FREEDOM FROM LEGALISM
“…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” Galatians 2:12
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. Gal. 2:11-13
This is a fascinating little bit of history. It’s like we get a taste of some reality television here. Paul gives us a little peek at a tense situation between he and Peter. He “opposed him to his face”. It is unlikely that he meant by this what you and I would mean. This isn’t a “snap, I know you didn’t” kind of thing. Literally it means that he confronted him to his face. He didn’t gossip. He wasn’t trying to insert his opinion here and then there. He didn’t blog about him or blast him with an email. No, he did it the right way, the biblical way. He went to his face.
Here is a little side sermon. If you have a problem with someone – take it up face to face. Don’t gossip. Please don’t gossip. I know confrontation is difficult, but think about does email really make it any easier? It doesn’t. Show some respect and take it up face to face. That was a freebie. Back to Galatians.
The important thing to understand is that Paul is recounting that confrontation here – to the Galatians. That confrontation becomes a part of his current argument in his defense for the Gospel. Why? Because if he didn’t correct Peter it would have lead to further hypocrisy and the destruction of the gospel.
“Peter did not say so, but his example said quite plainly that the observance of the Law must be added to faith in Christ, if men are to be saved. From Peter’s example the Gentiles could not help but draw the conclusion that the Law was necessary unto salvation. If this error had been permitted to pass unchallenged, Christ would have lost out altogether.” ML
Paul is saying that he had to confront Peter, even publicly, because he had to defend the Gospel. And Peter was Acting hypocritically towards the Gospel. When Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles he was being a hypocrite to the Gospel. Now, in order to fully appreciate this situation I need to tell you a story – about Peter. SEE ACTS 1o…
Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16,
So you see, if anyone should know better it was Peter. He had a vision, a visit from strangers, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He learned, in a truly unforgettable way, that the Gospel brings freedom. Even the freedom to eat what was once considered to be very unclean according to the Law.
So why did Peter stop eating with the Gentiles? Well, Paul tells us. It was because of fear. Again, we see that the disease to please is a everywhere. It is a plague. Even Peter suffers from it. He feared the legalists who still believed that Gentiles and their foods were unclean. So Peter caved-in. What’s worse is Barnabas caved-in too. What? Barnabas was a very good friend to Titus who was an uncircumcised Gentile. Peter and Barnabas ate with Gentiles all the time but when these ‘certain’ men came in, they drew back and separated themselves from the Gentiles. Do you see how infectious and contagious legalism can be.
Peter sought not to disturb the conscious of the legalists while Paul fought not to upset the conscience of the Gentiles. I find that interesting. Have you ever been in a situation like that? I have. And I feel like I’m typically more like Paul, in that I am always conscious of how the unbeliever or new believer feels. I am worried more about the person who is further than the one who thinks he is close. I mean, if there is some legalist ranting about how tattoos are from the devil – I am always wanting to oppose him to his face to defend the people with tattoos. I can not tell you how many times I have been in a situation like that. And it just makes me mad. It makes me want to go get a big honkin’ tattoo. Here is something to ask yourself – do you usually bend to the legalist or stand up for the seeker?
I once had a teenage girl do an interpretive dance to a worship song as part of our worship service. She was a dancer and she was beginning to put her faith in Christ and I wanted to give her an opportunity to use her God given gift to worship Him. You might imagine the response from the congregation. I don’t believe anyone said anything to her. At least I hope not. But it was like all the air in the room got sucked out as soon as she started dancing. Crossed arms, blank stares, dirty looks, and an inbox filled with emails. All I could think about was that girl pouring herself out in that stuffy room for Jesus. She got it. They didn’t.
I wish I could spend the entire message on these few verses. How many applications could we draw from this stuff. I mean, why is it that the things that most seem to divide Christians are the silly stuff like eating, drinking, dancing, clothing, and music, and paint swatches? One commentator, I think sarcastically, makes a good point.
“It is curious that nobody seems to have recalled that Jesus ate ‘with publicans and sinners’, which can scarcely mean that he conformed to strict Jewish practice.”
In other words, how is that such a view got so out of hand. It wouldn’t take much to say – well, what did Jesus do? Hello!? Martin Luther says here, in his commentary of this chapter:
“You have no idea what danger there is in customs and ceremonies. They so easily tend to error in works.” ML
“To eat and to drink, or not to eat and drink, is immaterial. But to make the deduction “If you eat, you sin; if you abstain you are righteous”—this is wrong.” ML
The bottom line is – legalism is stupid. So why in the world is it so common? Why is it the normal stereo-type of every Christian? Shouldn’t the Gospel be our stereo-type? Shouldn’t be our stereo-type. Didn’t Jesus say that the world would know that we are Christian by our love?
14 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?” Gal. 2:14
I like this. Their conduct was not is step with the truth of the gospel. That is an unbelievably huge statement. Because that means that the Gospel is the kind of thing that has a step. It has a cadence or a rhythm. If you are walking in Gospel there is a way to do that. You have to keep in step. Are you walking in step with the truth of Gospel?
In Greek it literally says that Peter was “not ortho-walking with the gospel”. Ortho means ‘to be straight’. If you have had braces then you know what ortho means – because you have been to the ortho-dontist in order to straighten our teeth. Orthopedic surgery seeks to straighten your hips, or you neck, or your feet. You get the idea.
So, this means that there must be a correct way to walk in the Gospel. How do you walk straight, not crooked, but in step with the truth of the Gospel? I’m so glad you asked. First, we must understand that the gospel is a ‘truth’. Yes, it is the message of good news, but it is also a ‘truth’ or a set of claims. The message of the Gospel makes a set of claims. Those claims look like this:
you are weak and sinful,
you are constantly seeking to control your weakness and sinfulness by being your own savior. i.e…self-improvement.
you can’t. You’ll always fall short of God’s laws
God’s law was fulfilled by Christ for you – so that you can be acceptable to God
you are now completely acceptable to God
even though you are still very weak and sinful
So, walking in step with the gospel – walking in rhythm with the gospel – means you’re walking in faith – that what Christ did for you was enough. You don’t have to try harder, and do better, and be good’r because you can’t do better. Stop running on the performance treadmill. Instead walk in step with the gospel truth that says Jesus paid it all and you are fully acceptable to God because of Jesus. The Law says “do”, the Gospel says “done”. We have to keep walking in step – in cadence with the done-ness of the Gospel – the freedom of the Gospel.
Secondly, If the Gospel is a ‘truth’ then that truth must act and effect our very lives. Gravity is a truth. And wether you believe it or not, it is always gonna drag you down. Because it is a truth. In the same way, the good-news is a truth. If it is a truth, then it must have an effect on your life. Unfortunately, we don’t often believe it. We forget. We get scared. We rush back to self-improvement techniques. It’s still true, but sometimes we don’t walk in step with that truth. We are just too obsessed with the performance treadmill.
“The gospel “truth” is radically opposed to the assumptions of the world. But since we live in the world, we have embraced many of the world’s assumptions. Christian living is therefore a continual realignment process—one of bringing everything in line with the truth of the gospel.” Timothy Keller
“We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “‘sweat”‘ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘”try harder’.” We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.” Jerry Bridges
So how do we walk in straight step with the Gospel?
Paul clearly exhibits how we walk in step with the Gospel. In fact, Paul is so saturated in Gospel truth, that not only does he defend the gospel, but he uses the gospel to do it. Let me explain. [Oh how I hope that we can all marinate in the truth of the Gospel as Paul was. We need to prune in gospel sauce.] Look at what he does. First, he quickly defends the gentiles. He says, “How could you separate. Go eat with them. Who cares what these legalistic guys think. Don’t be a hypocrite. If you have been set free, why would you make the Gentiles feel like they can’t be set free. If you a Jew get to live like a Gentile (hear… “in freedom from the law”) then why would you treat the Gentiles like slaves. If you have been set free, how could you then enslave others?”
So he defends the Gospel. He is free from the disease to please and therefore free to correct and free to defend. But, it is important to see how he corrects. His rebuke is laden with grace – not law. Paul doesn’t say, “You messed up, you need to try harder and do better.” No, he says, “You forget that you don’t need the approval from anyone because you already have the approval of Christ.” Paul addresses legalism not with more law but more gospel.
“Paul’s approach makes all the difference. Paul did not simply say: You’re breaking the rules (even though Peter was), but: You’ve forgotten the gospel.” Keller
Keller goes on to say that this is the Christian way of “opposing” someone. We do it in love and with Gospel, not guilt.
“Christians tend to motivate others with guilt. We tend to say: You would do this if you were really committed Christians, indicating that we are committed and all that is needed is for others to become as good as we are! This is why so many churches quench the motivation of people for ministry.” Timothy Keller
I am so glad he said that. I think that is all too true. What happens when you motivate people out of guilt? Do they change? Not normally. Even if they do, will it be out joy? No, usually they ditch you. If you said, “It is immoral to do such in such.” Even if what you say is true that person is not going to respond, “Oh thank you so much for telling me that. I did not know. I thought it was ok.” They’re more like to flash you a hand sign then never come to church again. If they don’t do that, they’ll likely to sink into guilt and try harder to do better only to keep failing, so more guilt, more trying, more failure, and the cycle repeats until they loss all motivation and eventually give up.
But… if you give them grace – if you give them the Gospel they will be moved with joy and thankfulness and want to live in such a way that brings glory and praise to Jesus. If you correct using law they will get defensive. If you correct using the gospel they have no defense. There is no defense to grace. Plus, the Gospel is actually a better motivator of service.
The law serves us by showing us how to love God and others. But we fail to do this every day. And when we fail, it is the gospel which brings comfort by reminding us that God’s infinite approval of us doesn’t depend on our keeping of the law but on Christ’s keeping of the law for us. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! People will actually do more when you tell them less what to do and more what Christ has already done. Tullian Tchividjian
“While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.” C. H. Spurgeon
That is why Paul says that it is the kindness of The Lord that leads to repentance. Let me just read you that verse in full:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4,
DISCUSSION: “How could you motivate yourself, and other Christians, less with guilt and more with the gospel?”
Why was Jesus so irresistible? Why did the prostitute throw caution to the wind and enter into a pharisee’s home in order to wash Jesus feet with her long black hair? Jesus was irresistible. He still is. Why did you become a Christian? I imagine you met Jesus and found him just as irresistible. Why? What is it about Jesus that makes him so irresistible? Is it his insistent demand that we must try harder? No. Was it his guilt laden preaching? I don’t recall, any. Could it be, might it be, that he was full of grace and truth. Isn’t it mercy, grace and love that make him so irresistible? I believe it is.
This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.” Brennan Manning
So in conclusion let me encourage you to walk in step with Gospel. Remember that you are weak and sinful, you can not fix that, but thanks be to God that Christ Jesus has fixed that. You are saved by Grace, when you place your faith in Jesus.