In Sync with the Gospel

But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about 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 compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Last week we saw in Galatians 2:4–5 that there were certain professing Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who tried to compel Titus, a Christian Greek, to be circumcised. The apostle Paul refused to submit to this pressure. The reason verse 5 gives is, "that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." If Paul had yielded to the demand for Titus to be circumcised under those circumstances, he would have torpedoed the truth of the gospel. The Gentile mission would be over, Christ would have died in vain, and we would all still be under the wrath of God for our sin.

The gospel is the good news that the privilege of getting right with God was purchased fully when Christ died for our sins and rose again, and that the only way to enjoy this privilege is to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. If you add other requirements which encourage people to rely on their own willing or working, you torpedo the gospel. For if justification and sanctification are not by faith, they are not by anything, and Christ has died in vain. Therefore, Paul drove his stake and took his stand: Titus will not be compelled to be circumcised; the truth of the gospel shall be preserved.

The Truth of the Gospel and Paul's Apostleship

Now in 2:11–14 the "truth of the gospel" is again at stake. Again Gentiles are about to be compelled to live like Jews. In Jerusalem the issue was circumcision. In Antioch the issue is Jewish dietary laws. Two terms make the connection between the Titus affair and the Antioch affair explicit. First, the term "compel." In verse 3 Paul says, "But even Titus . . . was not compelled to be circumcised." And in the last part of verse 14 he says to Cephas, in Antioch, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" The other term is "the truth of the gospel." In verse 5 Paul says, "We did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." And in verse 14 he says, "When I saw they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel . . . " So in verses 11–14 Paul teaches us that we can contradict the gospel in our life not only by requiring circumcision, but also by other kinds of ritual demands as well.

But alongside Paul's concern to demonstrate the purity of the gospel is his concern to continue his defense as an apostle. Remember that the false teachers in Galatia had opposed Paul's gospel by discrediting his independent authority as an apostle. So Paul made a case in chapter 1 that his apostleship and his gospel were not from men but had come to him by revelation (1:1, 12). He is not a second hander: he is not dependent on the Jerusalem apostles. Then in 2:1–10 he showed that in spite of this independence, his apostleship and his gospel were warmly approved by the Jerusalem apostles, including Peter (or Cephas). So there is a unified apostolic gospel, and the church does not totter on a fractured foundation.

Paul's Confrontation with Peter

Now in 2:11–14 Paul takes one more opportunity to prove his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. If anyone in Galatia had the notion that after the Council in Jerusalem, Paul functioned only at the endorsement and guidance of Peter, James, and John, then 2:11–14 should dispel that notion immediately. Not only is Paul not guided by Peter, he becomes Peter's guide: "When Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face." So even after the Council, Paul asserts his independence as forcefully as ever. He was intensely aware of being Christ's ambassador and no one else's.

Some scholars think that in 2:11–14 Paul has confessed too much about his disagreement with Peter and that his case collapses. They argue that these verses reveal such a deep disagreement between Paul and Peter that Paul's insistence on their unity is hopelessly contradicted. I have three problems with this:

(1) There is no persuasive evidence that after this conflict in Antioch Peter and Paul were adversaries or disagreed about the truth of the gospel. On the contrary, Peter's first epistle, written later, reflects the same attitude to the Gentiles Paul does.

(2) The conflict in 2:11–14 seems to be because of a temporary inconsistency in Peter's behavior, not because of a deep difference in principle.

(3) If it was well known (as it no doubt would have been) that Paul and Peter were at loggerheads over the truth of the gospel, then 2:1–10 would have been pointless to write. If the Judaizers could say to the Galatian Christians, "Sure, Peter and Paul agreed in Jerusalem, but as soon as the apostles saw Paul in action, they did not go along, and have disagreed ever since,"—if they could say that, and point to a present impasse between Peter and Paul, then why would Paul have even told the account of 2:1–10? It seems far more likely to me that the reason Paul wrote 2:1–10 is that even after the conflict in Antioch, unity remained. The conflict in Antioch did not reveal a fundamental difference in theology. It revealed a temporary lapse of faith in the hearts of Peter and Barnabas, which Paul said was out of step with the gospel and, indeed, with their own convictions (hence the term "hypocrisy"). And we do well, now, to look closely at what happened, so we don't make the same mistake they did.

The conflict in Antioch develops in seven stages. First, Cephas (Peter) comes to Antioch and begins to eat with Christian Gentiles (vv. 11a, 12b). Second, certain men from James came to Antioch (v. 12a). Third, Peter becomes afraid of this group (last part of v. 12). Fourth, his fear causes him to draw back and separate himself from the Gentile Christians (v. 12c). Fifth, the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas, Paul's partner, withdrew and joined the hypocrisy (v. 13). Sixth, therefore, Peter stood condemned, that is, guilty of wrong (v. 11). Seventh, therefore, Paul rebukes him to his face (v. 11). Verse 14 gives Paul's assessment of the situation and the content of his rebuke: this behavior was out of sync with the gospel and inconsistent with Peter's own life commitments. Let's go back now and probe a little into these seven stages with this very urgent, practical question before us: How do we keep our life in sync with the gospel?

Peter's Fellowship with Gentile Believers

First of all, verse 12 says, "Before certain men came from James, Cephas ate with the Gentiles." Or, as Paul puts it in verse 14, though Cephas was a Jew, he was living like a Gentile. Peter was enjoying the freedom of the gospel. Not only was he not requiring that Gentile believers become Jews (and get circumcised and keep the ceremonial laws), but he realized even as a Jew he was free in Christ to become, as it were, a Gentile.

I think it's important for us to see how Peter came to this fairly radical freedom. Turn to Acts 10. (This incident in Peter's life took place earlier than the Council in Jerusalem reported in Galatians 2:1–10.) There was a Gentile named Cornelius at Caesarea, whom God intended for Peter to evangelize. To prepare Peter, a Jew, to visit the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, God gave Peter a vision in Acts 10:11–14. A sheet was lowered from heaven with all kinds of animals that the Old Testament pronounced unclean (Leviticus 11). A voice says (v. 13), "Rise, Peter, kill and eat." But Peter responds, "No, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice came back, "What God has cleansed you must not call common."

This is a tremendously important turning point for Peter, and indeed, for the mission of the church, and for world history. God was saying, "Peter, a new era of redemptive history has dawned; the Messiah has come. The sacrificial and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have done their preparatory work; let them go (cf. Mark 7:19). I will show you something great at the house of Cornelius." So when Peter is called for, he goes—to the house of a Gentile! Verse 28 shows how he understood the vision in relation to Cornelius. He says to the Gentiles there, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." That doesn't mean that men aren't sinners. It means that nothing in a Gentile should keep a Jew from being with him to seek his salvation. So Peter preached the gospel to them, and as he was preaching, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. And it utterly astonished the Jews that uncircumcised Gentiles who kept none of their ceremonial laws could receive the Holy Spirit simply by hearing the gospel with faith.

But now Peter was in trouble in Jerusalem. In Acts 11:2 it says, "So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party (cf. Galatians 2:12!) criticized him, saying, 'Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?'" That's the same group that came to Antioch, and it's probably the same question they asked there. Peter's defense comes to a climax in Acts 11:17. After telling them about the vision and the coming of the Holy Spirit, he says (v. 17), "If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"

This was an utterly life-changing experience for Peter. He evidently inferred from it that not only did Gentiles not have to keep the Old Testament law of circumcision or the Old Testament ceremonial laws in order to have the same spiritual blessings as Christian Jews, but also he inferred rightly that he as a Jew is free from those same laws. Slowly but surely Peter and Paul had been moving independently by revelation to the same understanding of the truth of the gospel. The condition for receiving the Holy Spirit and enjoying all his benefits is a living faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 3:2). That is all. That is the gospel, and therefore, when Peter ate with Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, he was in sync with the gospel. He was standing fast in freedom, honoring the all-sufficiency of Christ by faith, and walking in love.

Peter Falls Out of Step with the Gospel

But then something happened. The circumcision party came to Antioch from James (v. 12). All we can do is speculate about how they were connected with James or why they came or what they said. But one thing is made explicit in verse 12: Peter feared this group (v. 12). Why? Perhaps they were capable of violence. Or perhaps Peter fears he may not be able to give a good enough rationale for his freedom and will look foolish. Or perhaps he fears falling into disfavor among the conservatives in Jerusalem and losing his prestigious standing as the leader. We are not told why he feared. But he did. And in a moment of weakness he cut off the fellowship with his Gentile brothers and sisters. And when he did it as the leader, so did Barnabas and all the other Jews. Put yourself in the place of a Christian Gentile in Antioch and imagine what that would have meant!

Now according to verse 14 Paul says that Peter and Barnabas and the others are not being "straightforward with the truth of the gospel." They are not walking right with the truth of the gospel. They are now out of sync. Do you see what this means? The benefits of the gospel can only be received by a living faith in the Son of God, not by works of the law. But when the gospel is received by faith, your life changes. When you finally hear and believe the drumbeat of the gospel, the rhythm of your step changes. It gets in tune with the gospel. There is a life in step with the gospel, and there is a life out of step with the gospel. You don't attain the benefits of the gospel by doing a little moral clean-up job on your life. You attain forgiveness and joy and peace and power through daily reliance upon Jesus Christ who loved you and gave himself for you. But that faith, when it is genuine, creates a rhythm of life that is in step with the truth of the gospel.

And what we need to see, finally, from this text are the three things that are out of step with the drumbeat of the gospel, and why faith in the gospel should guard us from these things. They are fear, hypocrisy, and legalism.

The Fear of Man Is Out of Step with the Gospel

The gospel does not beget fear, it begets confidence and hope and boldness. Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7, "God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control." If you come this morning tense and depressed with fear or with a vague feeling of anxiety that something is going to go wrong, your primary need is to see the gospel again. You need to stop and ponder what it implies about God's intentions toward you that he gave his Son to die for you. The gospel means that God Almighty is for you and not against you, if you trust him.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? (Romans 8:31–34)

A life that sees and believes this gospel says, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:6). We have our temporary lapses of faith, like Peter here. But God is gracious to his erring children. He sent Paul to Peter to bring him back in step with the gospel, and he sent me to you this morning to remind you that since our great gospel is true, you don't have to fear any man if you believe it.

Hypocrisy Is Out of Step with the Gospel

Verse 13 says that with Peter "the rest of the Jews acted insincerely (i.e., hypocritically), so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity (i.e., hypocrisy)." Peter and Barnabas and the others were being two-faced when they withdrew from eating with the Gentile Christians. They were saying one thing with their actions and believing another in their heart. They sought to avoid censure from the circumcision party at the expense of their principles. They feared what man might do, and so they put up a front. All hypocrisy is rooted in fear or insecurity (cf. Luke 12:1–4).

That is why it is so out of step with the gospel. Insecurity is inconsistent with the gospel. When you feel insecure or frightened and are tempted to put up a front and avoid taking a stand for what you believe is right, the battle you are fighting is a battle to believe the gospel. The gospel tells us that the death of Christ assures us of God's love, and so it gives deep root and stability and security to our lives. But more than that, the sheer beauty and power of Christ's resolve to suffer for me instead of putting up a front to save his skin shames me in my fear of man and my inclination to play the hypocrite in order to avoid suffering. Center your life on Jesus and his gospel and the root of hypocrisy will be severed.

Legalism Is Out of Step with the Gospel

Paul says to Peter in verse 14, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" If Peter had said, "What compelling? I haven't said they have to live like Jews," Paul would, I think, have said, "Your actions speak louder than your words. When you, as an apostle, cut off table fellowship with Gentile brothers and sisters because they don't keep dietary laws, and you take Barnabas and all the Jews with you, the Gentile believers cannot escape the impression that they are not fully Christians unless they become Jews. That, Peter, is compulsion." And that is legalism—requiring that a person do some works of law to be accepted by God and by the church. And that is out of sync with the gospel. Notice 2:21, "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose."

If Titus has to be circumcised to be accepted in Jerusalem, or if Gentile Christians in Antioch have to keep the Jewish dietary laws to enjoy full fellowship in the body of Christ, then grace is nullified and Christ died in vain.

So I conclude with three admonitions.

  1. Believe the great gospel of Christ and do not fear what men can do to you.

  2. Believe the great gospel of Christ and do not play the hypocrite. Hold to your biblical principles and be willing to suffer the consequences. There is great security and comfort in the gospel.

  3. Believe the great gospel of Christ and do not nullify the grace of God. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works lest any man should boast."

Make it your aim in all you do to magnify the sovereign, free grace of God rather than the achievements of man, and you will be in sync with the gospel. You will walk right with the truth of the gospel.