One of many great dangers of living in an age of celebrity, is that it turns the wheels of manipulation secretly in the heart of the pastor. Standing behind the pulpit, commanding the attention of many, leads to the adoration of the same. And the more faithful he is to his calling, the greater the adoration and the burgeoning danger. He assumes godlike tones and the lines between his word and God’s Word began to blur. Soon the people have no means or desire to distinguish the two. Tragically, the pastor and the people begin to believe he speaks for God, even when he speaks his own words. It all works very slowly yet steadily in the secret places of the heart, often going undetected.
It’s a danger for which we must all remain on guard. The authority that comes from the Gospel, remains the authority of the Gospel alone. The proclaimer’s authority begins and ends with Gospel. And no matter how widely known or great the reputation of the preacher, the Gospel stands above us all. Our words and our walk must match its truth, lest we be condemned by that same truth.
He Stood Condemned
Galatians 2:11 (NAS): 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
The Apostle seems to know it well. So he comes out swinging with an immediate contrast between the reputed pillars of the faith that he submitted his Gospel to and the need to confront one of them. In all of the early church there is no greater reputation than Cephas, or Peter. He is unquestionably one of the strongest pillars of the faith. Yet Paul says he opposed him to his face because he wasn’t being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel.
The mention of this strong rebuke to the Galatians is not for Paul to defend himself, nor to diminish Cephas, but to show the subjection of them both to the Supremacy of the Gospel. He demonstrates his own subjection by submitting his Gospel to the pillars of the church, for if his Gospel was not true, he would be running in vain. He demonstrates Peter’s subjection by mentioning his bold confrontation of someone of Peter’s reputation when he stepped out of line with the Gospel. The message to the Galatians is clear. No one, whether Angel or Apostle, is above the Gospel.
The Truth of the Gospel
Galatians 2:14 (NAS): 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
The significance of this next point should not be diminished. Cephas was distorting the truth of the Gospel by a subtle aloofness and withdrawal from Gentile fellowship. It wasn’t what he said; it was what he did. His actions may have been a subtle as declining an invitation that he would have previously accepted. Yet by his actions, he undermined the truth of the Gospel. He was very subtly communicating that righteousness does not come by faith alone, but by some manner of law keeping. Undoubtedly Peter knew better, but the influence of those who, in the deadness of pride in their own religious efforts, insisted righteousness remain linked to behavior, proved too powerful for even a pillar of the faith to resist. And his hypocrisy became contagious.
I have found that both of these continue to be tragically true. We continue to subtly communicate that faith alone is not sufficient, as we stand aloof from or in judgement of certain groups, kinds, or classes based on a standard other than faith in Christ. It continues to astounded me that the people, whose gathering is formed by their common profession to be sinners, would stand aloof from sinners for fear of sin’s influence on their kind. This madness has a name, and many continue to be carried away by its contagion.
Nullifying the Grace of God
Galatians 2:21 (NAS): 21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Paul’s argument to Cephas in the presence of them all is masterful. If the Jew, who is not a sinner by birth like the Gentiles, has found that even he cannot be justified by obedience to the law of God, then why would a Jew compel a Gentile to walk the same futile road? He argues that the very reason both and he and Cephas have put their faith in Christ, is because they have realized that by the works of the law, no one will be justified.
The problem with this madness is twofold. First, if I must rebuild my obedience to the law because I have been found to be a sinner, after faith in Christ, then Paul argues that would make Christ a minister of sin. May that thought never be. For if I have been crucified with Christ for sin and to the law, then now that I have been raised with Him, sin is no longer master over me, and Christ’s righteousness is sufficient that I need nothing else from the law. It has been fulfilled in Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but He who lives in me.
Second, if righteousness comes from my obedience, then Christ died needlessly. Only those who are intimately acquainted with their own wretchedness, and the futility of their own efforts to stop sinning, can see the great grace in that statement. If I could be obedient, then I did need Christ to die. But because I couldn’t, he did. So to continue trying to be justified by my behavior I would be nullify the amazing grace of God; working to make His death needless.
Just like Cephas, most would affirm the truth of the Gospel, that Christ died for our sins and His sacrifice is sufficient. That’s why we have put our faith in Him. But also like Peter, under the influence of those of reputation, we can undermine the great truth of the Gospel by standing aloof from those who don’t keep the law. But the Supremacy of the Gospel still stands, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believe. For the Gospel reveals that righteousness comes by faith and not by the works of the law.