It was a big deal. And he had to be called on it. Though Paul valued Peter’s right hand of fellowship, he could not stand by silently when Peter took a wrong turn–not if it implied something about the gospel that was not true.
Peter knew better. It had been revealed to him, and then through him, that God shows no impartiality. That salvation through the finished work was not only available to the Jew but to the Gentile as well (Acts 10:34-48). That what God would cleanse through the blood of Jesus should not be called common or unclean. That it wasn’t obedience that resulted in justification, but grace. That acceptance before God was not a matter of legalism and law, but of a reverential fear and faith. Peter knew that. But, even apostles war against the flesh.
So, when certain men of James came to Antioch, where Peter had been enjoying fellowship with his Gentile brothers and sisters, the fear of man overcame the fear of God. These who had embraced the cross but couldn’t let go of their circumcision apparently criticized Peter freely for eating at the Gentiles table. In their estimation, though the sins of the Gentiles may have been washed away, their food was still unclean. Though they might have been adopted by God, they weren’t yet fully part of the family. And so when they came and applied their pressure, Peter “drew back and separated himself” from the Gentile believers “fearing the circumcision party.”
And it was a big deal. Other believing Jews followed suit. Peter was a leader and he was leading by example . . . leading others astray through his hypocrisy.
So Paul called him on it.
But 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 2:14 ESV)
The conduct of Peter and those who followed him was not in step with the truth of the gospel. Though they embraced the freedom of the power of salvation by faith alone, they failed to live out practicing a salvation by faith alone. Though they had gloried in being deemed clean through the blood of the Lamb, their actions communicated that the blood only worked in concert with their self-cleansing efforts. Though they relished being loved by God despite their failure, others could not expect the same self-sacrificing love apart from their performance. Though they said they believed God so love the world , their practice implied, “only if the world so follows the law.”
They were out of step with the gospel. They failed to walk in a straight course. Literally, they “did not foot it aright.” And Paul called Peter & Co. on it.
Too much was at stake to not demand that they behave in accordance with their belief. The potential distortion of the gospel required a consistency with their creed.
If God so loved the world, so too must those redeemed through that love. If whoever believes should not perish, then whoever believes should also not play the hypocrite. If those who receive the gospel would have everlasting life, then, by that same gospel, they should receive all who have everlasting life–and embrace doing that life together.
It’s important to be in step with the gospel. That our conduct align with our catechisms. That what we say we believe is evidenced by how we behave.
And not that it’s some new law to keep. Instead, it is our liberty in Christ to be lived out through the sanctifying power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Not another set of rules on how to “gospel behave”, but an overflowing, gratitude-induced response in light of the gospel we believe.
It’s a big deal.
Because of grace. For His glory!