Galatians 2:11-14, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?’”
I want to recap what’s actually taking place in this passage using a little creative license… What Peter did would be like you (white) sitting at a table one Sunday afternoon enjoying a nice pork chop, cooked in pig fat, covered with bacon with a group of missionaries from Africa (black) when you catch word that two of your white supremacist, vegan, Christian friends (we’ll call them Brothers Whitey McFly and Roscoe Aryan) are about to arrive.
Sure while you know that as a result of “Grace.” Jesus has made us all one people (that there is fundamentally no difference between blacks and whites) and His work on the cross liberated us from the dietary restrictions of veganism so that we can eat whatever we want…
You are also aware these brothers not only find eating meat (especially pork) to be repulsive as they view their vegan lifestyle as being more pleasing to God, but they also see the mixing of races as an equal abomination (God created each according to its kind).
Now this places you into a precarious position… Since you don’t want to cause a stir or ruffle any feathers and would prefer to maintain unity in this church by not offending these weaker brothers, not only do you get up from the “black table” and go sit at the “white table,” but before doing so you instruct this group of African missionaries that they are no longer allowed to eat pork chops and should only eat fruits and berries.
Clearly such a dynamic would be outlandish and outrageous! And yet, please know (A) this is basically what Peter is doing, and (B) you can now completely understand why Paul was so upset by what he was seeing! Peter was absolutely wrong, and Paul’s rage justified!
And to make matters worse don’t forget this was Peter! As a Christian he not only represented Jesus, but as an Apostle he possessed significant authority within the church. He was famous and held a position of significant influence in Christianity.
The sad tale was that Peter’s actions were not Christ-like! In actuality, the way he handled the situation in Antioch ran completely counterintuitive to the truth of the Gospel message.
This not only explains why Paul was so incensed, but it explains why he felt an obligation to confront Peter in such a public, brazen way. Paul believed this was not a matter that could be handled privately between brothers, so he literally got into Peter’s face in front of everyone. There is no doubt Paul felt a responsibility to act swiftly and decisively lest anyone get the false impression that somehow Peter had been justified in his actions.
From Paul’s perspective, in this moment, the Gospel message was experiencing its greatest assault… A respected man of God like Peter and to a lesser extent Paul’s friend Barnabas acting in such a way would have set a terrible precedent. If this situation went unaddressed Paul feared it could have completely undermined what had been settled in Acts 15.
What really amazes me about this entire situation and the reason it demands our constant consideration is the specific issue Paul was taking Peter to task concerning. Paul writes of this event, “I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?’”
Did you notice what’s missing? Amazingly, what upset Paul more than anything wasn’t Peter’s blatant racism, but instead his hypocrisy and active limitation of Christian liberty! The limiting of liberty was an issue for Paul that transcended even the racial bigotry at play.
Now don’t get me wrong this Jewish bigotry towards the Gentiles had no place in the church during the first century nor do similar prejudices have a place today; and yet, this was not the issue Paul goes after! Instead, he targets the “manner” in which they were living.
Before everyone Paul is saying, “Peter, if you as a good Jew have no problems eating un-kosher, then why are you asking Gentiles to now forgo this liberty?” Imagine that! Paul’s approach would be similar to overlooking the fact that Cracker Jack left the “black table” for the “white table” and instead taking him to task over the way he approached pork chops!
Why did Paul find this issue to be so important? Last Sunday we addressed how fear is often the driver behind the limitation of Christian liberty; and yet, you should understand fear is not the only motivator. Sadly, there are many Christians who seek to limit liberty and minimize the freedom of “Grace.” from a false position of moral superiority.
Realize… The motivation behind the Jewish bigotry towards the Gentiles rested in a false belief that their adherence to the law (specifically circumcision and the dietary restrictions) made them morally superior to those Christians who didn’t engage in such practices.
And it’s this reality that explains why instead of addressing Peter’s bigotry Paul targets the root feeding his bigotry! Paul had to act because Peter’s act of limiting the liberty of these Gentiles would have substantiated the very reasoning that had fostered this faulty sense of Jewish moral superiority over the Gentiles… A perversion of “Grace.”
And yet, since obeying the law (“Grace, And” do these things or “Grace, But” don’t do these things) had no bearing on one’s standing before God or for that matter even the maintaining of this standing, Paul’s challenge of Peter was aimed at pointing out that he had fundamentally zero justification to “compel Gentiles to live as Jews!”
It’s to this point that I’d like to speak to an issue that constantly surfaces anytime the limitation of Christian liberty is discussed… Alcohol! Before I continue I do want to say in an attempt to be fully transparent that every Elder in our church drinks alcohol (including myself) and none of us hide this reality. We believe the “you can drink as long as no one knows you drink” approach is disingenuous, hypocritical, if not flat out wrong and dangerous. We all drink. It’s open, public, and not something we’re trying to keep concealed from view.
Furthermore, alcohol is not a topic discussed with any type of frequency at Calvary316 nor is drinking something we promote. I don’t want a reputation as the “Drinking Pastor” and only care to be known as a Jesus Freak who believes grace changes everything. The truth is that we only address issues as they arise in the Scriptures. So this morning alcohol becomes a topic simply because it’s a perfect illustration for this idea of the limiting liberty!
Personally, I find Paul’s approach in this passage helpful to this discussion for I see no difference between Peter’s instruction that these Gentiles were to lay aside their liberties by eating kosher and the predominate position held by many fundamental Christians that believers should abstain from drinking alcohol. Both positions are fed from the same root!
For example… When you replace the topic at hand “eating kosher” with “drinking alcohol” Galatians 2:11-14 reads the exact same way… “Now when Peter had come to Antioch I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James who took issue with Christians drinking alcohol, Peter would enjoy a beer with the Gentiles; but when these teetotalers came, Peter put down his beer and separated himself from those who were still drinking, fearing those who found this liberty offensive.
And the rest of the Jews who were also enjoying their liberty by drinking with the Gentiles played the hypocrite with Peter, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy (they liked beer). But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, enjoy beer in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews who abstain, why do you compel Gentiles to abstain?’”
Now don’t get me wrong… It’s not that I’m ignorant to the potential damage the abuse of alcohol can have in a person’s life and family (it is an undeniable reality that our society has a drinking problem that needs to be addressed… it’s also true that in love Christians should wisely consider how we enjoy this liberty in the presence of those who’ve had a history of substance abuse); and yet, what irritates me most is the fact that many who preach the prohibition of alcohol end up doing so from a position of moral superiority.
Sadly, instead of an honest discussion as to the way in which the Bible addresses alcohol abuse (that it’s a sinful manifestation of much deeper, Spiritual issues)…
Or the way in which the church can effectively help people struggling with alcoholism (that only Jesus can deal with the inner issues driving this destructive behavior)…
Most of the conversations I’ve had with Christians who are “against drinking” alcohol end up boiling down to one underlying point… They claim, “While I concede the Bible doesn’t prohibit a Christian from drinking, you’ll be a better Christian (like me) if you don’t drink!”
It’s the same reasoning behind all limiting of liberty… Though we have all been saved by Jesus, the Christian who abstains from _________ is morally superior! It’s Pharisaical.
Frankly, the reason this line of thinking doesn’t jive with me and why I’ve fought to defend the right of myself and others to enjoy liberty at great personal cost is that this position is in actuality nothing more than a Gospel distortion founded on a false sense of moralism, self-justification, or your role in the process of sanctification.
I know that’s a heavy statement, but the reality is that most arguments advocating for the prohibition of alcohol (or any liberty) fundamentally oppose “Grace.” because they claim what a person does or what they abstain from doing plays a role in that individual’s sanctification. What I mean by “sanctification” is the process of becoming more like Jesus.
You see while the Bible is crystal clear that drunkenness is a sin completely inconsistent with a life in Grace (this is a point we can all universally agree upon), the truth is that drinking alcohol or abstaining from alcohol has zero bearing on a person’s right-standing before God.
Please understand, if you have the personal conviction that you need to abstain from drinking you have that right, freedom, and prerogative as long as you realize the following…
You see as Christians we’re all called to one moral standard… Jesus - not each other! Jesus is the template for what a Godly life should look like! And you know what… In a culture that also had a major problem with alcoholism Jesus drank responsibly and He did so in public!
So many people overlook or dismiss entirely a passage like we find in Matthew 11:19 (ESV) where we’re told, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard (one given to wine), a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” How interesting that the religious right in Jesus’ day accused Him of drinking to much!
As Paul continues his letter to the Galatians (specifically following his full rebuttal of these men who had come teaching this distorted Gospel) he transitions by focusing on this situation with Peter in Antioch in order to address a perplexing and in many ways logical question on the mind of his audience… If the matter of “Grace.” had been settled so many years earlier why had this issue resurfaced again in Galatia? In a Christian culture more known by what we restrict than what we enjoy the same question is relevant.
I believe Paul brings up this situation with Peter in order to answer this hypothetical question by illustrating how easy it is for anyone to fall into the trappings of legalism!
It really is amazing to consider that of all men it was Peter who took this approach with the Gentiles in Antioch! In Acts 11:1-18 Peter returns to Jerusalem after taking the Gospel to the Gentile world, “Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’ But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying…
‘I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.' But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.'
Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house.
And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.
Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
Just a few years before Peter traveled to Antioch and effectively stepped in it and was called out accordingly, he had been accused of the very thing he feared… Jewish legalist (“the circumcision”) publicly questioning his decision to eat with Gentiles! They confronted him!
And yet, in this instance, Peter doesn’t placate to their sensibilities or tiptoe around the truth so as not to offend someone… Instead, he boldly defends his actions and the Gospel. Again let me read a section of Acts 15:7-11, “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’”
So how is it that Peter (once a defender of the Gospel) now finds himself slipping into legalism? Answer: The law is our natural default anytime we take our eyes off Jesus!
You see the lie of the various Gospel distortions is that something can actually be added to the message of “Grace.”… That grace is best served with a partner!
And yet, this is a total misconception. Adding something to the Gospel (no matter the intention) no longer makes it the Gospel! Paul was clear in Galatians 1:6-7, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Because the Old Covenant of Law was instituted by God to specifically deal with our fallen nature whereas the New Covenant of Grace was designed to operate within our new nature brought forth through the indwelling Holy Spirit, “Grace.” is an either/or proposition!
Friend, you are either abiding in God’s grace or you’re trying to measure up to God’s law. You’re either free or you’re in bondage. Your right-standing before God is either earned or it’s given… Maintained or enjoyed… Marked by a clinched fist or illustrated with an open hand!
You’re either approaching God at Mount Sinai or Golgotha… Holding onto tablets of stone or bending a knee before a wooden cross… Moses or Jesus… An example to immolate or a Savior to intervene… Religion or relationship… Your works or His work… Your striving or His sufficiency. When it comes to God’s favor it’s either achievement or acceptance… Walking in His Spirit or your flesh… God’s grace or His law… It’s always either one or the other!
You see this “either/or” reality explains why it is that anytime we take our eyes off of Jesus we inevitably run back to the law! While grace is conditioned for life in the Spirit, it is our flesh that so quickly reverts back to the law in order to feed its craving to be self-righteousness. The law is always the default mode of our fallen nature.
If you feel the need to abstain from alcohol that’s fine, as long as you don’t come to see this action making you a better Christian than the person who doesn’t share that conviction. Such an approach is not yielded by grace, but the law feeding a false sense of moral standing.
This is why it’s so important you’re constantly guarding against the subtle incursions of legalism… Not only is it natural, but legalism indicates you’re no longer walking in the Spirit! If you learn anything from Peter’s failure it should be the stark reality as to how easy it is to exchange grace for the law, liberty for bondage, a relationship with Jesus for religion. Rules for self to obey do nothing more than elevate the position of self which is to die!
It’s why a few years back when we were discussing the importance of the original Outlaw Series through Galatians my dear friend Gary Lawler remarked, “Galatians is my go to book anytime I feel the Pharisee in me starting to raise his ugly head.” Amen! Amen! Amen!
Legalistic tendencies in my life need to be addressed not only for how they negatively effect those around me (which they do by destroying the joy a Christian community based in grace should yield), but mainly for what they indicate is happening in my own heart. Is God’s grace enough? If it isn’t the problem isn’t God’s grace, but my departure from grace.
The good news about this battle royal recorded in this passage is that it would seem Peter not only heard what Paul had to say, but in the end repented of his departure from grace! To illustrate this let me read for you Peter’s final words recorded in 2 Peter 3:14-18.
He writes, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles… Speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”
Since I introduced the controversial topic of alcohol to illustrate my larger point, let me tie that up before we close… First, drunkenness is a sin and since alcohol can yield drunkenness it demands prudency. Friend, it’s impossible to get a DUI if you never drink and drive!
Two, think about why you’re drinking. If you like the taste of Scotch, red wine pairs nicely with your meal, NASCAR is unwatchable without a beer, a cold one is refreshing after a hard-days work, or a nightcap helps you unwind - Enjoy responsibly! However, if you find yourself drinking because you’re depressed, you can’t unwind or have fun without its aid, or it numbs the pain… Alcohol has become an idol and will prove to be a terrible savior.
In the end, since sanctification is the process of God’s grace and the indwelling of His Spirit making you more like Jesus, my exhortation is rather simple… Drink like Jesus drank.
Three, if you don’t want to drink, don’t like the taste, or you possess a personal conviction that it would be dangerous given your already addictive personality, don’t! It’s that simple. That said… Don’t push your conviction onto someone else or limit liberty. And if you’re uncomfortable around someone who does drink - tell them. They’ll either abstain because they enjoy hanging out with you or they won’t because you’re annoying.
As we close, let me try to package everything we’ve been discussing into the most simplistic way I possibly can…
Legalism is born in fear, not faith…
Relying on law, not grace…
Emphasizing my sacrifice, not His…
Fostering a sense of moral superiority…
Appealing to my flesh…
Making legalism contagious…
And in the end destructive!
But the Gospel is born in faith, not fear…
Relying on grace, not law…
Emphasizing His sacrifice, not mine…
Fostering a sense of moral humility…
Consistent with His Spirit…
Making the Gospel contagious…
And in the end uplifting!
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