The gospel is the best news in the world. The message of Jesus Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is what every person needs to hear. Jesus is King and that is tremendous news for those who have “kissed the Son” (Ps. 2:12) and all are beckoned to submit to him.  

But have you considered the moral implications of the gospel? Have you considered how you can contradict the gospel through your actions?

We can all relate to slipping back into a “works mindset” from time to time. We start to think or live like our standing with God is somehow dependent on our good works instead of Christ’s completed work on our behalf. Or we can slide off into patterns and habits of sinful indulgence thinking that what we do really doesn’t matter. Both ways of living contradict the truth of the gospel. We are saved entirely by Christ’s work and saved to good works. Legalism and lawlessness are threats to the gospel of grace.

A powerful example of this played out in the early church. Though we’re surprised to see who was involved in this lapse of gospel living, this provides lessons that can prevent us from making the same mistakes. Let’s look at Galatians 2:11-16 with help from the New Living Translation Study Bible.

Peter’s Hypocrisy

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. Galatians 2:11-13

2:11: When Peter came to Antioch: This occasion, not recorded in Acts, probably occurred following the return of Paul and Barnabas from their first missionary journey (Acts 14:26-28). Paul probably wrote this letter soon afterward. What he did was very wrong (or he stood condemned): Peter’s actions were inconsistent with what he knew to be true—that God accepts Gentiles by faith, not by keeping the law (see Acts 10–11). Paul had to oppose Peter to his face. Paul wanted to keep the Good News from being corrupted (2:21), which required showing publicly that Peter’s own public action was wrong (cp. 1 Tim 5:20).

This situation may not appear to be all that serious to us on the surface. However, Peter’s actions contradicted the truth of the gospel and threatened the unity of the church, the blood-bought body of Christ. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, heard of or witnessed Peter’s hypocrisy and knew that he had to act. Since it was a public sin, Paul had to rebuke Peter in public and call him out for his hypocrisy.

Peter’s Withdrawal

2:12: That Peter ate with the Gentile Christians was consistent with what God had shown him (Acts 10:9-16, 34-35). The friends of James wanted to reassert Jewish scruples and prevent the free communion between Gentiles and Jews from continuing. Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore: When Peter refused to share regular meals and the Lord’s Supper (cp. 1 Cor 11:20-22, 33-34) with fellow Christians, he divided the Jewish and Gentile Christians and implied that the Jews’ observances made them more acceptable to God. Peter’s example, if uncorrected, would have undermined the Good News of salvation by grace through faith. He was afraid: The friends of James intimidated Peter, who had previously withstood the same sort of criticism with power and eloquence (Acts 11:2-18).

Table fellowship was a big deal in the 1st century world. Just recall how the religious leaders tried to use this against Jesus when he dined with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13; Luke 15:1-2). Or when he shocks his disciples by talking to the Samaritan woman (John 4:27). This gets even more amplified when the Gentiles enter the scene. The Jews considered them unclean because they didn’t participate in circumcision and because they ate food the Jews considered unclean. Apparently, pressure from Peter’s peers from Jerusalem persuaded him to separate from the Gentiles. By separating from the Gentiles, Peter’s actions preached a different gospel.

2:13: Peter’s hypocrisy drew other Jewish Christians into error regarding the Good News.

Leaders have tremendous influence. Peter’s actions demonstrate the influence of his very public sin by the effect his actions had on the other believers. When we fail to live out the truth of the gospel, we can persuade others to join us. We must watch out for this type of hypocrisy for our sake, the sake of our families, and our fellow believers. 

Paul Rebukes Peter

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?” Galatians 2:14

2:14-21: The actions of Peter and the others implied that faith in Christ was not enough. Paul eloquently argues against such a compromise of the truth of the gospel message, showing that the law plays no role in defining a Christian’s position before God, which is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). It is not clear where Paul’s public rebuke of Peter ends and his message to the Galatians resumes (see note on 2:16). While Paul was recounting his address to Peter, he was also speaking to the Galatians. His rebuke of Peter was also a rebuke of them (see 3:1).

As sharp as a rebuke this undoubtedly was to Peter, Paul recognizes the gospel truth Peter has acknowledged and lived by for some time now. Peter no longer looks to the law for his salvation. He looks to Christ. And Paul points out how his recent actions undercut the truth of the gospel for himself and those influenced by his actions.

2:14: By living like a Gentile—eating with Gentiles and not observing Jewish food laws—Peter communicated God’s acceptance of Gentiles on equal terms with Jews, on the basis of faith in Christ (see Acts 10:34-43; 11:17-18). Why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? Both Jews and Gentiles would draw this conclusion from Peter’s actions.

Paul Reminds Peter of the Gospel

“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Galatians 2:15-16

2:15: Gentiles were ‘sinners’ in that they did not have the law and could not obey God’s commands. Paul was using the categories of Jewish thinking (cp. Matt 15:21-28; 26:45; Luke 6:32-34; 18:9-14) with strong irony in light of the sinful condition of all people (2:16; Rom 3:23).

2:16: Jews and Gentiles alike are sinners; the Good News requires both Jews and Gentiles to acknowledge that they are sinful (see Rom 2:1-5; 3:1-20) and in need of God’s grace (Rom 3:21-26). Peter later demonstrated his agreement with this message (Acts 15:7-11). Some translators hold that the quotation extends through v 14; others through v 16; and still others through v 21.

This is the rock-solid truth of the gospel. As Paul says in verse 21, “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” And this is what we need reminded of every time we slip into legalism or slide into lawlessness. Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

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  1. Peter now has the key in heaven. He missed a lot including doubts on Jesus when they were still spreading the good news, but all the Apostles gave their earthly lives to Jesus so they can be with him till now. Thank you.L

  2. Julia Everett Reply

    Thank you for this excellent article.

    When I went to the page in order to print this article, the last part of page 2 was cut out, as well as the first part of page 4. So I just printed it, and then added in my own handwriting what was left out. Anyway, I thought you would want to know, in case it is something that can be corrected on your end.

    Thanks again.

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