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"The Most Important Church Picnic Fight in History"
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.
I. THE FIGHT THAT OCCURRED (vv. 11-14).
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
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
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
II. THE DOCTRINE THAT WAS AT STAKE IN THE FIGHT (vv. 15-16).
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.
III. THE ISSUES THAT WERE INVOLVED IN DEFENDING THIS DOCTRINE (vv. 17-21).
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
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