United by the grace of God
Paul begins chapter two by demonstrating that he stands in unity with the Jerusalem Apostles. He doesn’t consider this a necessity – since he knows his gospel has come from God. But nonetheless he goes to them. He expects that distorters of the gospel may have corrupted Jerusalem. We see his relief that his Gentile companions are not compelled toward circumcision. Nothing is added. Freedom in Christ is not lost. Consequently they stand together, united by the gospel in fellowship. Commissioned to different missionfields, but nonetheless united.
The famous confrontation
So it comes as a great shock to see the tide turn. Paul finds himself confronting the one with whom he was once united. Peter, he observes, puts himself under condemnation, acting hypocritically and out of step with the gospel. This condemnation is perhaps along similar lines to that mentioned in chapter 1 – the fate of non-gospel preachers. I suspect the concern is both for Peter as a person and for those he is leading astray. What is his error? The error concerns what he is eating. It concerns food laws. A dietary choice?
The underlying problem
This may seem minor enough but the implications are severe. Peter, a Jewish Christian knows very well that justification is not attained by law. Yet he imposes law on himself, and others. Justification is attained only by faith in Jesus. Law justifies no-one, but faith in Jesus does justify. Paul identifies a dilemma that faces Peter. What if, in seeking to be justified by Christ, a Christian were found to be a sinner? Would that mean that Christ serves sin, that Christ endorses sin? Paul is emphatic – NO!
Peter seems to be arguing that in order to avoid sinning he is imposing law upon himself. Yet, he if rebuilds law in his life he will only prove himself to be a sinner. Since, law produces and identifies sin. The law served its purpose for these Jewish converts, Paul and Peter, by proving they were sinners long ago. The law helped them die to law’s effects. Now, dead to law they are also crucified with Christ. Their sinful life is dead. It is gone. It counts for nothing.
The life now lived is lived in Christ, indeed the life lived is Christ alone. All hope is by faith in Christ, the one who both loved them, and gave himself for them. An act we saw in chapter 1 that deals with sin and rescues from the present evil age, for the glory of God.
However, if justification is to be pursued by law then the grace of God is nullified and the death of Christ is also nullified. Peter more than anyone surely knows Christ’s death was not for nothing. Peters actions are displayed as truly foolish. By adopting law to fight the presence of sin he both displays his sin further, and nullifies the only hope he has of being a justified sinner, and denies the freedom bought for him. His course of action has triple failure.
The presence of sin in the life of the Christian, the justified sinner, is a reality. Inescapably. Yet, its presence does not mean Christ promotes sin, nor does it undo the Christian’s justification. Justification does not depend upon my behaviour. It depends on faith in Christ. That alone.
The addition of rules to combat sin nullifies grace and denies freedom and denies the Cross of Christ. Paul is so concerned that be rebukes the one he once stood united with. This is no mere battle to prove himself right, rather to restore Peter and to return glory to God. Peter’s actions have robbed Christ of glory. They have minimised freedom, grace and the Cross.
Herein lies some guidance in how we then ought live. Full detail surely follows later in the letter. But for now we have some hints. Christian freedom is to be enjoyed not curtailed. God’s grace is to be magnified not minimised. The Cross is to be magnified not minimised. And by magnified we mean telescopic not microscopic. That which is inherently of infinite value is to be brought into focus to be seen for what it is. Microscopes also magnify, by they enlarge that which is small. God’s grace and Christ’s cross are not small.
I must ask myself – where might I be adding rules to combat sin? Where am I trusting in myself to defeat sin? Where am I trusting in my own strength and resilience to defeat the effects of this present evil age upon my life? Where can I more flee to the grace of God? Where can I make more of the Cross of Christ in my life?
Strangely, I suspect, if my concerns shift towards making much of God’s grace, chiefly manifest at the Cross of Christ, then sins lure will fade from view. If my concern is to magnify the grace of God I cannot continue to pursue life in sin. This does not mean I will not sin – I will. But such sin should not bring fear nor lead me to seek law, rather it must send me again to the source of my justification. To proclaim again my dependence upon the grace of God!
Let me not become preoccupied with sin and its avoidance. Rather let my mind think much upon the grace of God. Let my heart delight much in the grace of God. Let my affections be preoccupied with the one who loved me and gave himself to rescue me. Let my life seek to make much of this abundant grace of God.
Unanswered questions.... Jesus death shows God's love and is him giving himself for our sins... but How? And how is this for all nations? Chapter 3 to follow...