when we restore the law as the basis of how we relate to God we automatically indict everyone as sinners, condemned without hope. The only thing reinstating the law would do for me is condemn me. The law is death to all who live by it, but to those who believe in Jesus, they have life in him because he took their condemnation!
The life we now live, as we believe in Jesus, is a life free of condemnation. It is most certainly not a life free of sin, and it is not a life free of needing to obey God’s will for us, but it is a life of purpose.Our purpose is glorify Christ in our lives.
If we think our salvation or our righteousness comes through any other means but Jesus, we are saying Jesus died for nothing.
The lessons for us from this passage are clear.
Don’t nullify the grace of God or cancel out the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross by being relying on keeping the law to be justified.
This means we should never ever give precedence to human traditions when they are in contradiction with the truth of the gospel. We should put no barriers in the way of someone coming to know Jesus and living a life pleasing to God. If we begin in the Spirit, we are to continue in the Spirit. (3:3).
We make a terrible error when we ask people to believe in Christ alone for salvation and then the moment they’re in the door, hand them a list of do’s and don’ts so they are fully accepted by God and the church body. If we do this, we may as well hang a sign outside the church saying, ‘Christ died for you, but it wasn’t enough.’
When we have these practices in place we are effectively saying Christ died for no purpose.
We learn that if we are confronted with a choice between loyalty to the systems of men and standing firm in the truth of the gospel, we must side with and stand for the gospel.
You can either have a fear driven life or a purpose driven life.Christ died for a purpose. Your life has a purpose. To live the life He has given you.
“We are reminded in the text to accept correction humbly. When others correct us, we must bring the criticism before God to see if it accords with the truth or to see if there are elements of truth in the rebuke.
We must beware if we think we have a special ministry of admonishing and correcting others, while at the same time we reject any criticism of ourselves!” – Thomas Schreiner
What is the best way to get around prejudice towards other Christians?
Share a meal.
Invite someone into your home, and have someone over for a meal. You might just be surprised what you have to learn and what others have to offer. You will also see the gospel on display in ways you never imagined.
“The Christian life is about living in line with the gospel throughout the whole of life, for the whole of our lives. We must go on as Christians as we started as Christians. After all, if at any point and in any way righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Christ will do everything for you, or nothing…
If we realise we cannot save ourselves, Christ’s death will mean everything to us. And we will spend the life that he had given us in joyful service of Him, bringing our whole lives into line with the gospel.” – Timothy Keller