Liberated from Legalism - p8 [6-13-21]


Listen to Galatians 2:11:

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

Now that is out-in-the-open conflict going on right there. Here are seven stages of that conflict:

  1. Peter went to Antioch and shared a meal with Gentile Christians.

  2. Allies of James came to Antioch.

  3. Peter feared this group. {As verse 12 reports, he drew back and feared this group.}

  4. His fear caused him to beat a hasty retreat and separate himself from the Gentile Christians.

  5. The rest of the Jews, and even Barnabas, Paul's ministry partner, joined in the retreat.

  6. Peter placed himself in a condemnable position.

  7. Therefore, Paul rebuked him to his face.


So, we're going to look at two important issues raised by this chain of events. How did Peter get so far off-track from what he knew was right? And how do we keep it from happening to us?


Here's how Acts 11:2-3 records the trouble Peter was in:

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

We can only speculate details for all this. Which we won't do. What we do know is that, as Paul reported, Peter feared these false brothers from Jerusalem. We don't know why. But he feared them. And more often than not, people motivated by fear are not at their best. While we are not told why Peter was afraid, we do know the result of that fear. In his fear, Peter cut off fellowship with his Gentile brothers and sisters. And because of his position of leadership, others followed him. I can't begin to imagine how confusing and discouraging that must have felt for the Gentile Christians in Antioch.


Remember, one of the things we don't ever want to do when seeking to understand God's Word is project onto the text what we want to believe the text says or what we wish the text would say. To put it another way, "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know; and there are unknown knowns, the things we know at one level or another, but for whatever reasons, are unwilling to acknowledge." There are all sorts of ways of knowing. When reading God's Word, all we want to do is our best job of understanding what's written. And so it goes with Peter and his hypocrisy. Our aim is to be as speculation-free as possible.


With that in mind, here are three things that keep us out of step with the gospel.


First:

FEARFULNESS IS OUT OF STEP WITH THE GOSPEL.

The gospel builds confidence and hope and boldness. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." In other words, if you are ever at a point where you are tense or discouraged or downcast or afraid or overcome with a vague feeling of anxiety, then you need to be refreshed with the gospel. You need to stop, dead in your tracks, and consider once again what it means to say that God sent His Son to die for you. The gospel means that no matter what you experience or go through in life, you are never alone. In the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, you can trust God's eternal care. Amen?


I love how Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-34:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We can never read that promise too much.


If you are a follower of Jesus Christ; if you believe the gospel, then you are in full agreement with Hebrews 13:6, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can anyone do to me?" Now, don't misunderstand. I'm not saying we will not have momentary lapses back into fear. We are fickle and frail and fallen people. But God is gracious to His misguided children. He sent Paul to bring Peter back to his senses. And God sends us to Galatians so that fear will not lead us out of step with the gospel.


Second:

HYPOCRISY IS OUT OF STEP WITH THE GOSPEL.


The word Paul used in verse 13 for "hypocrisy" was from the notion in Greek theater of actors wearing masks, speaking from behind those masks. It literally means an interpreter from underneath. It was so bad that even Barnabas, Paul's missionary partner, got carried away with the hypocrisy. That was bad. Barnabas literally means "encourager." He wasn't very encouraging here. Both he and Peter said one thing with their actions while believing another in their hearts. Remember, they were fully onboard with the form and function of the mission to the Gentiles. God had even revealed this in a vision to Peter. That's how powerful fear or insecurity can be. It over wrote what God has revealed to Peter.


So, they were out of step with the gospel. That happens when you feel insecure or afraid. You talk a good game. But then, in the face of any opposition or push-back, you avoid taking a stand for what you know is right. Fighting for the gospel, Paul argues, gives deep root and stability and security to our lives. We sure have needed that these past 15 months.


Do you believe your position in Christ? Do you believe that in his death on the cross, your sins have been forgiven? Do you believe that you will live eternally in the presence of the One, True God? Do these truths cause you to live boldly, fear no person or nothing in all creation? Do these truths drive you to offer your life in service to the living Christ? Do these truths move you to worship God with His chosen people? You see, that is what is at stake here.


Here's something you might want to write down:

When a fear of people or circumstances is stronger than a fear of God, the

gospel is likely to suffer.


Third:

LEGALISM IS OUT OF STEP WITH THE GOSPEL.


Paul says this to Peter in verse 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?”

That is legalism. You have to behave a certain way or embrace certain traditions or follow certain rules or avoid certain things in order to be a Christian. Legalism is requiring a person do some works of law in order to be accepted by God and by the church. Women have to wear dresses. They can't cut their hair. Men can't shave. No alcohol. No dancing. No make-up…not too much make-up. You can only listen to certain kinds of music. Perhaps some of you came from churches that had rigid rules and regulations to follow. What it boils down to is, some people want to add something to what Christ has done, and then they look down on others who haven't done it, whatever "it" is. Conform or be cast out. But legalism nullifies the gospel. When anything is added to the completed work of Christ's death on the cross, grace is nullified. Either the cross and the cross alone saves us or it doesn't. If anything has to be added, then Christ died in vain.


Fearfulness, hypocrisy, and legalism are out of step with the gospel. Paul was neither hesitant nor timid about its inviolate truth. We move to the end of the second chapter with this affirmation:

The gospel proclaims that through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave, Jesus has done everything God requires for our salvation. There is nothing else we need to do to gain forgiveness for sins, enjoy fellowship with God, or have the hope of eternal life except trust in Christ alone.


Let's say that together:

BY GRACE LONE…THROUGH FAITH ALONE…IN CHRIST ALONE.



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