Humanity suffers a universal plague: guilt. Every person experiences this emotion and tries to find some way to alleviate it. Primitive people tried to assuage it by appeasing the gods with animal—and sometimes—human sacrifices. They imagined the gods were angry with them.
Today, as a more cultured people, we may try psychoanalysis, counseling, or some other form of therapy. Others appeal to positive thinking and self-confident living. Still others use drugs, illit sex, and alcohol to dull their senses and minds to their guilt.
Whether a person is a Christian or not, they feel guilt when they do something wrong. That all people from all cultures have shown various means to deal with this guilt proves its prevalence.
But the question remains: How do we relieve this guilt? We cannot ignore it for it will not go away. There must be some logical reason why we feel this guilt. Christians believe it is the Holy Spirit of God working in the lives of individuals that brings this feeling of guilt because we have sinned against a holy God.
Paul tells us how to be saved from this guilt over our sin. It comes through the salvation process which originates through faith in Jesus Christ and in the payment he made on Calvary’s cross. This teaching arises out of Paul’s rebuke of Peter.
Peter freely associated with Gentiles until some of his Jewish contemporaries arrived. Then he withdrew from them and in the process showed his hypocrisy. Paul rebukes him and by doing so teaches that salvation from guilt comes by faith alone. Faith is the bottom line in the salvation process—not works as the Judaizers attempted to teach. We do not merit it. God must freely give it.
The sacrifices made by the Jewish people in the Old Testament period only foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Now that Christ has come and made the perfect sacrifice, these sacrifices are no longer necessary. Faith in Christ’s sacrifice will ease our guilt over unforgiven sin. Salvation can only come in one of two ways: through works or faith. If it is by works, it is not by faith and vice versa.
FAITH JUSTIFIES US
Jesus was born into a period when many Israelites had perverted the teachings of the Old Testament. This was true in Palestine and other parts of the Roman Empire. They looked to their own goodness and good works to bring acceptance from God. The rabbis enhanced this set of circumstances with their traditions and misinterpretations. They taught a works righteousness where God accepted a person because they obeyed the regulations and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law. The lives of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees best represented such teachings. As evident in the rebukes of Jesus, they thought their good works brought them favor from God.
Out of this setting arose the Judaizers who taught the same thing. They corrupted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Paul. No longer was circumcision of any importance. In his explanation to the Philippian believers, Paul stated; “We are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Circumcision was a sign for those who had entered into a covenant with God in the Old Testament. Under the new covenant established by Christ, circumcision was no longer necessary. When Christ comes into our life, he performs a heart circumcision. He cuts away the old nature so the new nature can grow.
In our present passage, the scene changes from Jerusalem where the council took place to Syrian Antioch where the first church in a Gentile area was established. Paul and Barnabas served as co-pastors here.
Paul’s teaching of justification by faith arises out of a confrontation with Peter. Paul had to rebuke Peter for his actions. Peter associated with Gentiles while his Jewish contemporaries were not around but compelled the Gentiles to live as Jews when the Jews were present. Paul reminded Peter that a person is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jews were known for their strict laws and separation from the Gentiles. Under the Old Covenant, they were to observe certain dietary laws and other restrictions. These were designed to keep the Jews from intermingling and intermarrying with the pagan people around them. They were to stand out as a witness for the one and true God. In this way, they would draw the pagans to the one and only God. It would also keep them from corrupting themselves with the idolatry and immorality of pagan people.
With the New Covenant established by Christ, such ceremonial separations were no longer needed. Peter had learned this himself through the vision of unclean animals. God showed him this vision before he sent him to the Gentile Cornelius so that he would realize that all people are welcome to come to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Peter knew the lesson but quickly forgot it when his Jewish friends blew in.
Justification by faith is the way we relieve our guilt. Only as our sins are forgiven can we rid ourselves of the guilt over offending a holy God. Of all people, Peter should have known that obedience to the Law does not justify one in God’s sight. He had labored under that Law to no avail. If the Law could not save the Jews, it was foolish on Peter’s part to think it would save the Gentiles.
Keeping the law of God can never make us just before him. The root of our problem is found in our hearts. They are sinful and terribly wicked. Actions or good works cannot change that; only God can through the new birth. Our sinful actions are merely outward manifestations of a sinful nature. The law could show us our sinfulness but never change our nature. We cannot add good works to the faith as the Judaizers were trying to do. It is faith and faith alone that justifies us before God.
Martin Luther, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, taught this same doctrine. He was steeped in the tradition of the Roman Catholic church which preached that the grace of God comes through sacraments that only the church could administer. He rebuked this idea by teaching that salvation is by faith alone—a doctrine that rocked the continent of his day just as it did the world of the Judaizers.
HYPOCRISY RUINS OUR TESTIMONY
Peter had trouble with hypocrisy. Peter was known for his impulsive behavior. He once told Jesus he would follow him to the death only to deny him three times a short time later.
On this occasion, Paul had to rebuke him again for his hypocritical behavior. He used to eat with the Gentiles, but when his Jewish friends came to Antioch he joined the Judaizers in belittling the teachings of Paul. The tense of the Greek verb signifies that Peter continually ate with the Gentiles. He took a position in the face of his friends that he knew was wrong. This must have deeply offended and hurt the Gentile believers in Antioch.
Peter’s encounter with the Gentile Cornelius taught him better than this, but he forsook what he knew was right to save face. He had even opposed the Judaizers at the Council in Jerusalem, but now he backtracks, acquiescing to the racism and ritualism of the Jews. The weak, fearful, and vacillating Peter came to the fore again. He feared a loss of popularity and prestige.
Peter’s example damaged others. Many other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy. Even godly Barnabas was led astray. Barnabas went on a missionary journey with Paul and was familiar with Paul’s preaching concerning the doctrine of salvation by grace, yet Peter’s hypocrisy led even him astray. Since Peter was a leader, it was only natural that his example would influence others. They knew what they were doing was wrong but did it anyway.
Peter’s example and Paul’s rebuke give a severe warning against hypocrisy. Consistent spiritual behavior is important. People must see us live out what we claim to believe in the church. Inconsistency leads them to doubt the genuineness of our faith. Although we make mistakes, the normal course of our life must be one of spiritual commitment to God. Others must be able to see and hear this in our actions and words.
OUR ACTIONS INFLUENCE OTHERS
Peter was not the only one who suffered because of his hypocrisy. Other Jews were affected. Barnabas even joined the hypocrisy. We can be sure that the church of Antioch was severely affected by it. So damaging was the situation that Paul confronted him publicly about it.
Our actions influence others. They notice what we do and say. Christians are particularly vulnerable. Others watch our lives. We do not have to beat others over the head with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A quiet and consistent Christian witness is the best way to point others to the Savior.
Commit yourself to salvation’s bottom line: salvation takes place through faith. Live out that belief by realizing how much your actions influence others. Be consistent in your behavior so that others can never accuse you of hypocrisy.