In what ways do your attitudes deny the gospel of grace? After all, Peter knew the gospel, but his actions contradicted it. If he can fall into that trap so can we.
I think that one thing that denies the gospel of grace is an attitude to pride! You see the gospel should make us humble. Pride is an anti-gospel emotion. For it is by grace that you have been saved, not by works, so that no-one may boast (Ephesians 2:9). Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). God chose what is foolish to shame the wise and the nobodies to bring down the somebodies (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Be careful of pride, ‘let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12). Pride comes before a fall, but understanding the gospel will make us happy and strong.
This morning I want us to mediate on the gospel and think about how it should affect our hearts.
If Peter can deny the gospel so can you (11-14)
Groucho Marx once quipped, ‘I would never join a club that would have someone like me as a member.’ Sadly he said that remark after being refused entry to a country club on the basis that he was Jewish. Bigotry is horrible and loveless thing. How utterly tragic when its attitudes pollute the church!
The reason Paul includes this incident of his confrontation between himself and Peter is because the false-teachers who were upsetting the Galatians were saying, ‘sure you know that Paul and Peter disagreed of how you become a Christian. Peter would agree with us that you need to observe the Jewish law.’ But Paul points out that Peter was actually acting inconsistently with what he knew to be true.
Peter knew the gospel. He knew that we are saved by grace alone. But while in the city of Antioch he compromised under pressure from the false-teachers. Those false-teachers had come from Jerusalem and said that you needed to become Jewish to be a real Christian. So Peter stopped eating with Christians from a Gentile background. How hurtful his actions must have been to those brothers and sisters in Christ!
Beware of spiritual apartheid. Paul will go on to tell us that in Christ there is neither, ‘Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ’ (3:28). In the church we must be colour-blind. What binds us to one another is the person of Jesus and what divides us no longer counts. Bigotry denies the gospel of grace for it suggests that Christ’s gift of righteousness on its own is not enough to make us fully fledged members of his church.
We are saved by grace not by grace plus anything (15-16)
As I said, Peter knew the gospel of grace. So Paul reminded him that ‘we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus … by works of the law no-one will be justified.’ The term justified is used three times in verses fifteen and sixteen. Perhaps you have heard justification being described as God treating you, ‘just as if you have never sinned.’ That is true, but justification actually goes further than that. God not only takes your sin from you because of the death of Jesus, he also treats you as if you have lived Jesus’ perfectly holy life. In the nineteenth-century the Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne explained that Jesus ‘was a doing Saviour as well as a dying Saviour.’ Our sins were placed on him and his righteousness was transferred to us.
I was doing a Christianity Explored course when a man asked, ‘what do I have to do to get across the line?’ ‘How good do you have to be to be a Christian?’ When he was asked what he thought made someone a Christian he replied, ‘I suppose being a good person.’
Being a good person is not what makes anyone a Christian! No one will be justified on the basis of observing rules and regulations. No one will be justified on the basis of their reputation or respectability. No one will be justified because they are a good neighbour, a member of a church or give loads of cash to charity. We can only be justified by faith in Christ.
‘What must I do to get across the line?’ You must do nothing other than turn to God, with an attitude of repentance, and place your trust in what Jesus has done for you on the cross.
This is good news for you personally (17-21)
The last couple of verses are complicated. The Jews considers the Gentiles to be sinners. So when Christians from a Jewish background associated with them they were labelled sinners by the false-teachers. Don’t bow to the pressure of the legalists. There are those who might concede that you are a Christian without adhering to their little foibles, but think that you are not a fully-fledged Christian. They want to divide the church into first and second class. So they will look down on you if you like a glass of wine, don’t share their view of baptism, read from a different version of the Bible or have a different understanding on the age of the earth. Don’t let secondary issues cause you to look down your nose at your brothers and sisters in Jesus. Christ judges maturity on primary issues like our dependence on the cross and the way the gospel causes us to love rather than what position we take on less essential doctrines.
Paul then tells them that if they reintroduce the Jewish law, as a means to get right with God, it will only serve to condemn them. As we will see, the Law of Moses was not designed to save people, but to show people their need of grace.
So does it not matter how we live? Of course it matters how we live! Christ now lives in us—is presence within changes us from the inside out. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… I live by faith in the Son of God. We have not been saved by good works, but we have been saved for good works. I may not be what I ought to be, but by the grace of God I am not what I used to be (John Newton).
I want to finish by pointing out that this is all very personal. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Christ died personally for Paul. If you love him you can be sure that he loved you first and gave his life for you.
The great reformed Martin Luther was scared of Christ. He knew his own sinfulness and he knew that Jesus was perfectly holy. He had been taught that you could only be accepted by Christ if you underwent rituals and observed laws. In the college where Luther studied there was a statue of Jesus as a judge with a sword in his mouth. Luther could not even bring himself to look at it, the thought terrified him so much. But then he grasped the gospel of grace. ‘I felt myself reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.’
In his commentary on Galatians he writes about the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ‘It is not I who first loved Son of God and gave myself for him … It is Christ who began our salvation, not us … the good Lord found no goodwill or right understanding in me, but he had mercy on me … Who is this me? … a wretched and damnable sinner, yet so dearly loved by the Son of God that he gave himself for me … Christ, therefore, is indeed a lover of those who are in trouble and anguish, in sin and death; he loved us so much that he gave himself for us … What could be said that is more comforting to the poor, afflicted conscience?