Summary: Concerning justification by faith alone we see Paul’s 1) REACTION 2) STATEMENT AND 3) DEFENCE
After a big event like a political campaign, leaders are called to justify their actions. They are asked why they choose to ignore certain polling advice, why they choose certain policies while ignoring others and choose the talking points as they did. For some they saw the majority victory that they wanted slip from their grasp. For others, it probably means their job.
The Apostle Paul called the actions of certain Christians to account in Galatia. Their deviation from the Gospel occurred when their actions proclaimed a message different from their words.
The actions of Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jewish believers in Antioch were not simply a matter of personal hypocrisy. Their capitulation to the Judaizers, by example if not by doctrine, was fracturing the church. The fact that Peter and Barnabas were spiritual leaders made the matter immeasurably worse For years they had taught justification by faith alone, and they had exemplified that teaching in their lives. The Antioch church had become a model of Jewish-Gentile fellowship and harmony, and almost overnight it had become the opposite.
When you ask most people how they expect to become right with God their answers are usually based on works. They try to justify their actions before God. For those who trust their works and are not justified by faith in Christ alone, the result is eternal death. For Christians, who phrase their standing before God by a work they did, like saying “I am right with God because I accepted Jesus into my heart”, the message they give is that we become right with God based on something we do. Understanding the concept of Justification by faith alone is a matter of life and death.
Chapter two of Galatians has been Paul’s biographical defense of his Apostolic authority and Gospel. After he defended the truth of the Gospel against Peter’s hypocritical actions countering justification by faith alone we see 1) HIS REACTION (Galatians 2:14–15) 2) HIS STATEMENT (Galatians 2:15–16) AND 3) HIS DEFENCE (Galatians 2:17–21)
1) HIS REACTION (Galatians 2:14)
Galatians 2:14-15 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?"
As we saw, the withdrawal of the Jewish believers from the Gentiles was likely gradual; but as soon as Paul realized what was happening he immediately reacted against it. When [he] saw that their conduct was not in step/not straightforward with the truth of the gospel, he sharply rebuked Peter (Cephas).
As an apostle Peter was the most accountable, and it was his wrong example that had drawn the others into the destructive hypocrisy.
The phrase of Peter not being in step/straightforward is from orthopodeô, a compound of orthos (straight) and pous (foot) that means to walk straight, or uprightly. One scholar translates verse 14a as, “They were not walking on the straight path towards the truth of the gospel.” In withdrawing from their Gentile brethren, Peter and the others were not living parallel to God’s Word, not walking a straight spiritual course.
Because Peter’s offense was public, Paul rebuked him before them all/in the presence of all, unmasking his hypocrisy before the whole congregation.
• Every believer in Antioch, and doubtlessly many unbelievers as well, knew that Peter was no longer associating with Gentiles as he had once done so freely and openly
• In order to avoid jumping to conclusions or base actions on second-hand reports, we saw the requirement of several witnesses that a charge against an eider is true, Paul told Timothy, the elder should be rebuked “in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning” (1 Tim. 5:20).
Why would Paul rebuke Peter publicly? Unless the public sin of a believer is dealt with publicly, people will think the church does not take sin seriously and therefore gives tacit approval of it. A church that does not discipline sinning members (including the most prominent members) loses its credibility, because it does not take seriously its own doctrines and standards.
• We can see this implication in everyday life: A child who is not disciplined when he does wrong soon concludes that his parent’s standards are not really very important, because they are not enforced.
Paul rebuked Peter when he said:
"If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
In contrast to Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul’s indictment was straightforward. He simply pointed out the obvious inconsistency of Peter’s behavior in Antioch. He reminded him that when he first arrived there, Peter had freely fellowshipped with Gentile believers and regularly ate with them (v. 12). He had openly visited in their homes and joined them in love feasts and Communion, showing no evidence of legalism or prejudice. He had lived like a Gentile and not like a Jew, who were known throughout the world for their separatism.