Sermons

January 20, 2019

Keeping Our Conduct in Step With the Truth of the Gospel

Jason Meyer | Galatians 2:11-16

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 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?”

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.—Galatians 2:11–16

Introduction: Death by Inches

The Denver Broncos recently fired their head coach Vance Joseph and hired Vic Fangio. Other coaches were seen as early frontrunners because they were higher profile coaches, but Vic Fangio won the job with a great interview. There was a phrase that Fangio used in his interview that made a huge impact in the interview and then later caught on big time in social media: “death by inches.”

He said death by inches refers to a big loss that stems from little mistakes. It can start with something as simple as being 30 seconds late to a team meeting.

“That act in it of itself really has no impact on whether you’re going to win or lose that week,” Fangio said. “But if you let it slide, the next day there’s two or three guys late or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems. That’s “death by inches.”

The Mile High Report also said that this phrase “death by inches” has caught on so much because “those three words described the Broncos’ season to a tee.”

Whether it was coming up a few points short, missing a first down by a half a foot, barely missing the uprights, having a penalty negate a great play, the Broncos seemed to own the turf when it came to making a mistake at the worst possible time.

I think “death by inches” perfectly captures the dynamic on display in our text today. Notice the two movements in this text: (1) Confrontation (v. 11), (2) Explanation (vv. 12–16).

Main point: Confrontation is needed when our conduct is not in step with the truth of the gospel.

1. Confrontation (v. 11) 

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 

This incident at Antioch was an epic moment in the history of the church. Can you feel the gravity of the event? It is both high profile and high stakes as a confrontation. It is “high profile” because here we have the two most influential apostles in the history of the church: Peter and Paul. One apostle (Paul) is confronting and rebuking another apostle (Peter). Not only is it “high profile,” it is “high stakes.” What is at stake here? Is this some social slight or a minor micro-aggression of ethnic prejudice? No. Paul says that he opposed Paul to his face “because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). That word “condemned” is jaw- dropping. Jesus said that Cephas was the rock and Jesus would use him to build his church (Matthew 16:18). Could that apostle be condemned by God? 

Paul did not seek an audience with Peter in private to discuss a difference of opinion or preference. He directly and aggressively opposed Peter “to his face” (v. 11). Paul “got up in Peter’s grill” we might say today. What could possibly warrant such a severe confrontation? Paul goes on to explain in verses 12–16.

2. Explanation (vv. 12–16)

Perhaps the best way to unpack Paul’s explanation is to show that he is answering five essential questions about the reason for his confrontation with Peter: (1) What did Peter do? (v. 12a), (2) Why would Peter do that? (v. 12b), (3) What did Paul call Peter’s change of behavior? (v. 13), (4) What made this hypocrisy so serious? (v. 14a) and (5) What did Paul say to Peter? (vv. 14b–16)?

1. What did Peter do? (v. 12a)

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself ...

His behavior suddenly changed. He used to eat with the Gentiles, but that all changed when “certain men from James came.” Peter “drew back and separated himself” (v. 12). An impulse arose within him to pull away from his brothers and sisters in Christ and he acted on it. But why?

2. Why would Peter do that? (v. 12b)

“…  fearing the circumcision party”

 Paul assigns motives for this move away from the Gentiles: “fearing the circumcision party” (2:12). Peter’s convictions did not change; his behavior changed. His behavior changed because in that moment he felt the weight of peer pressure far more the weight of God’s word. 

What does Paul mean by “the circumcision party” (v. 12)? There was a controversy in the early church and party lines were established. One part of the early church believed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. One can see this group in action in Acts 15.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”—Acts 15:1

These “men” were Jews from Judea. Luke does not say that they were Christians. Rather these presumably non-Christian Jews were teaching “the brothers” (i.e., Christians). They were saying that circumcision was necessary for salvation. A Gentile could not be saved without it.

This led to a major discussion and debate. So Paul and Barnabas and others were appointed to go to Jerusalem to get the apostles and elders involved in answering this question (Acts 15:2).

 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

When they arrived in Jerusalem and testified what God had done to bring the Gentiles to faith in Christ, they were welcomed, but then they were challenged by some (Acts 15:4–5).

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Some Jewish professing believers (who belonged to the party of the Pharisees) said that circumcision and law keeping are necessary. Meaning: The work of Christ is not sufficient for them. Circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic Law must be added to faith in Christ.

This essentially added Jewishness to the work of Jesus on the cross. Gentiles needed to receive Jesus and receive the badge of circumcision—both were necessary for Gentiles to be saved and be part of the body of Christ.

The other part of the Christian church believed in the sufficiency of the cross. People—regardless of their ethnicity—are saved in the exact same way: Faith in Christ. What Jesus did is enough to save. 

Peter did not change his beliefs when people from the other party came to Antioch, but he did change his behavior: He separated from the Gentiles.

3. What did Paul call Peter’s change of behavior? (Galatians 2:13)

Paul now translates that change of behavior into a charge of hypocrisy. In fact, Paul uses the word “hypocrite” twice:

And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy

Peter was acting hypocritically and his hypocrisy spread like a contagious disease through all the Jewish believers present there—even to Barnabas. Hypocrisy is like cancer. It must be surgically removed before it spreads throughout the rest of the body. The only way to remove it is to rebuke it. This is an emergency surgical confrontation because that is the way this cancer should be treated. 

Why does Paul say “even Barnabas” (v. 13). Paul is calling attention to the personal and intimate nature of this hypocritical separation and rejection. Paul had a couple of coworkers in ministry: Titus and Barnabas. One was a Gentile believer and the other was a Jewish believer. They ate together all the time as they partnered together in gospel ministry. Now “even” Barnabas has been caught up and swept away by this wave of hypocrisy that came crashing upon the church in Antioch. 

4. Why was this hypocrisy so serious? (v. 14)

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel... 

This hypocrisy called into question “the truth of the gospel” (2:5, 14). That phrase is what stitches this section and the one before it together. 

In the previous paragraph (2:3–5), Paul refers to an earlier meeting in which Paul and Barnabas defended Titus so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for Gentiles:

 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Barnabas was there. He fought this battle with us. Now it seemed like he became not only a hypocrite, but a traitor who traded sides on us. That phrase (“the truth of the gospel”) is what holds these two sections together. Paul said that Titus was not circumcised so that the “truth of the gospel” (2:5) would not be compromised. But now at later time, Peter and even Barnabas had conduct that was not in step with “the truth of the gospel” (2:14). Everyone pulled away from people like Titus—the person that had worked so closely with in bringing the gospel to Gentiles. They have been eating every meal together. And now there is an outbreak of hypocrisy and Barnabas gets infected as well.

Why did Paul believe that Peter was condemned? There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Condemnation would mean Peter had stepped away from the gospel of Jesus. Paul says that is exactly what happened. He did not change his beliefs about the gospel, but his behavior departed from the gospel (2:14).

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel …

“Not in step” means that the path Peter suddenly took was actually a departure from the gospel. Paul could not allow him to stay on that path. Worse, he saw others joining Peter on that same path.

We drive back to South Dakota usually twice a year. When we cross the state border we see a sign saying, “Now leaving Minnesota.” Then we see a sign that says, “Welcome to South Dakota.”

Paul is saying to Peter, “You are on the road that says, ‘Now leaving the gospel.’” Paul had to act decisively to defend the truth of the gospel and act for the good of their souls. So he pointed out the hypocrisy on display in Peter’s life.

5. What did Paul say to Peter (vv. 14–16)?

If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”—Galatians 2:14

Peter was a Jew. But now that he was a Christian, he had started living like a Gentile. He was not keeping the Jewish aspects of the Law. Peter had become like a Gentile because he believed the gospel. But now there was a double standard on display. A Jew could become like a Gentile and still be saved, but a Gentile needs to become a Jew to be saved?

In other words, we all have a theology we believe and a theology we live. We have a professed theology and we have a functional theology. One cannot see a professed theology unless someone asks doctrinal questions, like … What do you believe about justification? Do you believe that the cross is enough to save us or do we need to add to it? Peter would have said, “the cross is enough.”

One’s functional theology is much easier to see—we put it on display with our behavior. When our beliefs and our behavior don’t match, it is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy happens when our functional theology contradicts our professed theology. In other words, our walk and our talk are strikingly different—perhaps polar opposites of each other.

Notice that Paul does not assume that Peter has changed his professed theology or doctrinal beliefs about the gospel (2:15–16).

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

We are both ethnic Jews. We are not what other Jews would regard as “Gentile sinners.” But we both believe something and know something. We are justified by faith in Jesus, not by works of the law. The works of the law can justify no one.

In other words, your beliefs say that you are on the path of justification by faith, but your behavior shows you that you have departed from that path and are not on the path of justification by works. You are a walking contradiction under condemnation and thus require confrontation with the gospel you say you believe! 

Justification is the judicial verdict given by God the Judge that someone is not guilty or condemned. They are accepted or acquitted as righteous in God’s sight. There are only two theoretical ways that someone could be regarded as righteous in God’s sight: The works done by yourself or works done by your substitute. Why do we say justification by faith then? Faith does not justify because it counts as a righteous work. Faith justifies not as a work we do, but as something that connects us to the work of Christ. That is why we say that faith is not a saving work, it is the instrument that connects us to Christ’s saving work. Do you see the importance of this point? Faith does not save. Faith receives the Savior. Faith is not a work; it connects us to the work of the One who saves.

This incident at Antioch was all about the sufficiency of the cross. Because Jesus paid it all, Titus owed nothing. Jesus is enough! He purchased the unity of every ethnicity in Christ. So let me get personal for a moment. I sometimes hear people say, “We should not be talking about all this ethnic harmony stuff; we should just get back to preaching the gospel. If we keep talking about ethnic harmony issues, it will lead us away from the gospel.” This text says quite the opposite: Preaching the gospel should lead us to talk about ethnic harmony issues as a way to more fully align with the truth of the gospel. Ethnic hostility or ethnic insensitivity must be confronted with the gospel. As we move to application, we must learn the lessons of the past if we are to have direction for the future.

Application: Lessons From the Past and Direction for the Future

The Christian church should cherish and celebrate the truth that we add nothing to the cross. It is sufficient for the inclusion of the nations in the New Testament church.

1. Lessons From the Past: The History of the Evangelical Church in America

The early church in America was like the early church at Antioch. Both had a racially charged kind of contagious hypocrisy spread through its ranks. The difference is that it was confronted and rebuked in Antioch but not in America. The evangelical church in America began with conduct that was not in step with the truth of the gospel. They did not uphold the sufficiency of the cross. Let us briefly examine two examples in my personal experience from seminary. 

1. Richard Allen and The African Methodist Episcopal Church (1787)

I once was in a seminary class at Bethlehem College & Seminary and one of my fellow classmates said that the Black church was being divisive simply by being in existence. No one rebuked that false statement because we did not know our history. It is the other way around. Black churches started because other churches did not have conduct in keeping with the gospel. Richard Allen, for example, tried to confront St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church for its segregation of worship.

“The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in 1787. When officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church pulled blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans” (Dennis C. Dickerson, Retired General Officer, https://www.ame-church.com/our-church/our-history). 

The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Philadelphia in 1787. It is among the first denominations in America to be founded upon racial differences rather than theological differences.

2. The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

I also remember as a young seminary student learning that Jonathan Edwards would study sometimes for 13 hours a day. Pastor John told us that we should not simplistically copy this pattern because we do not necessarily have Sarah Edwards for a wife. Her gifts as a mom enabled him to be less present in the home because she could pick up the slack.

But I recently had a bit of a rude awakening on this score. Let me recreate the train of thought that hit me very hard. I remember attending a pageant in Natchez, Mississippi. The pageant featured a play that rehearsed the history of Natchez, especially the glory days when they had the highest income per capita in America. The play put on display the life of leisure they could live (picnics and parties) during that time. But no mention was ever made of the fact that their wealth and leisure was an injustice—the heavy burden was born on the backs of slaves.

Can you see my rude awakening? The people of Natchez had a lot of leisure time because of their slaves. Jonathan Edwards had a lot of study time (in part) because of his slaves. Suddenly all that study time seemed less desirable—in fact—a little sickening.

Coming to Grips With This Historical Legacy

This fact complicates his legacy, but I don’t believe it completely cancels that legacy. In fact, that complicated legacy is a cautionary tale for us. Jonathan Edwards had more intellectual firepower than any person in this room and he was a systematic thinker. He could connect theological dots like no one else. If he was blind to such obvious, woeful oppression and injustice and theological hypocrisy, than where is the hypocrisy in our lives—where are we out of step with the gospel? Where should the gospel confront me and rebuke me about my thoughts and attitudes concerning blood-bought brothers and sisters who may look different or think different than me?

We cannot assume that we are above this warning. Indeed, Galatians 2 could say even the apostle Peter and Paul’s ministry partner Barnabas was led astray and was guilty of hypocrisy and needed to be confronted and corrected. We should want the warning of history and the warning of Scripture. We should ask for a Psalm 19 work of the Scriptures searching us to reveal faults that are currently hidden to us. Pray for a grace to uphold the truth of the gospel. Pray for a grace to keep our conduct in step with the gospel. Pray for a grace to see where we fall short, and then repent, and change. Pray for the boldness to confront conduct that is not in step with the gospel.

2. Direction for the Future: Avoid the Left and Right Ditches

Two Ditches

Heat Without Light Ditch   Light Without Heat Ditch
Conduct Without Truth of the Gospel Truth of the Gospel Without Conduct

We need the truth of the gospel to empower conduct that is in keeping with it or in step with it.

I want to start with the ditch on the left (political and theological left). One could have conduct (concerns for ethnic injustice and partiality) that is cut off from the truth of the gospel. This is like a cut flower—it will wither or move further and further away from the source. Paul could say for example that Jews had a zeal for God but without knowledge (so they had concern for works, but it was justification by works).

Doctrinal drift happens through death by inches. Some other concern replaces the gospel as the driving force of the church. Maybe social justice is emphasized and the gospel is assumed. Assuming the gospel puts you one step closer to denying the gospel. Suddenly the social concern is driven by ideology, not theology. I could give many examples of this pattern in mainline churches. Without the gospel, one can have social gains but eternal losses. That is always a major concern I have for us. I take doctrinal drift deadly seriously. Gospel that is assumed is just one step away from a gospel that is denied.

But I also feel a great concern for a church like us that could put greater stress on orthodoxy (right doctrine) than orthopraxy (right practice). How do we take the truth of the gospel and unleash its power for obedience and change?

May the Lord take the truth of justification by faith and unleash its full power in the fight against the forces that prevent full Christ-exalting, blood-bought unity in the body. May the Lord awaken us to the corporate dimensions of this truth, not just the vertical dimension. Prejudice and ethnic injustices have no place among gospel people—awakened to the goodness, truth, and beauty of justification.

Those alive to the beauty and sufficiency of the cross will war against any tendency in ourselves or in others to pull away from believers because of socio-economic differences, ethnic differences, or political differences. May justification by faith empower us to be a people who would never say to others, “Unless you change ______, I cannot have full fellowship with you in the body of Christ.

Because Jesus paid it all—everyone equally owes everything to him. Because Jesus paid it all, Gentiles owe nothing. Jesus’ work is enough; the Gentiles do not have to add Jewishness to the cross.

Conclusion

Thabiti Anyabile spoke on this text at our Bethlehem College & Seminary Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders in 2017. I gave the talk the title: “Gospel Consistency: An Ambition to Keep Our Conduct in Step With the Truth of the Gospel.” I asked Thabiti to unpack this passage in Galatians. His conclusion was riveting. He showed that the apostolic gospel of Jesus Christ emphasizes the sufficiency of the cross and produces freedom in Christ that requires things like the impartial treatment of persons and the full inclusion of the nations into the fellowship of the church. Then he said this …

The gospel message without these attending truths is like the sun without flame, like roses without petals or fragrance, like hearts without blood, like beaches with no oceans (Thabiti Anyabile, https://vimeo.com/203496632).

So here is the question: What things cause us to pull away from our brothers and sisters in Christ? Perhaps it starts as separation by inches. Perhaps it is an instinct to pull away when differences come to light and you want to retreat to the comfort of sameness, rather than wanting to do the hard work of having unity in diversity. Do we press through the awkwardness and the confusion and potential for misunderstanding? Or will we sit back and just hang out with people who think like us, look like us, and act like us? Will we keep in step with the gospel we are about to sing?

Closing Song: “Cornerstone”

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. The Confrontation (Galatians 2:11)
  2. The Explanation (Galatians 2:12–16)
    • What did Peter do? (Galatians 2:12a)
    • What motivated Peter to do that? (Galatians 2:12b)
    • What did Paul call Peter’s change of behavior? (Galatians 2:13)
    • What made this hypocrisy so serious that it was condemnable? (Galatians 2:14a)
    • What did Paul say to Peter? (Galatians 2:14b–16)

Main Point: Confrontation is needed when our conduct is not in step with the truth of the gospel.

Discussion Questions

  • What does Galatians 2:11 tell us about the epic magnitude of this confrontation?
  • In the explanation, what does Paul tell us Peter did (Galatians 2:12a) that led to this confrontation?
  • What does Paul tell us about what motivated Peter (Galatians 2:12b) to do that?
  • What does Paul call Peter’s change of behavior (Galatians 2:13)?
  • What does Paul say made this hypocrisy so serious (Galatians 2:14a) that it was condemnable?
  • In the end (Galatians 2:14b–16), what did Paul say to Peter?
  • What lessons can we learn from our evangelical history in America about conduct that is not in keeping with the gospel?
  • In charting a course for the future, what are the left and right ditches that we need to avoid?

Application Questions

  • What lessons have you learned from our evangelical history of slavery and segregation?
  • Have you personally seen examples of the left and right ditches that we need to avoid?
  • What things can you do personally to bring light and heat together on this issue? As a church, what things we do corporately to bring light and heat together?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to uphold the truth of the gospel. Pray for a grace to keep our conduct in step with the gospel. Pray for a grace to see where we fall short and then to repent and change. Pray for the boldness to confront conduct that is not in step with the gospel.

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