We now come to a discussion of a showdown between Peter and Paul at Antioch. The confrontation, the reasons for it, and the solution to it, are all filled with instruction for us.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision . . . (Gal. 2: 11-21).
OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT
Paul now recounts a problem he had with Peter at Antioch, and this happened because Peter was to be blamed (v. 11). Peter had been eating together with Gentiles, but when men from James came to Antioch, he withdrew because he was afraid of “the circumcision” (v. 12). This stumbled other Jews into hypocrisy, even including Barnabas (v. 13). When Paul saw they were not walking in accordance with gospel, he asked an unanswerable question. If Jews do not have to live like Jews, then why do Gentiles have to live like Jews? (v. 14).
Paul then explains this (whether at Antioch or to the Galatians is not clear). Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners (v. 15), know that we are justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law (v. 16). But does the admission of a need for justification from sin make God a minister of sin (v. 17). Absolutely not. Renovation presupposes destruction, but that is no argument against renovating (v. 18). Through the law we die to the law so that we might live before God (v. 19). We are crucified with Christ, and this makes us participants in both His death and resurrection (v. 20). This is in no way a frustration of grace because Christ cannot have died in vain (v. 21).
THE NATURE OF THIS HYPOCRISY
We must be very careful here, because Peter’s hypocrisy was a mirror-image hypocrisy. Most hypocrisy is public righteousness and private sin. This was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees–outside was a beautiful tomb, and inside were dead men’s bones. But Peter (and Barnabas, and other Jews at Antioch) reverse this. They were privately orthodox and publicly sinful. Peter held to the proposition of justification by faith throughout this controversy. But he denied that proposition by his actions when he refused table fellowship with fellow Christians. Paul calls this hypocrisy (v. 12), and he says that it is not walking uprightly in the truth of the gospel (v. 14).
Pay close attention. What should we call it when a sect refuses to share communion with other Christian churches? Paul calls it hypocrisy, and a functional denial of justification by faith alone. The irony is that many sects refuse to share communion because of how tightly they hold to justification by faith alone. This simply gives us a double layer of hypocrisy, and a remarkable denial of justification through their restrictions on table fellowship.
THE FAITH OF JESUS CHRIST
In v. 16, we find a striking phrase (which is repeated twice). We know that men are not justified by the works of Judaic law-keeping, but “by the faith of Jesus Christ.” We have believed in Jesus “that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.” Now is this our faith, or Jesus’ faith? Our faith is mentioned, but our believing in Jesus is so that we might be justified by the faith of Jesus. This is in contrast to being justified “by the works of the law.” The reason for that is because “for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” By the works of the law, everybody goes to hell. Note well, then, that our justification depends on the faith of Jesus, Jesus believing. Our faith is the instrument which unites us with Christ, and it is in union with Christ (and thereby with His faith) that we find our justification.
In order to be united with Christ in His death and resurrection, both Jews and Gentiles had to acknowledge that they were sinners. We are united with sin on the cross so that sin might there die, and that we might be subsequently raised. Does this promote sin? (v. 17). Of course not. Always remember the importance of resurrection; we include both destruction and rebuilding (v. 18). The law kills and we are raised, together with the law (v. 19).
DEATH AND RESURRECTION
This is the key to understanding Paul’s theology of justification. Union with Christ begins with crucifixion (v. 20). Nevertheless, life follows, and it is the life of Christ which follows.
This life of Christ includes His faith. “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
How could this frustrate the grace of God? It is the grace of God (v. 21). Righteousness does not come by the law. It does not come by fencing the Table. If we must fence the Table, then Christ died in vain (v. 21).