So many of our emails ask about how to overcome the fears of life and how to overcome personal insecurities as well. We all want to live with a fearless confidence in God. And for many of us, that fearless confidence is hard to find. On this theme, I found the following sermon clip from Pastor John, back in 1983, looking at the ministry of the apostle Peter and his fears and insecurities recorded in Scripture.
The apostle Peter was Jewish, of course — and Christ changed his life. Peter experienced a radical transformation in his thinking about God’s plan. He came to discover that the Messiah had come not only for Israel, but for all the peoples, all the nations. That’s basically the point of his vision in which a tablecloth full of unclean animals descends from the heavens (in Acts 10:9–48). The gospel was for the Gentiles too. That was the point of the vision. So Peter should have known better than to fall into a fearful insecurity when he met others who contradicted this point. Galatians 2:12 explains what happened, where we read that, “before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles [non-Jews]; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party [the Jews]” (Galatians 2:12). This context sets the stage for an important life lesson about overcoming fear and insecurity. Here’s Pastor John.
In other words, God has shown me that redemptive history teaches that there are no preconditions for the receiving of the Holy Spirit but one: hearing the gospel with faith. Isn’t that what Paul said in Galatians 3:2, when he said, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” That’s the gospel. That’s the good news. And that means that when Peter in Antioch was eating with Gentiles in all freedom, he was walking in sync with the gospel, and Paul was happy. “Way to go, Peter. You’ve come a long way, brother.”
Fear and Hypocrisy
Then something happened. Even though he was honoring the all-sufficiency of Christ, walking in love, trusting the Lord — free — here come the men from James. Now we can only speculate as to what was their relationship to James. Was James endorsing what they were going to say? We don’t even know what they were going to say for sure. We don’t know why they came, but one thing is made very explicit. Peter was afraid of them.
Why? Maybe they were capable of violence. He had really offended the conservative party in Jerusalem. Maybe it was simply that he would be called upon to give a theological justification of how he could neglect Leviticus 11 — it’s the word of God! — and he would come off poorly before the Christians in Antioch, and he doesn’t want to. Or maybe — and this seems to me maybe more likely — if he gets in bad with the conservatives in Jerusalem, he’s going to lose his status and his respect as the leader in that church, which he still possessed. (And in fact, that happened, because James, by the end of the book of Acts, is the leader of the church in Jerusalem.) We’re not told. But he was afraid, and in a moment of weakness, he cut himself off from those Gentile believers.
This is a great lesson in leadership here. You see what happens when a leader goes wrong: everybody goes wrong. The whole Jewish contingent in the church fell into line with Peter and Barnabas — son of encouragement, lover of Paul on his first missionary journey among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:13). The pressure was so strong he went with him and left all the Gentiles alone.
Drumbeat of the Gospel
Now, put yourself in the position of a Gentile believer in Antioch. What would that have meant to you? According to Galatians 2:14, Paul says that Peter and Barnabas and the others are, to use the words of the RSV, not walking “straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). A better way of saying it may be this: “They’re not walking right with the truth of the gospel.” They are out of sync with the gospel.
Now, do you see what that means? That means that it is true that the benefits of the gospel come on one condition alone, hearing it with faith. But when the gospel comes, it changes your life, so that there is a life in sync with the gospel and there is a life out of sync with the gospel. That’s why Paul, even though he was standing up for the complete freedom in grace of the gospel, could say, “You’re out of line. You’re out of sync with the gospel.”
You don’t attain the benefits of the gospel by doing a little moral cleanup job on your life. You obtain it — forgiveness, cleansing, joy, peace, power — by faith in the gospel. But when the gospel so grips you, when you begin to hear and believe the drumbeat of the gospel, the rhythm of your steps changes.
And so, Paul took Peter to task, and we need to see three things that were out of sync with the gospel here, in closing. I was teaching a Bible study on this text to a group of men yesterday. And I asked them, “What are the three things out of sync with the gospel here?” And they nailed every one of them right on the head: (1) fear, (2) hypocrisy, (3) legalism. Let’s look at those together, because we don’t want to be out of sync with the gospel when we leave this church, do we?
Gospel Removes Fear
Fear is out of step with the gospel. The gospel does not beget fear. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” If you come this morning afraid (and I’m sure in a crowd like this, there are many), maybe of something very specific that’s on the way, or maybe (as sometimes happens to me) just a cloud of anxiety — you can’t put your finger on what in the world it is. You just feel tense and anxious and that something’s going to go bad today. If you come like that this morning, you know what you need more than anything in the world? You need to see the gospel.
You need to see that the gospel says something about God’s intentions toward you this week. When you look at the death of Jesus on the cross for your sins, you know what that says about God’s intentions for you? It says, “I am for you and not against you with all my might this week.” Paul put it like this:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31–34)
“If you see and believe the gospel, you know what your heart cries out? ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.’”
If you see the gospel and believe the gospel, you know what your heart cries out? “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6; see also Psalm 27:1; 54:4; 56:11; 118:6). So I hope that if you are burdened with fear this morning, the Lord will grant the eyes of your hearts to be opened to see the gospel.
Gospel Eliminates Hypocrisy
Second, hypocrisy is out of step with the gospel. Galatians 2:13 says, “The rest of the Jews acted hypocritically . . . so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” Peter and Barnabas and the Jews were being two-faced. They were saying, “On the one hand, in my heart, I really believe that I am free to live like the Gentiles and not keep the ceremonial dietary laws anymore. But with my behavior, I will say, to avoid the censure of the Judaizers, ‘Well, I’m really living like a Jew up here in Antioch. I’m keeping the law.’”
Why were they doing that? Because they were so incredibly fearful of the persecution or criticism or censure or something they were going to get from these people. Isn’t it true? Test your own experience and what you’ve seen in others. Isn’t it true that all hypocrisy is rooted in fear or insecurity? And that’s out of step of the gospel. Insecurity is inconsistent with the gospel.
I don’t know how many in this room are insecure this morning, just really insecure — no root and stability and firmness and strength in your life, so that you have no confidence and boldness as you walk through your days in God. Do you know the battle that you are fighting when some people or circumstances approach you? They demand, if you have integrity, that you stand up for your principles. But instead of standing up for your principles, you put up a front; you commit hypocrisy to avoid their censure.
“Every day, the walk of faith is a battle to believe the gospel, that God is for you and not against you.”
Do you know what battle you’re fighting at that moment? A battle to believe the gospel. Some of us sort of divide our lives up and we say, “Well, the gospel was what I had dealings with when I was a little child and walked the aisle or when I was humbled by the Lord and converted, and now my battles are something else.” That’s not true. It’s all in the gospel, and every day the walk of faith is a battle to believe the gospel — that God is for you and not against you, as was declared in Jesus Christ when he died on the cross.
And there’s a second way, besides that great statement of God being for us, that the gospel helps me avoid hypocrisy. I picture Jesus in the gospel, facing the cross (a worse threat than I’ve ever faced or ever will face), having the option to play the hypocrite. He could have denied before Caiaphas that he was the Son of God and saved his skin, as Peter and the Jews denied their principles and saved their noses. And he didn’t for me and you. He laid himself down on that cross, without playing the hypocrite, that I might have life. And here comes a temptation for me to play the hypocrite and avoid some little criticism or persecution, and shall I not be shamed by the cross, the gospel, if I play that game? Center your life on Jesus Christ and his gospel, and the root of hypocrisy will be severed.