To show that the truth of the gospel is above any man, Paul recalls his confrontation with Peter in Antioch. This incident reveals the issue facing the church at the time. While the apostles had fully realized that salvation is by grace, not by works, some traditional Jewish believers still considered themselves superior to the Gentile brethren and demanded that they be circumcised. Based on this event in Antioch, Paul makes clear his stand on the issue and begins to defend and expound the doctrine of justification by faith.
Did You Know...?
Antioch (2:11): “The leading city of Syria and third leading city of the Roman empire (after Rome and Alexandria). From it Paul had been sent out on his missionary journeys (see Ac 13:1-3, 14:26).” [ref]
Why do you think Paul tells the Galatians so openly about Peter’s fault? Is he trying to belittle his fellow worker?Hide Answer
Paul cites this incident for its instructional value, not for the purpose of launching a personal attack on Peter. Just as Paul reproached Peter at Antioch for compelling the Gentiles to live as Jews (2:14), he now denounces the doctrine of the legalists, who attempted to put the Galatians under the yoke of the law. The story of Paul’s confrontation with Peter also reinforces Paul’s argument in the previous passages that his preaching did not come from men of reputation, for even a church leader like Peter could also err sometimes.
What was Peter’s mistake?
What caused Peter to act in hypocrisy? Was it ignorance?Hide Answer
He acted not out of ignorance but for fear of the circumcision group (12). The fact that he had initially been eating with the Gentiles indicates that he had become personally convinced that there should be no separation between Jews and Gentiles. In fact, he had arrived at this conviction when God sent him to preach to Cornelius, for he stayed with Cornelius and ate with them (cf. Acts 10:48, 11:3). Thus, his withdrawal from the company of the Gentiles in Antioch was clearly out of pretense to conform to Jewish customs rather than because of his personal beliefs.
Why do we sometimes use double standards the way Peter did? How can we improve in this area?Hide Answer
We use double standards because of expediency or self-centeredness. For example, we may impose a strict standard on others but are much more forgiving toward ourselves. To correct such an attitude, we should look to the interests of others rather than only to our own interests. Another cause of double standards is favoritism. Because of fear of those who have wealth, talents, or power, we may apply a different standard or behave differently before them. But since God shows no favoritism, our conduct toward everyone must be consistent with God’s word regardless of who they are.
How does verse 13 serve to indicate the seriousness of Peter’s mistake?Hide Answer
When the rest of the Jews saw Peter, an apostle and leader of the church, separated himself from the Gentile believers, they also withdrew themselves. Even Barnabas, also a missionary to the Gentiles, joined in their hypocrisy. Because of Peter’s prominence, his mistake had a strong influence on the other brothers and his fellow workers, and it caused a serious negative impact on the church.
Do you sometimes act in a way that is different from what you believe or teach? How can this become a stumbling block?Hide Answer
Actions often speak louder than words. If we do not practice what we preach, we may weaken others’ faith in God’s word. Therefore, we should be witnesses of God’s word not only through our preaching but also through our deeds.
Why did Paul need to rebuke Peter publicly?Hide Answer
Because Peter’s action became a negative influence on the other believers, misrepresented the truth of the gospel, and might have even hurt the Gentile believers who were present, Paul needed to correct Peter’s mistake in everyone’s presence in order to rectify the wrongdoing immediately and stop it from doing further damage.
In what sense did Peter “live in the manner of Gentiles” (14)?Hide Answer
He lived in the manner of Gentiles in the sense that, by eating with the Gentiles, he had set aside Jewish traditions and identified himself with the Gentile believers.
How did Peter “compel Gentiles to live as Jews” (14)?Hide Answer
By withdrawing from the fellowship with the Gentile believers, Peter was implying that a Gentile believer must live as a Jew in order to have fellowship with the Jewish believers. Here we can see the double standards in Peter’s actions. While he had freed himself from Jewish customs, he now imposed them on his Gentile brethren.
What does Paul mean by the words in verse 15?Hide Answer
The words “Jews by nature” refer to those who were born as Jews. God had chosen the Jewish race and given them His law. Therefore, the Jews took pride in their heritage and considered Gentiles as unholy and sinful. Thus, the expression, “Gentile sinners” is taken from the perspective of a Jew.
According to verse 16, what had the Jewish believers, “who were Jews by nature,” realized?Hide Answer
They have come to understand that no one could be justified by observing the law. Even the Jews, who believed that they were superior, needed to receive justification through faith in Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be “justified”?Hide Answer
The Greek word for “justified” shares the same root as that of “righteousness.” Therefore, to be justified means to be reckoned righteous.
Why is it impossible for men to be justified by the works of law?
Rephrase verse 17 in your own words. Consult several Bible translations to help you understand what Paul is saying.Hide Answer
Paul poses a rhetorical question, which in essence asks, “If we become sinners in light of the justification through Christ, does this mean that Christ encourages sin?” Those who were against the doctrine of justification by faith argued that preaching justification through faith in Christ apart from good deeds would encourage people to live in sin. Paul emphatically objects to such an argument. Through Christ we have come to realize that we are sinners, but that does not make Him the author of sin!
What things has Paul destroyed (18)? What does it mean to rebuild what he has destroyed?Hide Answer
He has destroyed his former conviction that man can be justified by his works. To revert back to the work of the law or to compel Gentile believers to live as Jews would be to rebuild what he has destroyed.
Why is rebuilding what has been destroyed a transgression?Hide Answer
Reverting to justification by works would prove that Paul’s stance on justification by faith was a serious mistake and a violation of God’s law, because he had, supposedly, promoted sin by preaching this doctrine. Thus, if we read verses 17 and 18 as one continuous thought, Paul’s words may be paraphrased as, “In view of justification through Christ, even the Jews have become sinners. Does it mean, then, that Christ encourages sin? God forbid. In fact, I would be encouraging sin if I go back to the doctrine of justification by works, which I have renounced. Doing so would make me a lawbreaker and prove that I have been wrong in preaching that man must be justified through faith in Christ.”
The purpose of the law is to condemn. Through the law we become aware of our utter inability to keep the law. Consequently, we die to the law in the sense that we acknowledge our sin and are freed once and for all from our futile attempts to achieve righteousness through our own efforts.
What does it mean to live to God?Hide Answer
Having died to our own efforts, we can now receive a new spiritual life from God. This new life is God-centered and God-dependent because it is not based on our own merits.
a. How have we also been crucified with Christ, and how does Christ live in us?
What enables and motivates us to do so?Hide Answer
It is “by faith in the Son of God” that we are able to live out the life of Christ (20). Paul also adds that Christ loved him and died for him. The love of Christ motivates us to be crucified with Him and to let Him live through us.
Paul states, “[Christ] loved me and gave Himself for me” (20). Do you personally feel that Christ loved you and gave Himself for you? Why is it important to have such personal conviction?Hide Answer
Only when a person believes that Christ loves him and died for him will he receive Christ as his personal Savior and commit his whole life to Christ. Unless he has such kind of personal recognition, he would not be willing to be crucified with Christ and let Christ live in him.
According to verse 21, how does a person “set aside the grace of God”?Hide Answer
Setting aside the grace of God means attempting to achieve
righteousness through human endeavors.
What does this verse tell us about why Paul combatted the false gospel so vigorously?Hide Answer
The false gospel was not just an addition to the gospel of grace. It completely denies the saving effect of Christ’s death. Therefore, Paul would not make the slightest compromise with this subversive teaching.