A Historic Battle for the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-16) (2022)

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A Historic Battle for the Gospel

Paul takes on the big dog for the sake of the Gospel in Galatians 2:11-16, part 1

In 1920s Germany, two brothers namedRudolf and Adolf Dassler founded their own shoe company–they called it the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Though the two brothers didn’t always see eye to eye, they were able to put their differences aside and work together—until one night during World War II. Rudolf and his family were in a bomb shelter during an Allied bombing raid, when Adolf joined them. The first thing Adolf said was, “Here are the (swear words) again,” referring to the bombers.But Rudolf assumed his brother Adolf was referring to himself and his family, and no one could convince him otherwise.

From then on, their relationship went from bad to worse. He refused to work with his brother, and after the war they dissolved the business and each formed their own company. Adolf named his company after himself, combining his nickname, Adi, with the first three letters of his last name, Das. Rudolf originally called his shoe company Ruda, but then tweaked it to share a name with a certain wildcat. Today, the rivalry between Adidas and Puma remains–though it’s much friendlier, even though it was born out of conflict.

Conflict is often necessary in order to come to clarity and purpose. But when the message of salvation is at stake, when eternity hangs in the balance, when distinctions mean the difference between an eternity in Heaven or in Hell–then there must be clarity at any cost. Conflict exposes who we are. Conflict molds us into what we need to be. And the conflict between Paul and Peter exposed in Galatians 2:11 to 21 uncovers, clarifies, and glorifies the truth of the genuine Gospel–the only Gospel that saves.

The Reformation was primarily a battle for the true Gospel. The remnant today are those who embrace the true Gospel. And the difference between a real believer and a make-believer is the true Gospel. Read aloud with me verses 11 to 16 of Galatians chapter 2.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.’”

What’s happening at the end of chapter 2? Paul continues to build his argument against the legalistic Judaizers and their twisted works-based/tradition-based salvation. And now Paul crosses into the uncomfortable realm of family wrangling. Instead of keeping this church conflict a secret, Paul exposes the details of this intense confrontation with the great apostle Peter himself. Paul doesn’t do this to hang out the church’s dirty laundry or to support today’s warped view of total transparency.

Paul just affirmed in verse 9 that Peter had given him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Peter and Paul were both Jewish, both born again, both apostles, both theologically sound, and both affirmed each other’s ministries–Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. They were colleagues, not competitors. Each respected the other. So why did Paul describe this conflict to the troubled churches in Galatia?

Note the first word in verse 11—“But.” In the previous paragraph, Paul described how the leaders of the Jerusalem church, including Peter, had agreed with him and Barnabas regarding the test case of Titus. Nobody required Titus, a Gentile convert to Christianity, to follow the Law–to get circumcised to become a Christian. The Law contributes nothing to a person’s salvation. But when Peter arrived in Antioch sometime later, his actions openly contradicted his doctrine. His beliefs didn’t match his behavior.

Paul and Peter had agreed on the implications of the Gospel while in Jerusalem. But look at verse 14–Peter was “not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” as Peter faced massive peer pressure from phony Jewish believers who were pressing potential Gentile converts to become Jews first in order to be saved. Peter began to give into the pressure of custom, the pressure of religion, the pressure of culture, the pressure of long-term relationship, upbringing and history. Peter slowly and continually began to act like it was a sin not to eat Kosher. Peter flip-flopped in his attitudes and actions toward the Gentiles of Antioch, but only when these Jewish hard-liners from Jerusalem showed up.

Paul tells the Galatians, when Peter first arrived in that city where the Gentile ministry was exploding, Peter enjoyed uninhibited fellowship and regular non-kosher food with the Gentiles around a common table. Now that food was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament Law. And sadly over time, certain traditions developed that forbid a Jew to even eat with Gentiles–even if the food was Kosher. Peter ate–but now Peter didn’t.

This is a big compromise when you remember Peter is the one who introduced the Gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 10. And in order to help him overcome his Gentile prejudices, the Lord gave Peter repeat visions of the sheet with the unclean animals to kill and eat several times. That should have convinced Peter that the dietary Law had been unseated by the Gospel and that legalism should be demolished by grace.

At his arrival, rather than separating himself from Gentile believers, Peter enjoyed meals with the born-again Gentiles in Antioch, until some legalistic, self-righteous Jewish make-believers, along with some Jewish confused believers showed up and began to pressure all the Jewish believers, especially the apostle Peter, to separate themselves from the believing born again Gentiles and not only eat separate food, but also eat separately from the Gentile believers themselves.

When he first came to Antioch, Peter mingled with the Gentiles and ate with them. But after these visitors came from Jerusalem, he withdrew himself and put up the old Jewish barriers again. So Paul necessarily confronted Peter in his hypocrisy face to face. And now Paul describes this confrontation to the Galatians, in order to leave no doubt that Paul preached the true Gospel and possessed the authority to uphold it, even if it meant rebuking the great apostle Peter–the spokesman of the original twelve. How did it go down?

#1 Peter’s subtle DEFECTION Verses 11 to 13

You know this–what you truly believe, determines how you genuinely behave. You know whether people are believers or not by how they live. You know whether Christians are mature not by merely by what they know, but by how they live. Because Peter and Barnabas were confused or had not formed convictions about crucial Gospel truth, they were unable to walk a straight line–unable to live doctrinal truth.

And what made Peter’s behavior so deadly is that if it was tolerated, his actions would 1) undermine the Gospel of grace, and 2) split the Church into two camps–the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians would be forever separated. Peter’s actions created one of the darkest days in the history of the Gospel. By withdrawing from the Gentile believers to fellowship only with Judaizers, who actually held a position that Peter knew was wrong–by his behavior Peter was supporting their errant doctrine of faith plus Jewish religious trappings, and was at the same time nullifying Christ’s gospel of Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The very doctrine both Peter and Paul received from Heaven was now being undermined.

First The CLASH between Captains

Verse 11, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him [I stood against him] to his face, because he [was] stood condemned.” Antioch is the location of the first Gentile Church–it was the launching place of Paul’s missionary journeys. Antioch Bible Church is Paul’s sending church. This body there was shepherded by a team of qualified elders and was one of the earliest examples of a modern-day local church. The Gospel had taken root there and was being lived and proclaimed by this early assembly.

Paul is here, and when Cephas (which is translated from Hebrew meaning rock), when Peter arrives, Paul stood against him publicly and in person–face to face. Why? Verse 11, because by his continual actions, Peter rendered himself guilty—”he stood condemned.” Peter was guilty of sin by aligning himself with men he knew to be in error. And because of the harm, confusion, and let me add hurt he caused his Gentile brethren.

Imagine what it would be like at FBC to be fellowshipping together with Charles Spurgeon and JC Ryle week after week–hearing them teach, eating meals together. You get to know them personally–they are brothers, but now friends. They are men you look up to as examples, but also men you have come to understand intimately. You encourage them, pray for them, their faces light up too when you see each other.

Then about six weeks later, some Baptist believers arrive from Spurgeon’s denomination. You can tell they don’t like the way you dress, your hairstyle, preferential choices, the way you eat, how you use your time–they are much more strict. You don’t buy into it–but slowly over the course of a few weeks, Spurgeon increasingly only hangs with them, only eats with them, only talks with them. And even though you were close before, now Charles barely acknowledges you. What would that do to you? You’d be hurt. You’d be confused. You might think your own behavior is wrong. And the greatest horror of all, you might even consider becoming a Baptist. That might lead you to be a legalist. But Peter’s error would lead you to an errant gospel and Hell. What brought this about with Peter?

Second The CAUSE of the Compromise

Verse 12, “For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.” Peter has already had the vision of the unclean animals (“kill and eat”) which motivated him to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 10. Peter has already experienced the Jerusalem Council which has declared that Gentiles are not required to follow Jewish religious customs, circumcision, or dietary laws in order to be saved in Christ. And Peter’s already been in Antioch for a long season, eating with Gentiles.

The Bible teaches us in Acts 10 that Peter had already given up Mosaic ceremony and James at times held on to only some of his Jewish religious customs in Acts 21. But in verse 12, when the false Christian Judaizers came to Antioch, they lied. They pretended to be sent by James, giving false claims of support from the apostles. Now we know they were lying here, because James had summarized the decision of the Jerusalem counsel saying in Acts 15:19, “It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.”

John MacArthur adds, “Like Peter, James at times had difficulty giving up his lifelong adherence to the Mosaic rituals and regulations, and he perhaps still had remnants of prejudice against Gentiles. But he would hardly have sent a delegation of heretics to Antioch to undermine the true gospel and cause the church there nothing but trouble. He would never have been the cause of discord and chaos where there already – Spirit-induced harmony and unity.”

These lying hypocrites were subtle and took their time. The tense of the verbs in verse 12 lets us know that Peter’s actions and the Judaizers’ were continual, in past time. The verb’s form implies that Peter’s withdrawal was gradual, deceptive and ongoing. It wasn’t a one-time event, but a repeated occurrence, increasing to the point that for Peter it is was always Jew and never Gentile. Peter was slowly, subtly, repeatedly declining invites from the Gentiles, while only accepting invites from the Jews. When these false legalists arrived, no more Der Wienerschnitzel with my Gentile bros–verse 12, Peter subtly withdrew from Gentiles and continually remained aloof from them.

Withdraw is a Greek term used for a strategic military disengagement. And again the tense indicates Peter’s withdrawal was gradual–it was a sneaky retreat. Peter started to behave just like those errant legalistic Judaizers, eating only kosher food with his fellow Jews–but also dissing the Gentiles altogether. Aloof means Peter was intentionally separated and isolated from them.

My beloved Peter did it again–he acquiesced to both the ritualism and racism of the Jews, and subtly drifted away from his Gentile brethren. By doing so, Peter was affirming the very dietary restrictions he knew his Lord had abolished in Acts 10–and as a result, distorting the Gospel of grace. Why did Peter do it? Verse 12 says Peter was fearing the party of the circumcision.

Fear was the true motivation behind Peter’s defection. He was afraid of losing popularity, and losing favor with those who were legalistic. They were so influential, they pressured the great apostle Peter, even though they were self-righteous hypocrites promoting a heretical doctrine. And the big concern was not merely their influence over Peter, but also . . .

Third The CONCERN over the Concession

Read verse 13, “The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” Wow, the rest of the Jewish believers in Antioch fell into hypocrisy too. Once Peter withdrew and remained aloof, so did every single Jew calling himself a Christian in Antioch.

The Greek word hypocrite refers to an actor who wore a mask to play another character other than himself–that’s Peter and the Jewish Christians in Antioch. Spiritually, it refers to someone who masks his true character by pretending to be something or someone he or she is not. This goes on in the Church all the time. People who impress you because they are involved in missions somewhere–it immediately gives the impression of maturity and commitment, yet dig a little and you’ll discover their personal lives, their family relationships, their true character is a wreck.

Don’t fall for the power of position or grandiose ministry commitments–hypocrisy is everywhere. All of us battle with presenting ourselves as better than we really are. But there are those who claim Christ, who never grow, who don’t deal with their own sin, who don’t function biblically in their family.

Here are these Jews in Antioch, committed to the Gospel of grace, but now going back to embrace Jewish ceremonies, circumcision and dietary laws, legalism. When Peter drifted, and these legalists continued to subtly make believers feel they are not measuring up to the religiosity of those devoted to the Jewish plus Christian faith–the cultural pressure was so great and their influence so subtle that even the amazingly godly Barnabas fell in with them. He began to remain aloof and withdrew.

This is extreme pressure. Even the loving, gracious Barnabas, who at this time was one of the pastors at Antioch, was carried away by this sin of legalism. Paul and Barnabas minister to the body together at Antioch. They both had recently gone with each other to the Jerusalem Council talked about in chapter 1. They both had taught together, prayed together, ministered together and suffered together. They both were the closest of friends and loved each other deeply.

Barnabas was the one who first had befriended and defended Paul when he went to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion in Acts 9:27. Barnabas knew the Gospel well since he heard Paul preach the Gospel of salvation by grace alone and had proclaimed that same Gospel many times himself. But even Barnabas was carried away by the legalistic hypocrisy of Peter and others. It actually may have been this event–Barnabas’s hypocrisy here, that began the rift with Paul that resulted in their separation over John Mark on the next missionary journey to take place in a short while, in Acts 15:37 to 40.

But these actions are deadly to the Gospel and disastrous for our witness as a church. The true, biblical, godly church can never allow ritual, race, class or other distinctions to separate members from each other. Before salvation, every human is equally separated from God, and after salvation every human is equally reconciled to God. Galatians 3 reminds believers “are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for they are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Because believers are all children of God, we are all brothers and sisters with no exceptions and no distinctions. All racism is evil defiance against God. All divisions over education differences or wealth or background, are equally evil. Paul is going to stop this, for the sake of the Church–but most importantly for the sake of the Gospel.

#2 Paul’s sound DOCTRINE Verses 14 to 21

What Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jewish believers in Antioch did was not merely a matter of personal hypocrisy. Their capitulation to the Judaizers by their example and by doctrine was fracturing the Church, and would eventually distort the true Gospel. And because Peter and Barnabas were spiritual leaders, this situation was deadly and damaging. For years the apostles had been teaching salvation by grace alone, and they had exemplified that teaching in their lives. The Antioch church had become a model of Jewish-Gentile fellowship and harmony, and almost overnight it had become the opposite. What happened?

First The CONFRONTATION over practice

Verse 14, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Paul sharply rebuked Peter–why? They were not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel. Straightforward is a compound verb from straight and foot–meaning to walk straight, to live uprightly. One scholar translates the phrase this way—”They were not walking on the straight path towards the truth of the gospel.”

By withdrawing from their Gentile brethren, Peter and his compromising crew were not walking in line with God’s Word. They were corrupting the truth. Do you see how Paul writes it?–the truth of the Gospel. Any gospel not by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is not truth and will send you to Hell. Paul is fighting for eternal souls and that’s why he rebuked Cephas in the presence of all.

Paul unmasks Peter’s hypocrisy in front of the entire congregation in Antioch. You can picture it–every single believer in Antioch knew Peter was no longer associating with Gentiles as he once did before the Judaizers came. And because of that, it needed to be dealt with publicly. Private sins are dealt with privately, personal sins are dealt with personally and public sins are dealt with publicly.

In contrast to Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul’s indictment was straightforward. Paul simply pointed out the obvious inconsistency of Peter’s behavior in Antioch. Paul reminded Peter when he first arrived in Antioch, verse 12 says Peter had freely fellowshipped with all the Gentile believers and regularly ate with them. Peter openly visited their homes and joined them in love feasts and took Communion with them, showing no evidence of prejudice or legalism. Peter had Verse 14, lived “like the Gentiles and not like the Jews.”

So Paul addresses the elephant in the room, looks Peter in the eye and says, “How is it that you [by your ongoing lifestyle continually] compel the Gentiles to [adopt the entire lifestyle and] live like Jews?” By following the Judaizing path, Peter was declaring their errant gospel was correct and that cultural divisions in the Church were acceptable.

Paul had no desire to appear superior to Peter, or to humiliate Peter, but to correct his serious error that had caused many other believers to stumble with him. Paul can tolerate nothing that threatens the integrity of the Gospel, especially if that threat comes from the influential leader of the Early Church. Paul’s rebuke of Peter serves as one of the most dynamic statements in the New Testament on the unwavering necessity of the doctrine of justification, of salvation by grace through faith.

Second The CLARIFICATION with doctrinal truth

Catch the word repeated three times in verses 15 and 16. “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Paul now clarifies what’s at stake with Peter’s legalistic failure–first the bad news in verse 15. “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles.” The “we” in verses 15 and following refers to the Jews. The Gentiles were sinners by nature, because they had no revealed, divine, written moral law to guide them toward salvation or living righteously. So what Paul is saying is this–“We Jews have had special privileges from the one true God and we may not be guilty of Gentile sins–those pagans with no-Law-type sins. But we are saved the same way as they are.

Now you’d expect Paul to say, “These Gentiles must be saved the same way we Jews are.” But he reverses the order. Salvation did not mean that Gentiles had to become like Jews, but that the Jews had to sink to the level of the obviously condemned pagan Gentile. Paul argues in verse 16, “We are justified—given a right standing before God by faith in Christ.” The works of the Law will never justify anyone, Jew or Gentile. No Jew, no good man, no one was ever saved by being keeping of the Law—never.

Paul really pounds that truth in with the repetition of “justified” three times in verse 16. Three times in this verse Paul declares salvation is only through faith in Christ and not by law. The three uses of “justified” literally cover the past, present and future. The basic use of the term “justified” describes a judge declaring an accused person not guilty and therefore innocent before the Law. The guilty are declared not guilty. Throughout Scripture justified refers to God’s declaring a sinner not guilty and fully righteous before Him by imputing to him the divine righteousness of Christ and imputing the man’s sin to his sinless Savior for punishment.

RC Sproul says, “Justification is that act by which unjust sinners like you are made right in the sight of a just and holy God.” And to make certain we understand the full weight of justification, Paul also repeats three times in verse 16, “not by the works of the Law.” Keeping the Law, obeying the law, being a good person, living by a moral code, even following a Christian code of ethics is a totally unacceptable means of salvation, because the root of sinfulness is in the fallenness of man’s heart, not his behavior. It is your fallen, sinful heart which is totally depraved, unable to live pleasing to God.

The Law was not a map for you to follow so that you could find salvation, but the Law is a mirror to show you your sinfulness and your need of a Savior. The Law served as a mirror to reveal sin, not a cure for it. This is what Paul means in Romans 7:7, “Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”

God designed the Law to show us our sin, then take us by the hand and lead us to Christ just like a tutor. Galatians 3:24, “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Friends, raise your hand if you have ever lied? Cheated? Stolen? Been angry? Hurt someone unrighteously? Were selfish? Proud? Self-centered? Lustful? Then you stand condemned before a holy God and you’ll never be able to make things right.

But Christ can. Christ paid for sin on the cross. He rose from the dead and is alive. If you hate your sin, entrust your life completely to Christ by faith, believing His death on the cross for your sins and resurrection from the dead, exchanging all that you are for all that He is, you can be saved, forgiven, covered in His righteousness–meaning you can, for the first time, be in relationship with Christ now and enjoy His presence forever in Heaven.

The only way, though, is to turn to Christ. You can have Christ live in you and live through you. You can escape eternal death in Hell and enjoy eternal life now and forever with Christ. You can do that today, or you can come back next week when Paul blows his readers away with the correction and the consequences of justification by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.


There are so many great truths from this passage–here are some . . .

#1 Leaders be ENCOURAGED

Peter made lots of mistakes, but remained above reproach. Thank the Lord He uses flawed, sinful people for His purposes, as long as they remain humble, dependent and undefiant in their sin.

#2 Make-believers be DRAWN

Faithfulness involves more than believing right doctrine. Faith without works is dead. Right doctrine without right behavior produces hypocrisy. Big ministry commitments do not undo hidden, defiant sin in God’s eyes. Turn to Christ.

#3 Evangelists BEWARE

Truth is more important than outward harmony, especially when it involves how one is saved. We don’t have to correct every Christian from every church, but we do need to remember that Christian fellowship and unity are built on truth. We can’t be unified with anyone who believes in salvation by grace plus anything.

#4 Learners listen CAREFULLY

God’s Word, not a given human situation, determines what is right and wrong. Christians do not make truth–individual Christian leaders or groups of Christians, no matter how influential . . . even if they were apostles, don’t determine truth. In fact, anyone who takes a wrong position or indulges in a wrong practice are still wrong. You are not judging, you are not failing to love to openly declare that someone is not obedient to the clear teaching of Scripture is wrong. Especially when it comes to the glorious Gospel of Christ.

Let’s pray.

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