Isaiah 20:1-21:17; Galatians 2:11-16; Psalms 60:1-5; Proverbs 16:12-13
NT: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” We are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.” (Galatians 2:11-16 CSB)
Sometime after the Jerusalem Council, Peter (Cephas) made a visit to the church in Antioch. When Peter first arrived, he was walking in religious freedom. He fellowshipped with the gentile believers and even ate with them. However, during his visit, other men from Jerusalem came. They were strict Jews that were of the circumcision party – men who believed that a person must first be circumcised before they can be fully saved. Peter felt pressured by their presence and quickly moved from freedom to fear. Instead of obeying the doctrines which he supported and even helped to defend, Peter distanced himself from the gentiles and began discriminating against them. Peter’s kowtowing to the legalists was troubling enough – but he influenced others to do the same… even Barnabas, Paul’s close associate. Paul could not allow the hypocrisy and unrighteous discrimination to continue. The stakes were to high.
Paul did not passively allow Peter’s hypocrisy to continue unchecked. Paul confronted Peter to his face, in front of all the other Jews. It was important for Peter to be corrected, but it was just as important for the complicit Jews to be corrected as well. In Paul’s rebuke he first criticized Peter for requiring something of the gentiles that he wasn’t requiring of himself. Then Paul laid out the fact that Jews were no better, nor were they better off that the gentiles. Judaism and adherence to the strict dictates of the law didn’t save the Jews. The Jews needed a savior just as much as the gentiles. The Jews weren’t justified and saved by the works of the law. They, just like the gentiles, were justified and saved by faith in Christ. Christ is the Great Equalizer. Before Him, all are guilty sinners in need of saving. Through faith in Him, all are declared righteous and made holy. The law never has nor ever will accomplish that. Legalism doesn’t justify people. Strict adherence to a moral code doesn’t justify people. Attaining enlightenment doesn’t justify people. Living a ritually correct life doesn’t justify people. Only faith in Christ can do that… and only God’s mercy through faith Christ can do that.
To give into the belief that one person is better than another person because of their ritualistic works is to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection and place oneself under bondage once again. The future of the church rested on the truth that all are free in Christ. Paul could not and would not allow the enemy of our soul to gain a foothold in the church through an “innocent” fear of being ridiculed by religious elitists. So Paul boldly fought for freedom and won a key battle. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” By confronting Peter and fighting for freedom, Paul released Peter, the Jews, and the church at large from the snare of the enemy.
Prayer: Lord, I thank You that at Your feet, all are made equal. However, there are many who say that faith in Christ is not enough… that you have to bow the knee to any number if “isms” to truly be righteous. Help me to not be snared by a fear of man… a fear of the vocal influencers that try to promote their virtues while shaming others. Help me instead to trust in You and fight for the freedom that You purchased for me and all humanity on the Cross. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.