Free to accept a free gift
by Jack Wald | May 26th, 2002

Galatians 2:11-21

When I was 13 years old, I built my own radio from a kit. The kit came with a book of instructions and all the parts. If the instructions were followed correctly, at the end there was a radio that worked. It had an AM and FM band and could pick up shortwave signals as well so I could listen to European stations.

One night, shortly after I had finished assembling the radio, I began to prepare for the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. (This was before Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Mohammed Ali) I had been reading the sports magazine that talked about this fight and was all set for it. Would the quickness of Clay overcome the power of Liston? Was Clay all talk but no action? I had my radio by the bed, tuned into the radio station that would broadcast the fight. I went downstairs to get some snacks to eat during the fight. Came up, sat down as the fight began and 8 seconds later it was over. Clay knocked out Liston in the first eight seconds of the fight.

I feel this way about this meeting between Peter and Paul. I know Peter from the Gospel accounts. Peter who walked on water and proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, who pulled out his sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. Peter who preached the first sermon of the new church at Pentecost and boldly defended his faith before the Sanhedrin. Peter grows in my imagination to a larger than life figure.

And in the other corner we have Paul. The student of Gamaliel, the Pharisee who persecuted Christians, who was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus, who wrote the letters that compose the majority of our New Testament. Two huge figures of the New Testament.

A meeting between Peter and Paul should be a dramatic one. I sit down on my bed to read of this confrontation with some snacks and drink to sustain me and within 8 seconds it is over. Peter is knocked out by Paul before the match really begins. Where is the bold Peter we read about in the Gospels and in Acts? Paul continues to rise in our minds as a larger than life figure, but Peter begins to shrink to be a mere mortal.

Let’s take a look at the scene Paul writes about and his argument that follows. I had a difficult time understanding the connection between Paul’s story and the argument which follows. I had to read and reread this section to be able to understand what Paul was saying. You may be a bit sharper than I am, but if you are like me, a bit of explication is necessary to understand. So follow with me in your Bibles as we work through these eleven verses.

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

It is not recorded in Acts, but at some point, Peter came up to Antioch to meet there with the Christians. News of this fellowship had reached Jerusalem and Peter no doubt wanted to see this new extension of the church. This visit occurred after Peter had his vision of the sheet from heaven and the clean and unclean foods where he was taught that the Kingdom of God was open to Gentiles and not reserved only for Jews. And this is after Peter ate with Cornelius and his family in a non-kosher house. (Do you know what kosher means? It means that you observe the Jewish dietary rules about not eating unclean products like the ones that were displayed on the sheet that was revealed to Peter in his vision. It means you keep two sets of dishes, one for meat products and one for dairy products. To eat kosher is to observe the law regarding food.)

At any rate, Peter came to visit, did not seem to have any problem in not eating kosher and had a good time in fellowship with this community of Christians in Antioch.

12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.

Then some Judiazers came from Jerusalem saying they represented James. Who was this James? James was the half-brother of Jesus to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. James became a follower of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem. It seems clear that James and not Peter was the leader of the early church in Jerusalem.

In Acts 15:12 when Barnabas and Saul came to Jerusalem to tell of their work among Gentiles, it was James who stood up to respond, not Peter but James. In Acts 21:18 when Paul again returned to Jerusalem after his travels, he came to James and the apostles. When Paul writes in Galatians 2:9 he mentions the apostles “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars” putting James’ name first.

James carried a lot of weight in the early church. Why James and not Peter or John who had been trained by Jesus? I wonder if this was because while the disciples of Jesus had spent three years with Jesus, James had spent thirty years with Jesus before they knew him. Was he viewed as the leader simply because he was the genetic half-brother of Jesus?

But this is not the only reason why he was viewed as leader of the church in Jerusalem. He carried the name of James the Just and was said to have the knees of  a camel from spending such a long time praying on his knees. He was a spiritual man and a wise man.

So when these men came saying they came from James, they carried a lot of weight..

Now as it turns out, these men who came from Jerusalem were not sent from James. In Acts 15:24 after Paul and Barnabas presented to the Jerusalem leaders their Gospel to the Gentiles, James sent back a letter to the church in Antioch saying in part,
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.

But at the time, Peter did not know that. I think he took them at their word and viewed them as emissaries of James to the church in Antioch and he did not want to offend them. He showed deference to them because of who they represented.

But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

Until their arrival, Peter had been eating and fellowshipping with the Gentile believers. He was eating their food, perhaps including pork and shrimp, on their plates that were used for both meat and dairy products.

When the Judiazers came, however, Peter separated himself from the Gentile believers and began to eat kosher according to Jewish law. He did this, Paul writes, because Peter was afraid of the Judiazers.

13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Other Jews began to follow Peter’s example which was an influential one. What this leader of the disciples of Jesus did mattered and people paid attention to his actions and words. Even Barnabas who had traveled with Paul on his first missionary journey joined with Peter.

This resulted in a divided fellowship. Gentile Christians eating on one side and Jewish Christians on the other. This is the first division in the church and unfortunately, it was not the last division in the church. But in addition to the separation, there was the problem that the two sides were not regarded as equal.

For many Christians today, the fact that Jesus was brought up as a Jew, was in fact Jewish, was bar mitzvahed when he turned 13, comes as a surprise. But to the early followers of Jesus, this was no surprise. Everyone knew that Jesus was the Messiah who had been born a Jew and had come for the Jews and wonder of wonders, for the Gentiles as well.

What this means, I think, is that there was a tendency for the Gentiles to view the Jews as being somehow closer to Jesus than they were. Deference was paid to the Jewish followers of Jesus and this was especially true for those who had been his disciples in his three years of ministry.

So when Peter began to dissociate from the Gentile believers, he was making a statement that they were second class citizens – something that they were already sensitive to.

This was intolerable to Paul who saw these new believers who were the heart of his ministry reduced to second-class status and he confronted Peter in front of all assembled and accused him of hypocrisy.

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?

Peter, a Jew, ate with the Gentiles as if he were a Gentile and not a Jew. He did not eat kosher. So why, Paul asks him, do you put pressure on the Gentiles to conform to Jewish life when you yourself don’t conform to Jewish life?

Paul then continues his argument.
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’  16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

It is a bit easier to understand this sentence if you take out “and not ‘Gentile sinners’”. So it reads as, “We who are Jews by birth know that a man is not justified by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul inserts “and not ‘Gentile sinners’” to emphasize the fact that since they are Jews they ought to know this more clearly than anyone else.

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.

Here we get to the beginning of the core of the argument and the reason Paul dealt so strictly and publicly with Peter. We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, period. We are saved by faith in Christ alone. We are not saved by faith and obedience to the law. We are not saved by faith and circumcision. We are not saved by faith and eating kosher. We are not saved by faith and anything I say or do and not by faith and anything I don’t say or do. We are not saved by faith and obedience but by faith alone.

The question that this raises is that since we are saved by faith alone and not by obedience to the law, doesn’t this mean I can break the law and it doesn’t matter? Can I murder someone and still be saved since I am saved by faith alone? Can I steal, gossip, cheat and be malicious since I am saved by faith alone? If the law is thrown out the window, doesn’t that mean I can do anything I want?

This is the question Paul anticipates being asked and which he answers starting in verse17.

17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!  18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.

Paul’s answer to that question is “Absolutely not!” The merit system of the Law that measured my salvation by the extent of my obedience to the Law was destroyed. When I accept by faith the gift of salvation, that merit system is destroyed.

Let’s say I am using Quicken for a financial program on my computer. Then along comes a program that promises to be the best program available and I switch my files to that program and delete Quicken from my computer.

Now, sometime later, I reinstall Quicken on my computer. What does this mean? What it means is that for one reason or another, I was not completely satisfied with the new program and I missed something Quicken did for me that the new program would not do. The new program was not satisfactory. It was not sufficient. It lacked something I needed and wanted.

So to destroy the merit system of the Law by accepting the free gift of salvation God offers me and then to return to obedience to the Law is to say that God’s free gift was not sufficient. It was not enough. It did not satisfy by itself. What Jesus did on the cross was not enough.
To add the law to faith is to say I need Jesus plus something else. To add the law or anything else to faith in Christ Jesus alone is to slap Jesus on the face while he is suffering on the cross and say, “What you are doing is not enough. Try harder.” To add anything to faith is to reject what Jesus did for you on the cross.

So it is not Jesus and anything else. Not Jesus and the Law but Jesus alone. If that is the case, that we do not need the Law for salvation, what is the place of the Law in our lives? Paul has already rejected the idea that we can dispense with the Law and do anything we want to do. If we are not saved by obedience to the Law, what does the Law do for us?

19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  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.  21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Here we arrive at the heart of Paul’s argument in these verses. Notice how he says the same thing three times: I died to the law. I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live. Three times he says we have died.

When we accept the free gift of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus alone, we die to ourselves. This is very clear in baptism by immersion. Down on the beach in Temera as we baptized Juliet and Emily and Carolyn last year, as they went under the water we said, “You are buried with Christ in baptism.” To be buried is to say that you have died. You don’t bury a living person, only a dead person.

Another way of picturing this is to say that you and Christ were walking on separate paths. You going one way and Christ another. When you give your life to Christ, you say, “I no longer want to walk on my path going in my direction. I give up my right to do anything I want to do, when I want to do it and how I want to do it.”

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

In baptism as Juliet and Carolyn and Emily were lowered under the surface of the ocean and raised up from under the water we said, “you are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.” When you give your life to Christ you give up your right to walk on the path you choose in the direction of your choosing and say to Christ, “I want to walk on the path with you going in the direction you want me to take.”

What is the place of the Law in my life? It gives me directions for my life. It teaches me about how God wants me to live my life. When I walk with Christ, I follow his lead. I seek his direction. When I begin to assert my own will, doing what I want without consulting him, without regard for the Law which came from him, I drift away from Christ. I begin walking away from Christ.

So when I come to a hard decision in life and choose to disobey the Law, I begin to drift away from Christ and set off on my own path going in my own direction. Can I be saved by faith in Christ Jesus alone and still divorce my spouse? Yes. But that is a dangerous decision because I have begun to drift away from Christ. I am no longer walking with him side-by-side and as I drift away I begin walking in my own direction and before I know it, I can’t even see him anymore.

The Law keeps me on the path with Jesus. The Law helps me to walk in the center of the path with Jesus. Remember in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian hesitated because of the lions growling ahead of him? He is encouraged to go ahead because the lions are on a short chain and as long as he keeps to the center of the path, he is safe.

Satan can not harm us when we walk with Jesus in the center of the path. Satan can growl and bare his fangs, but he cannot harm us. The Law helps me to walk in the center of the path with Jesus.

So the law still has a place in our lives. We need the Law because it instructs us in how to live.

This is Paul’s argument and it is a very difficult one to understand because the difference between being a slave to the Law and using the Law to keep us close to Christ is such a subtle difference. And yet it is such a critical difference.

So I ask you this morning. Are you walking with Jesus? Have you accepted his free gift offered to you? Have you died to yourself so you can live in Christ? Are you walking with Christ on the path, side-by-side? Or are you exercising your free will to do what you want to do when you want to do it?

Are you trying to live your Christian life so you can say to God, “I deserve the gift of salvation you gave me.” Are you reading your Bible and praying and tithing so you can prove to God you deserved to be saved? Are you trying to live an obedient life so you can deserve what you have received? Do you feel guilty when you don’t do the things you know you should do? If you don’t read your Bible every morning, are you filled with guilt?

If so, then you are allowing the Law to once again be your master. You are rebuilding the Law that you destroyed when you first accepted the gift of salvation. The life you buried in baptism you are now trying to resurrect.

Be set free. Taste the exhilaration that comes from living in the undeserved grace of God.

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.

Live by faith alone, not faith and anything else.

When you read your Bible, read it because you want to walk side-by-side with Jesus on the path with him going in the direction he is going. Read your Bible because you so much enjoy walking with him. Live your Christian life in freedom, not in bondage.

When you pray, pray because you need to be able to release the burdens you are carrying. Jesus is walking by your side and can carry that load for you. Give them to him. Thank Jesus for his companionship with you. Listen to his word to you so you know what direction to take when you have decisions to make.

When you tithe, give because everything you have belongs to Christ anyway. It is not your money. You have died and now live in Christ. If you have died, how can you own anything? Give because it is God’s. Give and experience his joy. Be set free from obligation and guilt that you have to repay a debt and experience the exhilaration of a free life in Christ.

Live in freedom.

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.