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]
because peter fears the circumcision party, he starts requiring of the gentiles what Jesus does not require of them.
the jews were commanded to practice circumcision, to show that they were set apart, chosen by God as a people for himself.
why were they chosen?
because they were obedient? because they chose to undergo this painful procedure in order to appease their vengeful god?
by no means! you don’t have to spend much time in the old testament to see the constant disobedience of the chosen people of God, and his continued forbearance of ultimate wrath to destroy them all. he preserves a people for himself so that they might call out to his Holy Name. they were chosen for God’s glory, just as we are.
circumcision was a picture of an ultimate reality, like sacrifices, like the temple and so on, of the ultimate reality:
Christ is coming to reconcile God and man.
Christ is coming to justify a holy people set apart for himself, who will be circumcised of heart, ending the need for circumcision.
Christ is coming to be the spotless sacrificial Lamb, to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin, ending the need for sacrifices.
Christ is coming to be the temple, the holy intercessor that allows us to be in the presence of an infinitely Holy God, ending the need for us to go to a place to enter the presence of God–we go to Jesus!
because peter was with Jesus, he knows he does not need to practice sacrifices, or go to the temple to meet with the Father, he no longer practices these things, and so he lives like a gentile: the one thing that shows him as a jew outwardly is his circumcision–because he was formerly a practicing jew following all the customs of judaism before he came to Christ, he obviously went through this custom as a baby, and deep down in some way still thinks that it makes him special to God.
why are the judaizers fixed on this one thing? why are they not requiring the gentiles to sacrifice? why do they want the new gentile christians to be circumcised?
the answer is clear: they are not focused on what Christ came to do (see above). because they have their minds set on the outward appearance instead of the heart, they demand of others rites and rituals that have no bearing on their justification or sanctification.
yes, Christ requires obedience, but to his Word, by Holy Spirit power, his strength. he came not to abolish the law but fulfill it in all its parts.
like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, the circumcision party looks down upon those who have not heretofore obeyed, and when the gentiles come running into the open arms of the smiling Father, they are displeased that the gentiles are welcomed with open arms, with no requirements (like circumcision).
i see myself in the place of the older brother, the judaizers. i identify with peter in this. i need to ask myself the question:
what am i requiring of others that Christ does not?
(note: if you struggle with this too, an amazing resource is the short book The Prodigal God by tim keller.)
~ conor eastman