Galatians 2:11-14 11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But 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 – Paul knew what the Gospel is. Even though he had not been among the original band of followers of Jesus, he had had a truly wonderful encounter with Him that led to His conversion. Peter, in contrast to Paul, was one of the first apostles chosen by the Lord. He saw Jesus crucified, was one of the two first apostles to see the empty tomb. He saw Jesus ascend into heaven. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of confidants and leaders. He was the first preacher of the Gospel after Pentecost, the first leader of the church at Jerusalem. Paul is quite right to call Peter a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church (2:9).
But Peter, despite the marvelous wonders he saw, heard and experienced, wrestled with an issue for, it seems, most of his Christian life. He needed to be convinced that the old covenant, with all its regulations, was truly obsolete. God taught him this in unmistakable fashion in the vision He gave Peter in Acts 10. Peter seems to have learned it for his own testimony was ” “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…” Acts 10:34-35.
But old sins die hard. Sometime after Acts 10 Peter retreated and started making distinctions again based on the differences between Jew and Gentile. This was due to fear of the Jews who maintained that salvation was by grace plus obedience to certain aspects of the Law. When Paul met up with Peter he challenged him to his face.
What a meeting that must have been! The young upstart convert, former murderer of the church, dares to challenge the great Peter. And Paul was right. Peter was fudging on the Gospel. And that simply cannot be tolerated. We should be willing to overlook a multitude of sins (a teaching of the same Peter we are dealing with here) but there are some sins that absolutely must be challenged.
The greatest sin of all is to change the Gospel into something whereby we contribute to our salvation. Never, never, never, add to the Gospel or take away from it. Any altering of the Gospel is a slander upon Jesus Christ. It is to accuse Him of not doing enough or doing more than necessary. Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the Gospel. There are no works involved. This Gospel produces a life of good works but there is not an iota of those efforts of ours that causes God to save us. Depart from that and you have departed from the only Gospel there is. Paul saw the potential of it in Peter and challenged him on it. Peter, because he was a real believer, saw the rightness of Paul’s position and repented of his error (see II Peter 3:14-17).
Let us never make the same error that he did. And if we do or have, let us repent of it now. People’s souls hang in the balance.