but when i saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, i said to cephas before them all, “if you, though a jew, live like a gentile and not like a jew, how can you force the gentiles to live like jews?” [galatians 2:14]
picture the scene: paul, standing in front of a crowd, calls peter on the carpet, and confronts him “before them all”. is paul correcting sin the wrong way?
we often talk of the process of confronting brothers and sisters in sin, and reference matthew 18:
“if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. [matthew 18:15]
the context here is different from the process described in matthew–in matthew, the brother or sister is sinning against you, and yes, a sin against a brother or sister is also a sin against the living God and the church–and God makes provision for restoration and reconciliation. what peter is doing in this passage is wholly different than sinning against another brother or sister: because he is adding requirements to what it means to be a follower of Christ, the purity of the church, the purity of the very gospel of Christ is at stake! remember the severity of what paul says earlier in galatians:
i am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. but even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. as we have said before, so now i say again: if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. [galatians 1:5-11]
accursed! paul says “even if we or an angel from heaven…” meaning that no one, not even an apostle of Christ like peter is off the hook for “getting the gospel right.” paul knows what peter is doing is no small thing: he is distorting the very truth of gospel of Christ, and the urgency and severity of the offense stirs the Holy Spirit within him to speak out boldly! we must strive for the unity of the church–yes–but we should also strive for her purity! brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility to gently correct and to winsomely exhort one another when we are in error, preserving the truth of the pure gospel. we must use Holy Spirit discernment to know when we do this in private, and when we–like paul–need to boldly, gently confront sin “before them all”. this Holy Spirit discernment comes from knowing the gospel, loving the gospel, and we know and love the gospel. spend time in the presence of God, in his Word, crying out to him to show us his glory in the beauty of the gospel!
let us not add nor take from the truth of the gospel. let us not require from one another what Christ does not. let us simply look to the cross, and point one another to the only one who can save us from our sin! let us not gain the comfort and acceptance of the world, just give us Christ! let us strive for your glory! oh, give me a soft heart to be confronted–if i malign or distort the gospel, give others the boldness to confront me in love! tear away the wicked idols of my heart, my fear of man, so that i might fight for, love, preserve, correct and be corrected in the truth of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection!
~ conor eastman