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  An Important Principle Gal 1:13-2:21


  You can imagine the scene. The Church in Antioch are sitting down to their meal, with the Gentile Christians on this side with Paul in the middle and the Jewish Christians on that side with Peter in the middle of them. The meal's about to start when Paul jumps up and says "This isn't good enough! Peter, what are you doing over there? Don't you realise the hypocrisy of your action?" Complete silence! Jaws begin to drop. People shuffle in their seats. Some of them begin to get that hollow feeling in their stomachs. Here are the two great figures of the Church and they're about to have a stand up argument. Here are the two leaders that these Christians most look up to and they're at loggerheads.
  Paul goes on. He says "You're not acting in line with the gospel that you proclaim. What's come over you? I mean ever since you had that vision on the rooftop back in the early days, when Cornelius asked you to come and talk to him, you've given up living like a Jew. You don't worry any more about the Jewish ceremonial laws. You're happy to eat non-kosher food when you visit Gentile brothers and sisters. So how come, now that this Jerusalem group have come to Antioch, you've changed your mind? How come now you're siding with them and expecting Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
  They're strong words aren't they? And he says them in the assembly, in front of all the others. Why didn't he take him out the back and have a quiet word with him? After all, wasn't it important to maintain the appearance of unity among the leadership even if they did have this problem? But no, he makes a very public issue of it. Why do you think that is? Why does he embarrass Peter like this? Why does he make such a big issue out of it? Well, because it is a big issue.
  You see, this behaviour of Peter goes right to the heart of the gospel. It goes right to the heart of what we believe about our salvation. It affects how we see ourselves, how we see others, and even how we see God.
  How we see ourselves.
  Here's the thing. If we seek salvation through obedience to an external law, and we achieve it, how do we see ourselves? Well, we see ourselves as pretty good; above the average; more worthy than others who haven't done as well as we have. We perhaps even begin to see ourselves as equal with God or at least good enough to satisfy him, to please him.
  You see, Paul looks back at his early life as a Jew and that's what he sees. Look at 1:13. "You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors." Notice the subject of the verbs. It's I, I ,I. He'd got to where he was by his own efforts. He was the champion of God's cause; set on destroying this new sect because it was a danger to the true worship of God. And he was proud of the fact!
  And it isn't just self-satisfaction that's the danger. What if we don't live up to the standards of the law. Look at what he says in 2:18: "if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, [that is the dependence on the law] then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor." Why? Because as soon as you start to depend on the law you discover how far you fall short of that law. All the law does for you is to show you what a sinner you are.
  But go back to 1:14. How does Paul see himself now? "But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me ..." With his conversion, the subject suddenly moves outside of himself, to God. Suddenly he sees himself differently. He's no longer the achiever, driven to greater and greater effort to gain favour with God. Now he realises that God chose him before he was even born. He's on a par with Jacob and Jeremiah, who were singled out by God for ministry and blessing, from the womb. God's favour towards him hasn't been earned. It isn't because of his great zeal for God. God showed his favour to him before he could even breathe!
  But more than that. He now sees himself as one who's been called by God for ministry. He's not ministering any more out of a desire to earn favour, but because God has called him to it. And not only has he been called to ministry, but God has chosen to reveal Christ to him. What a difference in the way he sees himself! No longer striving for merit, but chosen by God, called through his grace, standing in the righteousness he's received through faith in Jesus Christ. And with that new mindset the 'I's can appear again. But this time they're 'I's that are in response to God's call and revelation. Notice that as he goes on it isn't so much to defend himself, as to defend his message. His defence is that he received what he now proclaims by the direct revelation of God. You may remember from last week, how his detractors were suggesting that the bits of his message that were right were those he'd got from the Jewish Apostles. But here he says it was 3 years before he ever went back to Jerusalem, and even then the only apostles he saw were Peter and James the brother of Christ. Even when he went back 14 years later, they had nothing to add to what he was proclaiming. There was no disagreement between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders, even over the presence of Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, who had come with him. No, Paul sees himself clearly as one who is saved by grace and called by God to preach a gospel revealed to him by God.
  How we see others.
  The second difference the gospel makes is in the way we see others. He'll say more about this in ch3 but for now, notice what he says in 2:6: "And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)." And vs15&16: "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ." There was a time, you see, when Paul looked down on Gentiles because they were clearly sinners, separated from the blessings of the covenant. There was a time when he thought status in the church mattered. But not any more. Now, through the preaching of the gospel he's come to realise that all that matters, and the only means of justification, is faith in Jesus Christ. And that means that the old distinctions have been broken down. Writing a few years later to the Ephesians, Paul said this: "Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace," (Eph 2:14-15 NRSV). The gospel changes the way we see others. No longer are we separated along racial lines. There should be no distinction according to culture, or wealth, or social status, or colour, or educational standards. Rather all are one in Christ. That's something we need to be very careful about isn't it? It's all too easy to exclude people, almost unwittingly, because they're different in some way. But as soon as that happens we're in danger of undermining the gospel we're seeking to present.
  The other danger with the way we look at others is that if we look unthinkingly at the wrong people we can be led astray. You see this is what had happened to Barnabas. Because of Peter's action, Barnabas had been led astray. Barnabas, the son of encouragement, the one who had been such an encourager that the Church in Jerusalem had sent him to Antioch to help build up the first Gentile converts there. Barnabas who had gone to Tarsus to bring Paul back so he could help teach these new converts. And now he was giving way, led astray by Peter's weakness. Peter in his turn had been influenced by this group of Judaizers. His eyes had been on them rather than on Christ. He was more worried about what they were thinking than on what the gospel was all about. Oh, he understood the gospel. Paul wasn't telling him anything new. He just hadn't applied his theological mind to the way he was acting.
  How we see God.
  And if the gospel affects how we see ourselves and how we see others, it also affects how we see God. Those who are legalists and even those who are nomists, you see, end up with a distorted view of God. If your whole concentration is on keeping laws, then you'll begin to think of God as a judge, or a critic, or even as an executioner, as angry and hard. But that's not what God is like at all. Look at what Paul says in 1:15: "15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me." And again in 2:20: "And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God." Notice that little word that pops up in those two verses, one at the beginning and one at the end of today's passage. "Grace."
  What do you understand by that little word? In a survey that was carried out some years ago, people were asked to mark the synonym that best corresponded to their understanding of that word. What they discovered was that about 90% of people put a tick against words like charm, elegance, beauty, style. Some chose thanksgiving, prayer, benediction, but very few showed any understanding at all of the other use of the word, the sense that Paul uses here, of gift, favour, kindness.
  That's a warning to us isn't it? When we speak of the grace of Jesus Christ, unless we're very careful, people are likely to think of Jesus as a ballet dancer or some sort of male model. But that isn't what we mean at all. What we mean by God's grace, is his totally unmerited favour extended to undeserving people. When Paul talks about being chosen before he was born, he wants us to understand, not that there was something special about him that led God to choose him, but that God's choice was totally unmerited. It happened before he was born, before he'd done anything to merit it.
  And what was it God did? Well, he sent us his only Son, who loved us and gave himself for us. Again, this was the free gift of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. It's not as if there were any compelling merit on our part that would have led Jesus to die for us. No, he did it out of the great love with which he loved us.
  Now that sort of thinking totally changes the way we see God doesn't it? We now realise that God cares about us. We realise that when he says he'll be with us to the end of the age, that he means always. He doesn't mean that he'll be with us when we're good, and withdraw from us when we fail him. That was what the nomists thought. They thought that if you didn't keep God's law 100% God wouldn't look after you, or stay with you. But that will never work. Look at 2:16 "no one will be justified by the works of the law." That's just an exercise in frustration. But if we understand that our salvation from start to finish comes about by the grace of God, that his favour towards us always was and always will be undeserved, yet freely given, then it changes the way we think about him. We stop seeking to do God a favour, and instead seek the favour of God. And when we do what he wants us to do it's out of love and gratitude not fear.
  How it changes our lives?
  Having changed the way we look at ourselves and others and at God, it changes how we live. Instead of living lives that are bound up in trying to overcome our weaknesses, and in fighting our internal desire to live for ourselves, now we're set free by God to live for him. Look at 2:19 "19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
  It's not that we can forget righteous living because we're no longer under the law. Rather, we're now free to live for God, because it's actually Christ who lives within us.
  I'd like you to spend just a couple of minutes looking at 2:19, 20 and discussing with the person next to you how a life that's pleasing to God is achieved. What is it that now makes our lives OK with God.
  Now this is a concept that lots of people have trouble with. How can we live lives that are pleasing to God? Well, according to v20 it's through faith in Jesus Christ. Not by our obedience to the law. Our pleasing God in our ongoing lives is no different to our achieving of salvation in the first place. It comes about through God's freely given, undeserved, grace. Otherwise we nullify the grace of God. Otherwise Christ died in vain.
  You see faith isn't another kind of work. That's the way some people see it. They want to turn faith in God back into a new kind of works. I heard about someone who was trying to explain the idea of salvation by faith instead of works. They said, "It's like this. God tried the law first, but then he found that people couldn't keep it, and that disappointed God very much, so he sent Jesus and now all you have to do is believe in Jesus and that will do instead." Is that right? Well, it almost right, but not quite. You see what's happening there is that faith is being made into a substitute good work. Believe in Jesus and on the merit of your belief, God will save you.
  No, faith is an empty pair of hands to receive God's gift. It isn't something we offer to God. It's the admission that we have nothing to offer. Even the fact that God has chosen us is used by some as a work. They'd suggest that God chose us because he saw some inherent merit in us. He chose us because he knew we'd respond. But again, that's to undermine, to nullify, the grace of God. God calls us by his grace, by his unmerited favour. He reveals Christ to us and in us. He gives us new life in Christ so that it's no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. That knowledge completely changes the way we see ourselves, the way we see others and the way we see God.
  Let's pray that we'd be a Church where God's grace is apparent in our life together: in the way we welcome all people irrespective of their racial, economic, or cultural background; in the way we work at living together in unity; in the way we see ourselves; and in the way we respond to God by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

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