In yesterday’s devotional, Paul asserted his independence as an Apostle, refuting the claims of the Judaizers that he was seeking to merely please crowds. He affirmed that his conversion was the result of Christ revealing Himself to him and in him (Galatians 1:13-16). Here, Paul documents his independence by citing an incident where he publicly rebuked another apostle, Peter, when his actions were inconsistent with the Gospel.
Peter had visited the Church at Antioch—a predominantly non-Jewish Church. While with them, Peter lived like them, sharing in all their worship and their meals. But, when a party of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived, Peter withdrew from the non-Jews. This became most evident at mealtime. Eating with the non-Jews was a sign of acceptance and unity. But with the arrival of the Jewish Christians, division took place. Peter and the Jerusalem Jews ate apart from the non-Jews. If the Antioch Church observed the Lord’s Supper with the meal, as we would expect (I Corinthians 11:17-34), the problem was more intense because it meant that not only the meal, but worship, had become divided.
When Paul saw this, he confronted Peter personally and publicly, saying that his actions were out of a fear for the “circumcision group.” His bad example was followed by others, including Barnabas. Their hypocrisy lay in the fact that what they believed, they had ceased to practice.
At the root of the problem was a false sense of superiority. Jews believed that, by nature, they were spiritually superior (John 3:9; 8:33). The carnal Jew concluded that by virtue of being Jewish he was pious, while the non-Jew, by virtue of his birth, was sinful. The only way that such pride could be maintained within Christianity was for Jewish Christians to insist that Gentile converts adopt Judaism in addition to trusting in Christ. Though Peter knew better, he fell back on his culture rather than stand on the truth of the Gospel.
Paul’s rebuke of Peter reminded the Jewish Christians that they were not able to earn justification through law-keeping. Rather, like the non-Jewish Christians, they, too, were justified by faith in Christ. There was no room to claim spiritual superiority. Paul’s actions also instruct us that, those who seek to be saved (justified) by faith in Christ must acknowledge their sin. Salvation is by faith in Christ; we cannot be saved by self-effort or by the “works of the law.”
The Gospel is based on the fact that we all stand equally condemned before God. Acceptance of the Gospel is admission of sin and human inability.