Englishman John Darwin went to EXTRAORDINARY LENGTHS to avoid the DEMANDS OF THE LAW. After a series of bad property decisions, he wound up with debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He was faced with bankruptcy.
The solution he came up with was to DISAPPEAR. To fake his own d.eath. On March 21, 2002, he headed out to sea in his canoe. Later that day he was reported missing after failing to turn up at work. A large sea-search failed to find any trace of him, except for a paddle, and then, a few weeks later, his wrecked canoe.
Eventually, in March 2003, authorities issued a d.eath certificate stating that John Darwin “probably encountered difficulties, as a result of which he died”. And his wife, Anne, was able to claim on his life insurance.
But the reality was instead of being D.EAD, John was comfortably holed up in a bedsit next door to the family home, secretly getting on with his NORMAL life.
But it’s pretty hard keeping your life a secret from the whole world when you’re supposed to be D.EAD. And eventually the whole charade came crashing down. Both John and Anne were arrested in 2007 after smiling photos of them appeared on the internet buying property in Panama. And they’ve recently been jailed for more than six years for fraud.
His plan – his HOPE – had been, “Once you’re D.EAD, the LAW can’t TOUCH you. All debts are cancelled. All fines wiped”.
And they’d been living the pipe-dream/ that they could be ALIVE in ONE SENSE, but D.EAD to the LAW in ANOTHER.
Which might not work when it comes to commercial debt and life insurance. But it DOES work when it comes to THE CHRISTIAN. That you can be alive in ONE sense. But d.ead to the law in ANOTHER.
That’s Paul’s argument here in Galatians 2. That the hold of the Old Testament law, the rules, the requirements, the PENALTIES Israel had to live by… their hold over him as a Jew has gone. Because he’s D.EAD. Crucified. With Christ.
That’s what he says in v19 and 20. It’s not the usual way we think about what happens on the cross. It’s normally about CHRIST dying and us LIVING. But look at what he says. V19.
19 For through the law I DIED TO THE LAW so that I might live for God. 20 I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Before we were Christians, we’d built up a huge debt. One we could never repay. Repeatedly breaking God’s law, with the threat of God’s justice hanging over us. Our rap sheet getting longer by the day.
The only possible solution would be for God to deal with the debt. To write it off. Which is what he does in Jesus’ d.eath. He counts Jesus’ d.eath as acceptable payment for our debt. Punishment for our sin. The law – God’s justice – is satisfied. The debt cancelled. It’s like we’ve DIED TO THE LAW, and it can’t touch us.
When Christ was crucified, our debt and guilt were put to d.eath as well. Which means that NOW, if you’re a Christian, then, in one sense, you’re able to do what John Darwin could NEVER do. Be alive yet d.ead. Alive to God, and living for him. But D.EAD to the demands and requirements of the law.
(pause) And when you recognise that’s what life is like now/ it has some BIG CONSEQUENCES. Big consequences for how you treat other Christians. For where your confidence lies. For what your priorities are, and what direction your life heads in.
It’s all summed up in what Paul says in v14. He’s rebuking the Apostle Peter, we’ll get to WHY in a minute. But he says that Peter’s NOT ACTING IN LINE WITH THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL.
In other words, Peter’s not LIVING OUT THE CONSEQUENCES of the truth of the gospel. The truth that he’s D.EAD to the law, and ALIVE to God.
That word for “acting in line with” is an interesting one – it’s orthopodeo – the only place it’s used in the New Testament, and I reckon most of you can work out basically what it means. Ortho means? Straight. And pod means? feet. The idea’s about FOLLOWING THE PATH ACCURATELY.
Let me give you an example. When you watch ice figure skating on the TV, it’s normally the FREE program that’s MOST interesting. All the jumps and spins. But up until 1990 one of the sections was something called FIGURES – which is where the name FIGURE skating comes from.
Ice skaters had to scribe out with their blades / a range of different FIGURES on the ice – circles, arches, figure eights. Forward, backward, left foot, right foot. Perfectly smooth, no scrapes, no flat spots. To follow the correct shape, you had to get your FEET exactly right. To know where you were headed, and keep the right shape about how you travelled, so you made it where you needed to get to.
That’s the idea. Understanding the truth of the gospel means following its SHAPE in your life PERFECTLY. Not getting off track, out of shape, or stumbling. Understanding its IMPLICATIONS in every area of life, so that you follow it ACCURATELY.
And it’s all about remembering what you’ve DIED to, and who you’re LIVING for.
Let’s look at the situation with Peter and Paul. What they disagreed about. And why Peter wasn’t ACTING IN LINE with the truth of the gospel.
V11 tells us that Peter had wandered down from Jerusalem to visit Antioch. Which was Paul’s home base. Where he headed off from on his missionary journeys. And while the JERUSALEM church Peter’s from was nearly all Jews, the church in Antioch was VERY DIFFERENT. A melting pot of Jews and Gentiles.
Now, Jews were known the world over for a whole range of LAWS that marked them out as DISTINCT from every other nation. Walls that separated them from everyone else. Laws to do with FOOD, laws to do with TOUCHING THINGS that made you unclean, laws to do with not working on the Sabbath, laws to do with circumcision.
And the point of it all/ before Jesus came along, was that to be a JEW, to be one of God’s people/ you needed to keep all these laws that SEPARATED you from everyone else. To show you were DIFFERENT. Holy.
But then Jesus came along, the King of EVERY NATION. The true God of the UNIVERSE. And said that being clean, being holy, being one of God’s people, isn’t about what you do on the OUTSIDE anymore, it’s about trusting in Jesus to forgive your sins, and to wash you on the INSIDE. And that NONE OF THOSE EXTERNAL MARKERS is worth a CRUMPET anymore.
(pause) Peter KNOWS that. Knows it with his HEAD. But when it comes to his ACTIONS, he does something DIFFERENT. Which is why Paul calls him a HYPOCRITE in v13. (Believing ONE thing, but DOING another.) And says he’s not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, in v14.
Have a look at how the situation unfolds. V12.
12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When Peter FIRST arrived, he’d join in with everyone at dinner. Eating whatever he liked. Didn’t matter WHO he sat next to. Because he knew that he’d DIED to the law/ when Jesus died on the cross.
But then some OTHERS arrived. ALSO from Jerusalem. Certain men from James – who was the head of the church there. And whatever they said / caused Peter to CHANGE HIS BEHAVIOUR. He WITHDREW from the shared meals with Gentiles and began to eat only with Jews. And the reason we’re given/ is that he was AFRAID of those who belonged to THE CIRCUMCISION GROUP.
Now, there’s all sorts of debate about who the men from James were, and what their view was. Same with those who belonged to the circumcision group.
A few facts I think point us in the right direction though. FIRST, Peter KNEW that people were only saved by trusting Jesus, and not by following the Jewish law. And so did James. You don’t even need to go to the Book of ACTS to show that! Right here in Galatians, just a few verses before, back in v6 of ch 2, after Paul tells them all about his gospel, he says, “those men ADDED NOTHING TO MY MESSAGE.”
Saved by grace alone. By trusting in Jesus alone. Nothing extra. No circumcision, no Sabbath keeping, no special diet. They both KNEW it.
So whatever was going on, it’s unlikely James sent messengers to tell Peter not to eat with Gentiles. And it’s unlikely Peter backed off because he thought he was breaking a law he should be keeping.
Another clue is over in ch 6 v12. Paul’s wrapping up his whole argument. Here’s what he says about the Jews who are putting the pressure on about Gentiles keeping the law.
12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. THE ONLY REASON THEY DO THIS IS TO AVOID BEING PERSECUTED FOR THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
These are Jews who’ve accepted Jesus, but who are doing everything else like OTHER JEWS. And they’re getting A HARD TIME because the new NON-Jewish converts aren’t going the whole way, and getting circumcised.
And so they put the pressure on the Gentiles simply to make things a little easier FOR THEMSELVES.
But for PAUL, it was a principle worth SUFFERING for. You see, he’s been persecuted for EXACTLY THE SAME REASONS – back a chapter, in Ch 5 v11 he says this:
11 Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I STILL BEING PERSECUTED? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
Paul preaches that Jews who accept Jesus are D.EAD TO THE LAW. And Gentiles who accept Jesus don’t have to follow it either. It’s all about FAITH on the INSIDE, not CLEAN on the OUTSIDE. And that’s a message that’s OFFENSIVE to Jews. And Paul’s being PERSECUTED because of it.
(pause) So all of those things are going on as Peter (back in ch 2) gets a visit from the men from James. Who I’m assuming are Christians who’ve got the right view about the Law. But they come with a message that says something like, “Pete, we know we’re all saved only by trusting Jesus. But Pete, news about your dining habits has made it back to Jerusalem, and, to be honest, we’re copping a fair bit of heat because of it. Things are really getting uncomfortable for us all down the temple on a Friday night. Would you mind just turning it down a notch or two? Just be a bit more discreet?”
It sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? And it makes Peter’s decision to pull back seem more logical, and Peter less like a wimp who can’t make up his mind, a willow that blows whichever way the wind blows.
The problem – two choices
But here’s the problem. And it’s exactly what Paul works out. When you start giving in to that sort of thinking. Even just a FRACTION. Then you might as well be throwing Jesus out the window. Because when you give in to people who think you’re saved by DOING THINGS, then Jesus’ d.eath becomes WORTHLESS.
When it comes to being right with God, there’s a choice of two ways. Two ways to being friends with God. Simply trust Jesus. Or keep the law, all the time, every bit. And for Paul, the choice is a no-brainer. Look over to v15.
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified (made right) by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because BY OBSERVING THE LAW NO ONE WILL BE JUSTIFIED.
Can’t do it. Unless you can keep every single part of God’s law 100% perfectly, 100% of the time, then the law’s going to declare you guilty EVERY TIME.
It’s the same logic as saying after you get a fine for speeding, “If I drive past the speed camera 10 times UNDER the speed limit/ that should cancel out the ONE time I DO get caught”. It doesn’t WORK like that. All the speed camera does is show you when you’ve BROKEN the law, and holds you accountable. There’s no mechanism for GETTING PUT RIGHT. Making things GOOD.
Same with the law. All it does it point out when we BREAK it. But it can’t MAKE US RIGHT with GOD.
That’s the REALITY. And so by giving in to people who think that keeping the law CAN make you right with God, Paul says it’s just rebuilding what you’ve already DESTROYED (that is having to keep the law). Down to v18. He says, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I prove that I’m a lawbreaker. When you throw law-keeping back into the mix, even just as an add-on, all it can do is show your GUILT. It can’t put you RIGHT with God.
Live by faith in the Son of God
Instead, Paul says our Christian life, day after day, should look like this. Look at v20
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Every day trusting what JESUS has done, the one who gave himself in my place. Turning to HIM, and turning AWAY from my good works as the thing I’m trusting in. Turning AWAY from my education, or my ministry, or my gifts. Turning AWAY from my commitments, or my energy, or my generosity. And trusting ONLY in Jesus.
Because if I DO turn away from Jesus ALONE, then here’s the end result. V21.
(It’s SETTING) ASIDE THE GRACE OF GOD, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Peter’s action might SEEM harmless enough, but for Paul it sends A D.EADLY MESSAGE. It sends the message that we can turn to SOMETHING ELSE to be put right with God. And that means Christ died for nothing.
Think for a moment about the message Peter’s sending. When you read here about the GENTILES, don’t forget you’re reading about US. Imagine you’re at dinner at the Antioch church camp, and the apostle Peter refuses to sit next to YOU. Because he’s only going to mix with his fellow Jews. There are RULES about this stuff. Gentiles are UNCLEAN. Eat the wrong sort of food. So you go up to shake his hand, and he just TURNS HIS BACK ON YOU. And walks away. You offer him a piece of cake and a cup of coffee for morning tea, and he gets edgy. Making it very clear he doesn’t want to be SEEN WITH YOU. Because YOU… are a Gentile. How are you going to feel?
There’d be a real temptation to go and wash your hands, wouldn’t there? Do whatever you needed to do to restore the relationship. Because he’s supposed to be your brother in Christ.
So Paul calls a spade a spade. One of those embarrassing sort of situations when somebody speaks their mind in front of the whole crowd. Paul doesn’t mind doing it. Because this is important. Verse 14, Peter and the others, by refusing to mix with the Gentiles, by acting as if there’s some sort of BARRIER there because the Gentiles don’t live by the Old Testament laws, they’ve FORGOTTEN THE GOSPEL. Acting like Jesus achieved NOTHING.
And so Paul says to Peter, “You’re not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. How come? You’re a JEW WHO’S BEEN LIVING LIKE A GENTILE. So how come now you’re trying to make GENTILES LIVE LIKE JEWS.”
MAKE UP YOUR MIND. Either you’re a full-scale card carrying Christian BY TRUSTING JESUS. ONLY. Or you’re not. Either your RIGHTEOUSNESS comes from standing with Jesus. Or you’ve got to get righteous yourself.
And maybe that’s something YOU need to get clear on too.
I wonder if we’ve understood that in practise? Where is it WE’RE not ACTING IN LINE WITH THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL?
Maybe we draw lines in OTHER ways. Good people – and the rest. Presbyterians – and the rest. Reformed and NOT reformed. Baptised and NOT baptised. Smokers and non-smokers. Married and single. Young and old. Drinkers and non-drinkers. Educated and non-educated. Labor voters and liberal voters.
(slow down) Whatever the distinctions we have. Paul says, when the GOSPEL’s at the centre, then DON’T MAKE DISTINCTIONS. If it’s neither here nor there for Jesus, then it shouldn’t be for YOU. Accept as CLEAN/ ANYONE that Jesus has.
That’s what it means to ACT IN LINE WITH THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL. The gospel that says (v20) you’ve been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you. The life you live in the body is no longer about striving to make yourself acceptable by DOING, but living by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself up for you.
In case you think I’m saying that the Ten Commandments can go out the window. Hear me clearly. When you DO live like that/ when you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself up for you. Then everything you do will be FOLLOWING his EXAMPLE. LOVING and GIVING YOURSELF UP for OTHERS.
As Paul says over in Ch 5 v13 and 14 (one of the key verses in the whole letter)
13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful re; rather, SERVE one another in LOVE. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That’s living in line with the truth of the gospel. Doing everything in gratitude and thanks to the one who gave up everything for YOU.