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"The Most Important Church Picnic Fight in History"
Galatians 2:11-21

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
August 24, 2005

It's unspeakably embarrassing to see an ugly confrontation in church. But that's not to say that it's always wrong for something to be fought over. In today's passage, one of the greatest leaders of the church confronted another of its greatest leaders during a church dinner; and in this case, the issue at hand was absolutely vital to the future of the church.

Before we get into examining the fight itself, let's remember that it ended well. The two men involved ended up right with each other. Peter (the confronted one) held Paul (the confronter) in the highest esteem (2 Peter 3:14-16). And as a result, the crucial doctrine of "justification by faith" was protected. But the story is being told in order to make a point. Paul had been arguing (1) that his gospel was not something that he had learned from the other apostles, but that had been given to him by revelation from God (1:11-24); and that he didn't need the approval of the other apostles before he could preach it, because it was already authorized by Christ (2:1-10). And now, to further emphasize the point, he shows how (1) he even had to confront Peter himself and (2) defend the key theme of the gospel from the very error that the Galatians were then falling into.

A. Paul publically confronted Peter (v. 11). He confronted Peter "to his face"; because he was "to be blamed". Imagine - even Peter could fall into error!

B. He was motivated by the behavior he saw in Peter; and by how it was affecting others (vv. 12-13). Peter had been in the habit of eating with Gentile believers in Antioch (the imperfect tense suggests a repeated action). But once men from James (the recognized leader of the church in Jerusalem) came, he withdrew in fear from the Gentiles - as if he had been doing something wrong in eating with them; even though there now was no longer any ceremonial difference between Jew and Gentile through Christ (3:26-29). Paul used a word to describe Peter's action that pictured a military retreat; and then of a severing of himself from his Gentile brothers and sisters. Peter did this out of fear of the 'circumcision' (those who Paul deals with throughout this letter in such passages as 4:17; 5:7, 12; 6:12-13 and 17). There is no other way to describe this but 'fear of men'. Peter worried so much about what others might think of him as he ate with Gentiles, that others - and even Barnabas - was 'carried away with" the hypocrisy.

C. Paul described the situation as a matter of failure with respect to the truth of the gospel (v. 14a). He said that Peter was not walking straight (orthopodeõ; note the similarity to the word "orthodox") toward the truth of the gospel. Peter's sin was that of acting inconsistent with the Gospel message of being made completely righteous by faith in Christ apart from works of the law.

D. Paul, therefore, confronted Peter publically by exposing his inconsistency with the gospel (v. 14b). He asked how, if Peter could now eat with Gentiles, why the Gentiles should now have to be compelled to become Jews.


A. The doctrine at stake was "justification by faith". The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q 33), defines "justification" in these terms: "Justification is an act of Gods' free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." Justification is a legal action on God's part. It's not one that infuses new power into us to be righteous. Rather, it's one in which God declares us 100% righteous in His sight on the basis of Christ's own righteousness being applied to our account. The doctrine of justification by faith is the most crucial doctrine of the message of the gospel (Rom. 3:21-26).

B. To illustrate this, Paul used Peter and himself as extreme examples. (Some feel that the verses that follow are a part of what Paul said to Peter during that dinner-time confrontation.)

1. They were Jews by nature, and not 'sinners of the Gentiles' (v. 15). That is, both Peter and Paul were in the highest possible state of human advantage before God (Rom. 2:17-20).

2. They knew that a man is not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ (v. 16a). Paul, in particular, abandoned all the advantages he felt in order to forsake a righteousness of his own, and to embrace the righteousness through faith in Christ (Phil. 3:4-11).

3. And so, even they believed on Jesus Christ for righteousness rather than through works of the law (v. 16b.)

C. This illustrates the absolute truth that makes justification by faith necessary: "for by works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (v. 16c). This is the strongest 'negative' affirmation of the truth of the doctrine of justification you can find in the New Testament. It says, without qualification, that no human being - indeed, no flesh at all; regardless of what religion they hold to, or how strongly and devotedly they hold to it - will every be made righteous in God's sight in any way other than through faith in Jesus Christ.


A. The righteousness of God in justifying sinners by faith (vv. 17-18). Paul's argument here is that, if in the process of seeking to be justified by faith in Christ alone, we discover that we have - in fact - neglected duties to the law that actually make us justified in God's sight, then God's Son has made us sinners; and He Himself is a "minister of sin". Rather than saving us (if this were true), Jesus would have actually made us sinners! Paul's response to this was very strong: "mã genointo" - that is, "May it never be!!"

B. The sufficiency of union with Christ own life (vv. 19-20). Paul's argument is that, in Christ - being united to His death - we ourselves have died to the law (cf. Rom. 6:1-7). And what's more - being united to His life - He lives His righteous life through us (cf. Romans 8:1-4). Because of our union with Christ, there is no need for me to even try to seek righteousness before God through the law. Jesus' own live in me - mediated through the indwelling Holy Spirit - lives that righteous live through me in perfect conformity to God's law (Gal. 5:16-26).

C. The necessity of the cross (v. 21). Paul affirmed that he did not "set aside" the grace of God; which, of course, he would be doing if he joined in the error that we could be made righteous by obeying the law. This is because, as he says, "if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain". Jesus' death would have been unnecessary; since we could have 'earned' God's favor through obedience. Praise Him that He saves us "by grace"!

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