But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)
Galatians is a wonderful epistle where Paul vibrantly defends the gospel of grace. One well-known episode that Paul describes is his confrontation with Peter. Peter, after salvation, decided that he should start making differentiation between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Paul “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). Peter was condemned because he was hypocritically acting as if a man were justified by the works of the law, not through faith in Christ.
Remember, this is after Peter’s conversion.
So it is possible to act in such a way, after we become Christians, that we with our actions deny the wondrous truth of salvation by faith alone.
By inspiration, Paul has a wondrous way of referring to Peter’s actions. “They were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel,” he says (Galatians 2:14). Literally the verse could be translated, “they did not walk uprightly with the truth of the gospel.”
If even Peter, the first of the apostles, could walk out of step with the good news of Jesus Christ, then perhaps we also can. We don’t make distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers, but we can also not be straightforward with the truth of the gospel.
• Do you feel like a better person when you’ve had a quiet time, read your Bible, been to church? Is God happier with you in these times? Perhaps you’re getting assurance not from Christ but from self.
• Do you think that not living up to certain standards makes a person an unbeliever? A backslider? Perhaps you’re making distinctions like Peter.
• Do you feel depressed and guilty when you don’t live up to behaviors that you would like to? Perhaps you’re applying Peter’s distinctions to your own life, and missing the gospel.
• Do you think you’re not so bad – as compared to others? Perhaps you are missing the depth of what Christ has done. Without proper perspective on the depth of sin, our own efforts can be much magnified.
Peter’s problem – and ours – was why he was trying to go back and keep the moral law. Making distinction over the keeping of the law – as opposed to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross – was cheapening true grace. Making God’s approval (and salvation) contingent on personal morality rather than the work of Christ led to Peter’s condemnation.
Having begun by the Spirit, we know that we are not being perfected by the flesh (Galatians 3:3). We are being perfected by the Spirit, in the ongoing work of our increasing knowledge of what Jesus Christ has done for us, which produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. We gladly respond to the wondrous truth of the gospel.
May we never stray from this wondrous grace. And if we do, like Peter may we quickly return.
To our Savior be the glory, forever and ever.