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Paul: The Spiritual Abolitionist, Part II (21)

August 17, 2009 Pastor: John Fonville Series: Galatians

Scripture: Galatians 2:14–2:21

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Paul: The Spiritual Abolitionist, Part II

(Not Man’s Gospel!, Part 21)


Text: Galatians 2:11-21

August 16, 2009




As we make our way through the end of chapter 2, we must keep in mind the context.

Paul’s apostleship and gospel were integrally and inseparably related. The Judaizers infiltrated the Galatian churches and began calling into question the authenticity of Paul’s apostleship in order to undermine his gospel. Thus, since 1:11, Paul set out to demonstrate that his gospel is not man’s gospel. He defended the independence of his apostleship in order to defend the truth of the gospel. His desire was to preserve the Galatian’s freedom in Christ over against the distorted, enslaving “gospel” of the Judaizers.

In 2:14-21, Paul brings his argument to a climactic conclusion. In this section of his letter, he demonstrates his own apostolic independence of the Apostles in Jerusalem by recounting his direct confrontation and correction of Peter. If there were any doubts as to Paul’s authenticity and authority as an Apostle, his confrontation of Peter dispelled all doubts. Peter’s hypocritical behavior had eclipsed the truth of the gospel. So serious was the inconsistency between Peter’s confession and conduct, Paul had to confront Peter for the benefit of the entire church (2:14). Thus, we saw first how Paul:


I.            Paul Confronts Peter’s Contradiction of the Truth of the Gospel (2:11-13).


Paul used some very strong language in his public confrontation of Peter. He characterized Peter’s behavior as “playacting” (v. 13) and “crooked walking” (v. 14). Peter was guilty of acting in a manner that contradicted his true confession of the gospel. As a result, Paul confronted and rebuked Peter’s pretense because Peter knew better and it was adversely affecting both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Antioch.

It is instructive to note that Paul doesn’t merely confront Peter’s contradiction of the truth of the gospel. He goes on to clarify the truth of the gospel, not just for Peter’s sake but also for the sake of the entire church (2:14, “before them all).

Paul will go on in 3:1-5:12 to define the gospel in greater detail. Galatians 2:14-21 serves as a type of link between Paul’s confrontation and Peter and his definition of the gospel. He is still defending his apostleship and the gospel but he also begins to define the truth of the gospel.




II.            Paul Clarifies Peter’s Contradiction of the Truth of the Gospel (2:14-21).


To some living in 21st century Western American culture, it may appear that Peter’s withdrawal from table-fellowship with Gentile Christians was trivial and mundane. What was the big deal about not eating a lunch with someone?

The Jewish custom of table-fellowship wasn’t readily apparent in the Antioch church as well. The believers, both Jewish and Gentile, in Antioch struggled over this issue. Was a Jewish Christian free to eat and fellowship with a Gentile Christian? The answer was yes and Peter, of all people, clearly understood this (see Acts 10). This is why his behavior was so inexcusable and indefensible.

Yet, many in the church at this point did not have such a clear understanding as Peter. In the days of Paul and Peter, table-fellowship was sacred in the Jewish culture. In the Jewish mindset, eating with a Gentile was forbidden (cf. Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-14; Dan. 1:3-16). The Pharisees railed against Jesus for eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (i.e. Gentiles, Matt. 9:10-11; 11:19).

In Jewish culture, to eat a meal with someone was to engage in fellowship before God. Following the Old Testament dietary laws was an important way the Jews demonstrated that they belonged to God and shared in His blessing. Timothy George quoting Joachim Jeremias writes,

“In the fast-food culture of Modern Western civilization, it is difficult to appreciate the religious significance ancient peoples associated with the simple act of eating. This was especially characteristic of Judaism, as Jeremias observed: ‘In Judaism table-fellowship means fellowship before God, for the eating of a piece of broken bread by everyone who shares in the meal brings out the fact that they all have a share in the blessing which the master of the house has spoken over the unbroken bread,’” (Galatians, p. 172). 

Thus, for a Jew to share a meal with a Gentile “sinner” was viewed as an act of rebellion. It was looked upon as inviting an “unclean” person to share in fellowship before God. Such an action was totally unthinkable and unacceptable.

Paul, in 2:14 says that he “saw” (i.e., spiritually discerned) that there was a deeper, more fundamental issue at stake than simply table-fellowship and unity between Jews and Gentiles. The disunity was merely the symptom of a greater problem, namely the question of what God requires for salvation? Who can share in the blessing of fellowship before God? Paul rightly saw that Peter’s behavior distorted the gospel and threatened to divide the church (2:13).


A.            Paul’s Question, v. 14


So, he begins by asking Peter a searching question: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Peter was a Jew by birth and upbringing. He was not even a proselyte. Yet, he didn’t follow the Jewish way of life (∆Ioudaiœkw◊ß). Instead, his habit (present tense; ever since the vision of Acts 10) was to live like a Gentile (e˙qnikw◊ß, i.e., not following dietary laws, enjoying table-fellowship with Gentiles).

Paul’s logic is simple and powerful:

“Peter, you are a born and bred Jew and you totally disregard the Jewish dietary laws and eat with Gentiles, which approves the truth that there is one way for Jew and Gentile to be justified. How then can you turn around and force the Gentiles to keep the dietary laws and follow a Jewish way of life, which distorts the truth of justification?”

The answer to Paul’s question was obvious and undeniable. Paul’s question got to the heart of Peter’s problem. It exposed the hypocrisy, irrationality and indefensibility of Peter’s conduct.

There are two words in Paul’s question to Peter that highlight why Peter’s conduct distorted the truth of the gospel and why it was necessary for Paul to clarify the truth of the gospel.

We will first examine these words to understand their meaning in the context and then we will see how they serve to highlight some significant implications for our lives.


1.            “Force”


The phrase, “how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews,” is critical to understanding Paul’s concern and argument (cf. Burton, Galatians, p. 112). Thus Calvin notes, “The whole force of the reproof lies in this word…,” (Calvin’s Commentaries, “Galatians,” vol. XXI, p. 65).

Paul used this same word in 2:3 to describe the demands of the false brothers who were forcing Titus to be circumcised. Paul again uses this word in 6:12 to describe the actions of the Judaizers who were forcing the Galatians to be circumcised.

This is also the same word Paul used to describe his pre-conversion days as a legalistic, persecuting Pharisee, “…I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme…,” (Acts 26:11).

In each case, the word, “force” (aÓnagka¿zeiß) doesn’t carry the idea of “attempt” but rather of “compulsion” (Fung, Galatians, p. 110).

Because of the truth of the gospel (Acts 10), Peter had freely and voluntarily adopted a Gentile manner of life. However, when certain men came from James, they began forcing the Gentile believers in Antioch to adopt a Jewish way of life.

Peter caved into the “force” of their demands. As a result his “playacting,” and “crooked walking,” exerted powerful influence (i.e., “force”) on the Jewish Christians and even Barnabas at Antioch, so much so that Jewish believers and even Barnabas joined in Peter’s hypocrisy (2:13). They were being forced to adopt a Jewish way of life.

Peter’s conduct in effect communicated two false messages.

First, Peter’s conduct communicated to Gentile Christians, “Unless you conform to the Jewish way of life you cannot have social relations with Jewish Christians,” (cf. Bruce, Galatians, p. 133). Therefore, the unity of the church was at stake. However, as noted previously, Peter’s behavior didn’t just threaten the social relations of believers and the unity of the church.

Second, Peter’s behavior also threatened the most important doctrine of Christianity, the truth of the gospel, namely justification by grace through faith alone.

His conduct forcefully communicated to Gentile believers, “Unless you conform to the Jewish way of life, you cannot be justified. Whoever eats foods prohibited by the law sins. Whoever abstains from foods prohibited by the Law is righteous. If you abstain you are justified. If you eat you are condemned.”

Peter, of all people, knew perfectly well that faith in Jesus alone was the only means by which a sinner could have fellowship with God. However, by his behavior, he communicated that following dietary laws was also necessary for a sinner to have fellowship not only with Jewish brothers but God. Thus, Peter contradicted and distorted the truth of the gospel.

Paul’s question to Peter in Antioch highlighted the problem affecting the Galatian churches, namely the Judaizers were forcing Galatian Christians to live like Jews in order to be justified (Gal. 6:12, Fung, Galatians, p. 111, footnote 38).

Paul practiced and encouraged loving voluntary restraint of one’s freedom (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22). But, anything that remotely indicated some kind of compulsion (“force”) for the obtaining of righteousness he utterly opposed.

There is a second word that Paul uses to highlight Peter’s distortion of the gospel.


2.            “Judaize”


The phrase at the end of v. 14, “to live like Jews” (i˙oudaiŒzein, an infinitive) is actually one word in the Greek and literally means, “to Judaize,” hence the term Judaizers.

Paul says that Peter, by virtue of his conduct, was in effect guilty of being a Judaizer (cf. Gal. 6:12, i.e., forcing Gentile believers to become Jews, to adopt a Jewish way of life in order to be justified).

F.F. Bruce writes,

“If Gentile Christians were not fit company for Jewish Christians, it must be because their Christianity was defective: faith in Christ and baptism into his name were insufficient and must be supplemented by something else. And that ‘something else’ could only be a measure of conformity to Jewish law or custom: they must, in other words, ‘judaize,’” (Galatians, p. 133).

Legalism always calls into question the sufficiency of Christ and demands (i.e., “forces”) that something else must be added alongside of Christ for one’s justification (right standing with God). Paul makes this clear in the phrase at the end of v. 14, “force the Gentiles to live like Jews…”

This is the dangerous evil of legalism. These two words, “force” and “to live like Jews,” provide important insight into the nature of legalism. They also highlight two significant implications for our lives in regard to legalism and the gospel.




1.            True obedience is not forced but rather freely given.


There will always be law because the law is merely a reflection of God’s character, which is eternal and unchanging. Therefore, obedience to God’s law is not optional. All men, Christian or not, are under a divine obligation to obey God’s law.

The question is how? How do we obey God’s law?

There are two necessary elements that you must have if you are going to obey God’s law:


a.            A necessary and sufficient power

b.            A powerful and compelling desire.


Both elements are essential to true obedience. This is where the glory of the gospel comes in! The good news is that in the gospel, God has given us both elements. God, in the gospel, gives what He demands in the law! This is good news!

Because of the gospel, we have both the power and desire that are needed to obey God’s law.

In Romans 1:16, Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation…,” (emphasis mine). In Ephesians 1:19-20, Paul exhausts the Greek language for “power” and says that the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of His Father and exalted Him above every earthly and heavenly power is the same power that is presently at work in those who believe!

In Ezekiel 36:27, Ezekiel prophesying of the blessings of the New Covenant that God promises to unilaterally fulfill, declares, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

St. Augustine famously prayed in his Confessions, “…all my hope is nowhere except in your great mercy. Grant us what you command, and command us what you will.”

As believers, we have the work of Christ for us (i.e., the gospel) and the work of Christ in us (i.e., the fruit of the gospel). We possess the indwelling Holy Spirit so that we never have an excuse for not obeying.

The foregoing truths are precisely why legalism doesn’t work. Legalism has no inward power, which makes it possible for us to obey. And secondly, legalism doesn’t create within us a compelling desire to obey.

Rather, law of any kind (God’s law or man-made rules) creates a desire to rebel and disobey not because the law is bad but because our hearts are fallen (see Rom. 7)!

Legalism and the gospel then offer two very different approaches to obedience. Legalism compels people to godly living/obedience by force. Legalism draws out obedience by external demands of compliance with a set of rules and requirements. Legalism motivates obedience through false guilt, coercion, manipulation, threats and selfish desire for personal gain (e.g., the health/wealth prosperity gospel). Legalism only produces slavish obedience (i.e., outward conformity) from an unwilling heart.

The gospel, however, draws forth obedience in a very different manner.

Listen carefully to Walter Marshall,

“God does not drive you along with whips and terrors, or by the rod of the schoolmaster, the law. Rather, he leads you and draws you to walk in his ways by pleasant attractions (Hosea 11:3-4). The love of Christ…is the greatest and most pleasant attraction to encourage you to godly living (2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 12:1), (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 236).

True (evangelical) obedience and repentance flow from a heart assured of God’s love. The paralyzing effect of legalism is that it introduces doubt into the consciences of believers concerning their relationship to God.

“Am I right with God? Have I done the right things and abstained from the wrong things? Is there something else I need to do in order to get right with God, earn His goodwill?”

In order to truly obey, a believer needs to be assured that he or she is right with God and totally under God’s love and favor.

This is why the doctrine of justification is so critical and where it comes in because assurance is one of the great blessings/fruits of justification.

In justification, our sins are forgiven, all of Christ’s perfect obedience is reckoned as ours, we are totally reconciled to God and adopted as His dearly beloved children. Once we are justified in this manner, we are truly empowered to obey God’s law.

Again, carefully consider the following insight by Walter Marshall concerning the inseparable connection between the doctrine of justification and obedience.


“You cannot truly live a holy life unless you are totally assured of your justification and reconciliation with God, totally apart from the works of the law. This is the only way you can truly obey the law! This is totally contrary, of course, to the way the world understands good works. Everyone outside of the gospel of grace thinks that good works earn you God’s forgiveness. However, the gospel does not conform to worldly wisdom. The gospel says that when you are firmly assured of God’s love for you, you will respond by living a holy life. If you do not understand God’s love for you, you will fall into a sinful life!...

This is the truth of the gospel: you can be confident that God will work his salvation out in your precisely because your reconciliation with God is what produces your good works…You will never receive any spiritual life that can free you from this dominion of sin unless this guilt and curse of sin is removed from you. This, of course, is what happens when God justifies you- the guilt and curse of sin are removed from you (Galatians 3:13-14; Romans 6:14). You know that as long as you see yourself still under the curse and the wrath of God, you can have nothing but despair…

The nature of true obedience to the law absolutely requires you to understand that you are reconciled to God, loved by him, and under his favor, if you really are going to obey the law…When we speak of love, we are not talking about the kind of love that a scientist might have toward his experiments, where he is just trying to please himself by gaining more knowledge. We are talking about a practical, life-changing love,” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, pp. 29, 30, 31).


Does not our experience teach us that what Marshall says is true? Think about those moments when you truly desire to forsake sin, obey the Lord and pursue holiness. Was it not because you had a keen awareness and sense of God’s love towards you?

Is it not true that when your heart is most captured by an awareness of God’s love and favor toward you that you are the happiest and possess the greatest desire to obey?

The gospel compels us to obey not by forced compliance but rather out of an awareness of God’s favor and love. In justification, you come to know that God in Christ truly loves you and is 100% for you and not against you!

Only the life-changing, justifying love of God can free you from disobedience and cause your heart to freely obey.


2.            Legalism sets up a false standard for righteousness.


The false condition Peter’s behavior was forcing upon Gentile believers in Antioch is made explicit in the term, “to live like Jews” (i.e., “to Judaize”).

By withdrawing and separating from Gentile believers, Peter was forcing on them an unjust and false condition for righteousness. He was in effect depriving them of their freedom and laying upon them unnecessary demands from which the gospel had set them free.

The men from James had a list of requirements for the Gentile believers to do in order to be accepted by God. When they arrived, they began forcing their demands upon the people (see also the false brothers in Jerusalem, Gal. 2:3 and the Judaziers in Galatia).

This is what legalism does. It raises up false, unwarranted and unnecessary demands for one’s right standing with God and then forces people to live up to this standard. When others don’t live up to the imposed standard, legalists look down on them and inflict false guilt.

William Barclay notes,


“There are two great temptations in the Christian life, and, in a certain sense, the better a man is the more liable he is to them. First, there is the temptation to try to earn God’s favour, and second, the temptation to use some little achievement to compare oneself with our fellow men to our advantage and their disadvantage. But the Christianity which has enough of self left in it to think that by its own efforts it can please God and that by its own achievements it can show itself superior to other men is not true Christianity at all,” (Galatians and Ephesians, p. 21).


It is characteristic of the fallen nature of men to continuously seek to add something they do to what Christ has done and then think that because they live by these standards they are right with God and more righteous than others.

This legal tendency runs deep in the heart of man. “We are by nature allergic to God's grace and addicted to self-deliverance. Such is the measure of the insanity of sin,” (Scotty Smith, Christ Community Church).

By forcing false standards on people, legalism shifts the focus away from Christ, who is the only source of righteousness, and on to a false standard that people are being “forced” to live up to.

The major underlying problem of Peter’s “playacting” and “crooked walking” was that it communicated that those whom God had declared just were in fact unjust. It shifted one’s focus away from Christ to a false standard of righteousness. Timothy George writes, “What was so insidious in the separation of Peter and his associates was the fact that they were acting as if their Gentile Christian brothers and sisters were still sinners while they, because of their ritual purity and obedience of the law, stood in a different, more favorable relationship to God,” (Timothy George, Galatians, p. 181).

All the while, the gospel tells us what makes an unjust man right with God. The gospel assures us that God accepts sinners, both Jew and Gentile, on the same terms, namely faith in Christ alone apart from the works of the law. The gospel directs us away from all false standards of righteousness and focuses us on Christ alone as the only ground of our righteousness before God.

Do you know and believe the gospel this morning? Are you trusting in Christ alone for your acceptance before God?

The gospel announces to us that Christ in His life, death and resurrection has “done” everything that is required for our salvation. There is therefore nothing else that we must “do” in order to be forgiven and brought into a right standing relationship with God, wherein we are free to enjoy fellowship with God and one another.

This is the promise of the gospel: “The one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5).


© John Fonville

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