It was a face to face stand off. In this corner, the apostle Paul formerly known as Saul . . . the least of the apostles (1Cor. 15:9) and the chief of sinners (1Tim. 1:15). In the other corner, Peter formerly Simon . . . chief among the apostles, but least likely to be voted “Most Predictable.” At stake were the implications of the gospel — good news only for “fire insurance” or life-changing truth intended to impact behavior? And so Paul confronts Peter. Opposes him to his face. And calls him out on conduct unbecoming.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, . . . when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11, 14 ESV)
When he first arrived in Antioch, Peter (aka Cephas) apparently enjoyed the fellowship of the saints . . . ALL THE SAINTS . . . Jew and Gentile alike. Peter had come a long way. He had grown up knowing “how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (Acts 10:28). But God had shown him that he “should not call any person common or unclean.” Apparently a rooftop vision of unclean food being presented for consumption and an encounter with a gentile family receiving the Holy Spirit has a way of causing someone to conclude “that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). And so, when he came to Antioch, he ate not with Jews or Gentiles but with brothers and sisters in Christ.
That is, until “certain men came from James” (Gal. 2:12). Men of the “circumcision party.” Men preaching a “Jesus Plus” distortion of the good news. And Peter caves to the fear of man. Worried about public, and maybe popular opinion, he goes chameleon. As a “good Jew” would, he withdraws from fellowshiping with Gentiles. He sends a message that they still weren’t “clean enough” for him, as a Jew, to associate with. That though they had been washed by the blood of Christ . . . though their garments had been made white as snow . . . until they conformed to the rule of law given by Moses, their rescue and redemption was yet to be fully complete.
And so, caving to peer pressure, Peter’s behavior sends an unhealthy message concerning the gospel. A message picked up by the rest of the Jews in fellowship at Antioch . . . even derailing Barnabas, Paul’s close associate, so that they all were “led astray” by such hypocrisy.
And so Paul calls Peter on the carpet. As one steward of the gospel to another he says, “Give your head a shake!” Such is conduct unbecoming.
. . . we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16 ESV)
And I’m reminded that the gospel is not just some doctrinal truth that we once believed in order to “receive Christ” and “be saved.” It is an abiding truth by which we are to order our lives. Our behavior reflects the gospel we believe . . . it declares the justification we trust in.
Do we draw attention only to our successes . . . or to our failures, as well, knowing that His grace is sufficient . . . and that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9)? Are we critical of, and do we distance ourselves from, those struggling to walk in a manner worthy of their calling . . . or do we draw alongside, helping bear their load, knowing that we have fellowship with one another, not because of our performance, but because “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1:9)?
Peter’s was a conduct unbecoming the gospel because he communicated that justification was dependent on something more than faith alone in Christ. And such a reflection of the “good news” is no good news at all.
Might we beware of conduct unbecoming.
Instead, might we live lives in the humility which reflects our perpetual dependency on His finished work. Might we live lives in victory, knowing that we have an Advocate with the Father who intercedes for us, even now, in our weakness and failure. Might we live lives overflowing with charity as we deal with the failures of other sinners-saved-by-grace in light of the sufficiency of the cross and the abundance of His grace.
Conduct becoming . . . by the grace of God . . . for the glory of God.