SALT 2/11/03 Galatians 2:11-21
GAL 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 "We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners' 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. 17 "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"
Christians have always wrestled with the question, 'What is acceptable Christian conduct?' A long time ago slavery was accepted by Christians. At one time Christians were discouraged from going to the cinema or to dances? Some think that it is Christian not to drink. Should Christians work on Sundays? Have to go to church every Sunday? Have to give a proportion of their income to church/charities? Live a sexually pure life? As Christians do we not have to try to follow the ways of God with too much effort because He will forgive us anyway?
These are some of the issues addressed in Paul's letter to the church at Galatia. The church in Galatia had been infiltrated by 'Judaizers'. They said that to be put right with God you not only had to trust in Jesus but you also had to obey the Old testament Law including circumcision. This is why they were called the circumcision group, verse 12.
Before this letter was written God had revealed in a vision to Peter that the gospel was for anyone and everyone, Jew and Gentile ( Acts 10 ). It did not depend on people's adherence to the Old Testament Law but by the free and undeserved acceptance of His grace shown by Jesus' life, death, and ascension.
God confirmed the gospel was for everyone by sending the Holy Spirit upon the first Gentile believers, Acts 10:44. This was verified by the first church council at Jerusalem, in Acts 15. James, the brother of Jesus and head of the church at Jerusalem said, Acts 15:19 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
In a recent interview Leslie Grantham, who is 'Dirty Den' in 'Eastenders' shared how he had been filming abroad and discovered the delights of Italian food. Even though the hotel had a world-wide reputation for its cuisine, fishfingers and other British foods were flown out for the cast and crew of the production he was involved in. Whilst some of us enjoy 'foreign' foods, many of us would baulk at the idea of eating sheep's eyeballs, raw fish, and other dishes considered a delicacy abroad.
One of the issues that concerned the first Jewish Christians was whether had to stick to the dietary requirements of the Old Testament Law. To change would have required them to go against everything they had ever learned and done. Not only that they would have to mix with Gentiles and most religious Jews would avoid contact with them. Even if they had to come into contact with them they would consider themselves as defiled and go through a ritual cleansing before worshipping God.
When visitors came, verse 12, Peter went back upon what he knew was right. He stopped eating and mixing with Gentiles and went back to meeting and eating with Jews who stuck to the Old Testament dietary laws. The visitors are described as being from James to indicate that they were Jews from the church in Jerusalem led by James, rather than to indicate that he was a Judaizer.
Peter ignored his vision, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles and the Council at Jerusalem, Acts 15. Verse 12, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. Peter was influenced by 'peer pressure' if you like. These other Jews influenced him to reject what he knew to be right and act in another way.
We live in a world that has rejected the ways of God. That is why it is in so much of a mess. The evidence is there. We live in a world of crime, injustice, hostility, starvation and exploitation. Why should we think that following the ways of the world will make us or anyone else happy and secure? But there is still the pressure to do what other people do, to conform to the ways of the world.
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
There has recently been a programme on the human minds featuring Professor Robert Winstone. It showed how the minds has certain paths of thinking that are established. Professor Winstone illustrated this by showing people walking in a corn field showing that it was easier to tread a well worn path than to start a new one.
God calls us to establish a new path for us, a new way of thinking. Not following our old sinful ways. Jesus has already followed the right path and flattened the path for us. We are called to follow his way. His Spirit will give us the strength that we need to walk his way.
One of the ways in which the church is currently experiencing 'peer pressure' is in the area of human sexuality. I have recently watched television news programmes where broad mindedness and tolerance were preached to Christians who held a traditional Biblical view of human sexuality. Verses from the Old Testament were derided as out of date and being used selectively. However, this ignores the broad message of the Bible that underlines all of its teaching on human sexual activity. Namely that God invented sex to be enjoyed by a heterosexual, married couple as an expression of their love, commitment and acceptance of one another. This is a 'creation ordinance', something Jesus recognised when he answered the Pharisees when they questioned him about divorce, Mark 10:6ff.
We should be afraid of nothing and no-one save Almighty God. His opinion counts over all others. He will decide if our faith is radical enough to spend eternity in His presence.
As a train was about to leave a large railroad station, the conductor began to take tickets. Looking at the ticket of the first passenger he remarked, "Friend, I think you're on the wrong train!" "But," replied the man, "the ticket agent told me this was my train." After a little discussion, the conductor decided to check with the ticket agent. Before long, it became clear that the conductor was on the wrong train! When the leader is lost, how can the followers be on the right track?
Peter was the leader of the early church and, like any leader was called to set an example. He stopped mixing with Gentiles and unfortunately, other people followed his bad example. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
On many occasions in Scripture the leaders of God's people are called to live godly lives as an example and an encouragement to believers and as a witness to the world. Every believer is called to follow the ways of God, there are no dual standards in God's kingdom. Obedience shows that our faith is real. Peter was called a hypocrite, literally a play actor. Someone who says they believe in something but behave contrary to their profession.
We live in a time when some parts of the church are following the ways of the world rather than God's ways. The newspapers have recently featured this regarding the election of a practising homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, in the United States and in the approval of a service of blessing for same sex couples in Canada.
How do we respond to this?
There is some guidance in today's passage. From verse 14 Paul highlights what Peter is doing wrong and invites him to repent. To change direction. This is not about personalities, someone spoiling for an arguments but not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. There will be times when as Christians we have to stand up for the gospel. There is a sense in which this has been going on in the media and in meetings of Bishops convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course, it should go without saying that such action is undergirded in prayer and undertaken with humility, yet without watering down the gospel.
One of the amazing things about the debate of human sexuality is the idea that what we should describe as sexual immorality is a recent invention! In 1 Corinthians Paul deals with sexual immorality within the Corinthian church. He outlines how to deal with an unrepentant church member.
1 Cor. 5:9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
The goal of this is to lead the unrepentant 'sinner' back to the Christian faith. It is also to stop them influencing fellow believers in the way that Peter influenced those around him, verse 13. There is the sense in which every Christian is a sinner, but where there is an obvious sin which has been revealed to the sinner the last step in church discipline is to expel them from the church. Jesus spoke of this...
MT 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This type of process is being considered within the worldwide Anglican church so that the dioceses who have rejected scripture, reason and tradition, the foundations of the Christian faith, will be ostracized by the rest of the world wide church and those within these dioceses will be offered alternative oversight so they do not have to compromise their faith by accepting an immoral Bishop.
Some of the issues involve the questions, "What is a Christian?" and "Is it someone who tries to obey God's law?"
( We )16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Justify is a legal term meaning to declare righteous or innocent. There are two ways to seek this declaration from God We can have a righteous standing before God if we follow all of His ways all of the time. We need to be morally perfect, like Him. Paul acknowledges that no-one can be declared righteous in this way here in verse 16 and in Romans 3:23, 'For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' The yardstick against which we will be measured if we follow the route of the law is the glory of God. Not how I see myself or how I compare myself with other people. When we think of this we have to admit that we fail, miserably, and often.
The other way to seek to be righteous in God's eyes is to be united with Jesus by faith through the work of God's Spirit. God is just and will punish sin. Bur He is also love and does not want people to sin or be punished for sin. Therefore, God, in Christ, received the just punishment for sin which is separation from God. That is why Jesus cried on the cross, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'. Three days later Jesus was given life.
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
To be united with Jesus believers need to have crucified their sinful nature and risen to a new life that is given by God. A life free from condemnation and guilt, free from the power of sin, free to obey God's ways. This involves faith which is a free gift from God. But what is faith? A Bible commentary describes it in this way. " Faith is trust. It begins with knowledge, so it is not blind. It builds on facts, so it is not speculation. It stakes its life on the outcome, so it is not impractical. Faith is trusting Christ and proving his promises. The expression in the middle of v. 16, literally "we have believed into Christ," implies an act of personal commitment, not just assenting to the facts concerning Christ, but actually running to him for refuge and seeking mercy."
Paul addresses the accusation that God's grace promotes sin. 17 "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!
Nothing that we can do and nothing that we fail to do do can make God love us more, or can make him love us less. Those of us who are parents know that we do not love our offspring less when they are disobedient. However, this does not mean that we can sin and do what we like! Christianity leads to obedience, obedience does not lead to Christianity. That is to say that our faith makes us Christians and, in turn, this leads to us showing that we really do trust in Jesus by living our life trying to put God first. We are new people having died to our old way of life and risen to new resurrection life. Our whole lives, therefore, are to be lived in the knowledge that we are freely and undeservedly forgiven by God through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son. We celebrate and proclaim that in this Communion service.
Our lives are to be a joyful, daily response of worship to God's generous, free, undeserved gift.
This week I was sent an e-mail entitled 'Visiting Day'.
"He was looking forward to this moment. After 6 days of labour it finally arrived - Visiting Day! The man with the keys arrived to swing open the large, heavy doors. The cold grey hall springs to life in the warm glow of light. He could hardly control His emotions.
The families began to arrive. He peers from the corner of the room longing for the first glimpse of His loved one. He lives for the weekends. He lives for these visits. As the cars arrive, He watches intently. Then, finally, they arrive, for whom He would do anything. They embrace, eat together and reminisce how things used to be. At one point, they break into singing, with interruptions of laughter and applause.
But all too soon it is over. A tear comes to His eyes as they depart. Then the man with the keys closes the heavy doors. He hears the key turn in the lock marking the end of a special day. There He stands, alone again. He knows that most of His visitors will not contact Him again till next week. As the last car pulls away from the parking lot, Jesus retreats into loneliness as He waits until next Sunday - Visiting Day."
Let us live in the light of God's love and grace and make Jesus part of our lives every day.
Amazing grace; An army of ordinary people; Be still; Fight the good fight; Here is love vast as the ocean; I am a new creation; Jesus is King; Only by grace; Praise my soul; Rejoice, rejoice Christ is in you; The price is paid; What kind of love is this; Who is on the Lord's side; The power of your love; Wonderful grace;