But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 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?”
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
This year marks a very significant moment in church history. On October 31st, we will celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. For some, this moment is largely unknown or unrecognized, but this is a massively significant date none-the-less. On this date, Martin Luther nailed his 95 objections to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany–stating his plea for the Roman Catholic Church to reform her ways to come into conformity with the Scriptures. Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, had his conscience held captive to the truth of the Gospel, that he was justified (made right) before God by faith (trust, dependence on) Jesus’ work only.
Our text for today is one that confronts us with this reality–we are justified by faith in Jesus alone. Paul, in great love, is putting before these churches in Galatia a moment in his ministry where he confronts Peter as he sees him not living in line with the Gospel. Peter grew up as a Jew, experiencing the separation between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). Gentiles did not abide by Jewish laws and customs. This meant that they were “unclean” or in other words, not someone with whom to associate. In Acts, God shows Peter in a very powerful encounter with the unifying truth of the Gospel–Jesus has fulfilled the entire law and by his power, he has made Gentiles “clean” (Acts 10). Through Jesus, God had removed the hostility separating Jews and Gentiles. Even though Peter had this conviction, later on in his ministry he began to separate himself once again from the Gentiles–causing Paul to confront him for turning away from the Gospel.
If there was one sentence that could encapsulate this sermon it would be this: The Gospel rewires our tendency to prove ourselves to God and others.
Working to Earn the acceptance of others is bondage
Peter’s fear controlled him in this moment. When this strict group of rule-following Jews came to Antioch, Peter lost hold of the freedom he had in Jesus and put on the shackles of the law. He feared what these men would think or report of him.
How many times do we ruminate on what others will think of our decisions? This thought-process can be debilitating. There is a part of our heart that desires the acceptance of others. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is someone that you esteem that you hope would esteem you. This could be a boss you admire, a friend you’ve always looked up to, a relative that impresses you, a person of high acclaim that you’ve learned from, etc. We all have people in our lives that we look to and in some ways equal our own value based on the esteem of that person–”if they accept me, I’m worth something.”
This in its own way is a form of bondage, because no matter who we try to impress, we are entrusting our self-esteem to another person who at some point will let us down. Tim Keller has said simply, “Only when you have the esteem of someone you esteem will you have self-esteem.” There is no one on the planet that can give you self-esteem without thrusting you into a form of bondage. Some of you are caught in this type of bondage and it is crippling.
Working to Earn the acceptance of God is arrogance
Paul calls Peter to consider the realities of the Gospel–through faith in Jesus we are made right in God’s sight. Paul isn’t confronting Peter because he is simply being rude to the Gentiles or showing favoritism–although those are attitudes and actions not in alignment with the Gospel. He is rather confronting Peter’s denial of the truth of the Gospel–he is in a way returning to a life of legalistic law-keeping–where you have to prove yourself to God by earning his acceptance through right living. This type of living is a blatant offense to the Gospel because it essentially says, “I can do it on my own and I don’t need Jesus.” This is the epitome of arrogance.
The Gospel calls you and I to die to this old way of thinking that says ”if I just do enough good, God will accept me.” This posture will lead you in one of two places–either you will keep the law and be justified in your own eyes leading to pride and boasting in yourself or you will fail to keep the law and be rejected in your own eyes leading to despair and destruction. Paul says, “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21).
Our hearts are rewired as we look to the object of our faith, Jesus himself. When we look to Jesus, we see one of the highest esteem, who is worthy of our greatest affection. We can have true self-esteem as we see ourselves esteemed by Jesus. We can be freed from the bondage of having to prove ourselves to others. Our hearts also are restored and re-calibrated as we look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), who perfectly fulfilled every single requirement of the law for us. God accepts us, not because of our works, but because of our faith in Jesus–the one whose works accomplished our redemption. This faith in the accomplished work of Jesus rewires our hearts so that we can live to bless others, not simply impress them, and love God because he first loved us.
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors,
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.