The truth of the Gospel is in jeopardy as two apostles collide.

Ds J Bruintjes
Galatians 2:11-21
Preek Inhoud: 

Today we come to the last part of Paul’s story about his life. It all started back in 1:11-24 where we hear that the gospel came from Jesus Christ, and not from Jerusalem, then in 2:1-10 we heard that this gospel was the same as the Jerusalem apostles preached. It was not any different from the Gospel in Jerusalem. And now, just when it looks like it’s all settled, trouble hits. Peter had taken a little trip to Antioch to help the fledgling church out, and some of the leaders in Jerusalem had also come to visit Peter in Antioch. When these people showed up suddenly Peter was a different man. Let’s look at this text. I have titled this message,

The truth of the Gospel is in jeopardy as two apostles collide.

  1. Not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel: Public hypocrisy
  2. Acting in line with the truth of the Gospel: Public confrontation
  3. The Truth of the Gospel: Christ in me.


Not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel: Public hypocrisy

Paul says in verse 11, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Paul makes a strong point here. “I opposed him to his face.” It is that image of two people facing off, with their faces only inches apart, staring at each other. I am sure you could have

 heard a pin drop in that room. We will talk more about this in our second point. Here we can just briefly mention a few lessons.

First of all, Paul spoke to him face to face. He did not do it behind his back. He speaks to him face to face. Paul is just obeying the Lord Jesus here when Jesus says, “When your brother sins against you go and speak to him.” We have a biblical policy in this church: We talk to each other. And if we have a problem with anyone, we don’t talk to just anyone, but with the one with whom we have a problem.

Second lesson we can take home is this: the truth of the gospel does not bow down to anyone. No matter how important he or she may be. This is probably the harder lesson to hear. We all want to be liked, especially by our leaders. Or by important people – sometimes these people are paying our salary, or were our mentors, or even raised us. We may want to compromise at times, just a little, to make these people happy, for fear of losing that relationship. This is exactly what Peter did.

In verse 12 we read, “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 the circumcision group.” Before these people came Peter was happily partaking as a fellow “sinner” with the Gentiles, but now that these important Jews from Jerusalem came he no longer ate with “Gentile sinners.” It was because the Bible says he was afraid. He was afraid, what were they going to think? This kind of fear will always, always lead to hypocrisy. If we are worried what others think, we will try to please others. The worst is when a leader in the church of Christ forgets he is a slave of Jesus Christ, and therefore is set free from the slavery of finding approval. In the end they will not be judging you – God will.

But fear is what drove Peter to be a hypocrite, even though he knew better. Fear is one of those controlling emotions. Fear that we will be ridiculed, that we will be the odd man out. Fear that we will not be accepted as “one of them.” Sometimes fear is so strong that it can silence and not allow us to speak out against gross atrocities.

During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the terrible, terrible things that Joseph Stalin did. Once, as he spoke out against Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalin's colleagues. Why didn't you stop him?" "Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why?” I was afraid.

Fear can make us do things that we know not to be right. And the worst is, if the leader is not willing to take a stand then the people follow suit. Especially when the leader is extremely influential, as Peter was in the early church.  We read in verse 13, “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” Wow! The agreement that had been made in Galatians 2:1-10 was quickly unraveling as more and more people fell into this trap of talking out of two sides of their mouths. They wanted to accept the Gentile brothers in Christ, but did not want to be seen eating with them. You can’t say someone is a brother and sister and then decide to keep your distance. This is not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.

O to be seen by men, and do what people want you to do. That is the temptation of many leaders. Myself included. To please people, to make everyone happy, as least those that matter. Because that is exactly what happens when you try that – you make the people that you like happy, but you are not serving the whole body of Christ. The thing about leadership is that sometimes you will have to take a stand, and when you do you may feel like you are standing alone. That can be a lonely experience. I am sure Paul was not particularly excited to take a stand here, but he knew that he had to.

The church must remember to always act in line with the truth of the Gospel and that means not caring at all what people think when it comes to the heart of the gospel. The church, and especially her leader, must always take a stand for the sake of those Jesus loves, not the ones they love. That is how you act in line with the truth of the gospel, which brings us to our second point.

Acting in line with the truth of the Gospel: Public confrontation

Paul says in verse 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?” I bet you could have heard a pin drop when this happened. Some people in that room were probably cringing a little. But the gospel is worth taking a stand for.

When Paul went to Jerusalem to clear the air because people were saying that Peter and Paul were preaching a different Gospel, he went to the apostles privately (Galatians 2:2). But when Peter's hypocrisy is public and doing public damage, Paul's rebuke is public (Gal. 2:11-21). Paul cares not for his own reputation, but the advance of the gospel. When we find ourselves in the place where we must stand up for the Gospel, we must think through how to do so most winsomely, strategically, and lovingly.

Paul calls Peter out in front of everyone, and says, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile – in other words you ate and drank with Gentiles. By doing this he was admitting that he was a sinner just like the Gentiles. He was saying we need the same savior. This was in line with the truth of the gospel, but fear of others made him switch sides.

Verse 15 and 16 continues, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing he 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.” This is not the easiest passage, so I will try to put this in my own words. He is saying, “Listen Peter, we used to think we were different than these sinners – these Gentiles. But we know that we aren’t. Let’s admit that. We sin the way they do, we struggle the way they do. What plagues us plagues them. Simply by experience we know that we share in their broken humanity. That’s why we also know that a person is not considered worthy or righteous by God based on the Torah, or law observance, but through faith in what Christ has done. Through Faith in Christ we admit that we are sinners and can’t live up to the law.

 Which is why he adds in verse 17, “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!” You see if Jews by birth are now required to share the table of Christ with Gentile sinners, they are crossing the line from Jewish righteousness, into Gentile sin, showing that they share in that sin, in that alienation from God. By eating with Gentiles they were being labeled as sinners. The choice here is, that the law would preserve the Jewish “righteousness”, and loyalty to Christ would convict them of sin.

But the Jewish righteousness of law obedience could not be the righteousness before God. It is like trying to taking outdated money to the bank. Like collecting 6 guilders in Holland, when the country no longer uses that money. It is dead currency, dead money. In fact, it was never the currency of worth before God. The only thing of worth is faith in Christ’s work and person.

Faith in Christ is a declaration of our bankruptcy. It is not a human achievement or a refined spirituality. It is a radical and shattering recognition that the only money worth having in God’s economy is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Faith directed to, and centered on Christ, confesses our own bankruptcy while at the same time confessing that the only thing worth investing in is Christ. By eating with Gentiles the Jews were confessing their sinfulness and utter dependence on Christ, this is why he can say, “If while we see to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin?” The Answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT. NO with a capital “N”. Believing in Christ is an admission of sin, of brokenness, but believing in Christ does NOT promote sin.

Paul explains in verse 18, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.” If he tries to build up what has been demolished (that is the authority of the law), then Paul himself would be a lawbreaker because he eats regularly with Gentiles, and has been doing so for a good 14 years. Something the law forbids.

And then he makes one of the most ironic statements in verse 19, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.” No one in second temple Judaism would ever say anything like this. We read this and it doesn’t shock us, because we are so familiar with it! But for them it would have been a complete shock! Living according to the law, or Torah, was living for God! You don’t need to die to the law to live for God. Living for the law and living for God went together.

But now the guiding principle of a Christian is no longer a rule, but a relationship. Even in our life they stand against each other. You don’t have a set of ten commandments to live your life. And yet there are still rules you obey – out of love.  He is not doing away with the law completely, but he is doing away with it as the guiding principle in a persons’ life. Christ who fulfilled the law is now the guiding principle. It is the law that revealed the sin of man – so that he might realize his own death in that law, and rise with Christ. It all comes back to Christ. If he had not been perfect in every respect of the mosaic law – we would be under the law. But in Christ, we too, die to the law through the law.

Let me illustrate: A duck hunter was with a friend in the bush. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a bushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Digging through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit the bushes on fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept around them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.


The law is like a bushfire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair of my head will be singed. Christ's death has disarmed it. And just like tremendous new life happens after a bush fire, so it is with the death of Christ. He killed the punishment of death under the law so that we may enjoy tremendous new life in him – a life of freedom. Freedom to live a profoundly human life – created in the image of God, to life with him and enjoy him forever. That is the gospel of Christ in me.

The Truth of the Gospel of Christ: Christ in me:

The weight of the law will crush you. Because you can never live up to it. We disappoint ourselves again and again. And that is where Christ stepped in. Although he obeyed that law, he was still crushed by it, because he was treated like you and me should have been treated. And in him you may find freedom from that crushing weight, of never having to live up to expectations.

About a month or so ago the lead singer of a music band called Linkin Park committed suicide. His parents divorced when he was 11 years old.. After the divorce, Bennington started abusing marijuana, alcohol, opium, cocaine, methamphetamine, and LSD. He was physically bullied in high school. In an interview, he said, "I was knocked around like a rag doll at school, for being skinny and looking different." He was married twice, with children from three different women. Four months ago, a close friend of his committed suicide, and two months later, on his friends birthday, he too committed suicide. The pain of his life can be heard through the lyrics of one of his early songs…

I'm tired of being what you want me to be

Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface

Don't know what you're expecting of me

Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes

Caught in the undertow

Every step that I take is another mistake to you



I've become so numb I can't feel you’re there

Become so tired, so much more aware

I'm becoming this, all I want to do

Is be more like me and be less like you


That dear church is what it is like to live under the law –a constant feeling of not being good enough. “Every step that I take is another mistake to you… all I want to do is be more like me and be less like you.” It is sadly ironic that the music video of this song is filmed in a church. The hope of Christ was there but he couldn’t let go of his own life, He did not want Christ in him, but wanted to be more like ‘me’. The problem is “the me” is trapped in sin, trapped under the law. No human being can escape the law – except in Christ. The only way out is to be crucified with Christ, so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Not me, but him. You see, the opposite of finding life in Christ is finding it in yourself. And you will always disappoint yourself – you will never be good enough. But in Christ – not only are you good enough – you are perfect.  In his work and life is righteousness: A perfect righteousness that will stand the test of a perfectly just God. Run to the rock of Christ – find your name written on his heart – and always find a refuge there.


We read in verse 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.” Christ in me. Believer: You died with Christ on that cross, and Christ came to live in you – to make a home in you.  He clothed you with himself – so that by faith in Christ, when God sees you, he sees his Son. That is mind blowing, that this weak sinful me and you, through faith in Christ are seen as God would see Christ himself. Our life is both replaced by Christ’s life, “It is no longer I who live”, and it is also re-made, “the life I now live.” A new self has been created in Christ – and therefore Paul has no problem addressing those people later as responsible agents for their actions in v. chapter 6. But even there, it goes back to a union with Christ.

No wonder all glory at the end of the day goes to Christ.  The life you live in the body – not just your soul or spirit – but the life you live in your flesh and blood body right now, you live by faith in the Son of God. Do you believe that? What happens through faith in Christ is a mysterious fundamental change in existence. You become part of something new. You become someone new.

This faith is not in some distant God, but in the Son of God himself who loved you and showed that love by giving himself for you. Under the law we would have stood condemned under its authority. But the Son of God says “take me”! Let me be condemned. Let that curse fall on me – so that in me he may be eternally set free. Christ died for you to make you righteous. If you could get into heaven because of all the things you did, Christ died for nothing.

As we read in the last verse, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” That is the statement to nail the coffin shut to Peter’s hypocrisy. “If you keep living like this brother you are pretending like Christ died for nothing. Don’t go back to the law – there is a new law – the law of Christ. Our value is found in relation to his work and his work alone. No longer do we have rules written out – we are placed in a relationship, so we obey certain rules because our hearts are filled with his presence. Jesus Christ: here is one ultimate authority in your life. Here is the one thing that you should value, and the one thing that you want recognized about yourself is that God would see you in Christ, and Christ in you.

This is something that the baptism which we are going to witness in a little while shows. An identification with Christ. A sign that this little girl shares in Christ’s death by going under the water, and shares in his life by arising out of the water, so that in Him, the triune God may be her God forever. This is an amazing promise!