From the Pastor's Desk 

Spiritual Vigilance



            Let's pray.


            Guilt.  Every person on the face of the earth feels guilty.  That's no doubt because every person on the face of the earth is guilty.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.  Whether we acknowledge it or understand it or not, the sin that we all deal with in our lives causes us to stand guilty before God for violating His law.

            Since that's the case, every person tries in some way to alleviate that guilt.  There are many different ways of doing that.  Primitive peoples in remote areas may turn to offering an animal sacrifice to try to appease an imaginary god who is supposedly angry with them.  More sophisticated people may look down on that as barbaric.  Instead, they try to appease their guilt by going to a psychologist or a counselor of some kind.  Others deal with their guilt through positive thinking and self-confident, self-indulgent living.  Then there are always people who deal with their guilt though immorality:  sex, alcohol or drugs.

            When you get right down to it, there are only two ways to try to deal with guilt in our lives.  We can try to deal with our guilt God's way; or we can try to do it man's way.  Man's way is the way of self works in an attempt to placate God's anger by doing good things and proving our worth so that we won't have to suffer His wrath.  The way of God is to believe in Jesus and trust Him alone for salvation. 

            All throughout history, there have been folks both outside and inside the family of God, who have tried to follow both of these ways to deal with their guilt.  There have always been people who have tried to follow the ways of man; folks who look to human achievement and who trust in what man can do for God.  There have also always been people who have tried to follow the ways of God.  These people look to divine accomplishments and trust in what God has done for man. 


            During NT times, most Israelites tried to alleviate their guilt through man's ways.  They did that by perverting and adding to OT revelation.  They believed that they were acceptable to God because of their own goodness and their own accomplishments.  Most Jewish leaders, epitomized by the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, proudly believed their religious works placed them in God's special favor and gained them forgiveness for their sins.

            It was from that vast group of legalistic Jews that the Judaizers arose.  They claimed to follow Christ, but at the same time taught that a Gentile had to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law before he could be saved.  In addition to that, they also believed that all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, had to continue observance of that law in order to maintain their relation to God. 

            Part of the problem with the Judaizers message was that they had a warped idea of the Messiah.  They recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but they didn't look to Him as the Lamb of God who would take away their sins.  That's because they believed they didn't have any sin that needed to be taken away.  They felt as Jews, they already had the full favor of God and that they were spiritually and morally acceptable to Him just as they were. 

            This morning, as we continue on with our look at the book of Galatians, we're going to see where the scene shifts.  In the first part of chapter two, the scene was Jerusalem and the council there.  At that time, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem declared that salvation was grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.  No one needed to add any works of the flesh (which included circumcision and keeping the law) in order to be saved or in order to complete the salvation process.

            In the last half of the chapter, the scene shifts to Syrian Antioch, where the first church in a Gentile area was established.  It was here that a conflict arose between two leaders of the faith.  This conflict tested what the apostles in Jerusalem had said about the gospel message being Jesus plus nothing.  Let's now read Gal. 2:11-21.


            Remember, one of the false accusations that the Judaizers made against Paul was that he was not a true apostle.  That makes this incident with Peter very significant.  Paul was not only equal to the other apostles, but on this occasion even reprimanded Peter.  Keep in mind that this is Paul calling out the one man everyone recognized as the leading apostle among the twelve.

            This incident helps Paul make his point about his true apostolic calling.  Both Peter and Paul had experienced salvation by grace through faith; both were directly chosen by the resurrected Jesus Christ to be apostles; both had been mightily used by the Holy Spirit in establishing and teaching the church.  That means that both Peter and Paul were bona-fide genuine apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.    

            Scholars aren't sure of the time frame as to when exactly this incident took place; if it was before or after the council in Jerusalem meeting.  Whenever it was, Peter had apparently been in Antioch for some time.  The way this reads it appears that Peter had been continuously and habitually eating with the Gentiles from the church.  He apparently had not been having any trouble eating what they were eating; he had no trouble sitting next to them and with them.  He had no doubt participated in numerous love feasts with Gentile believers and joined them in the Lord's Supper.  Peter's relationship with these Gentile believers was a model of fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

            But at some point, it says that men came from James to visit the church in Antioch.  These were Judaizers who were once again stirring up trouble.  These false teachers claimed to be from James, but actually were not.  These men not only taught a false gospel, but also made false claims of support by the Jerusalem apostles and elders.  James would not have sent a delegation of heretics to Antioch to undermine the true gospel and cause the church there nothing but trouble.  But they claimed to be from James in order to try to validate their message and to make their teachings legitimate.

            When the Judaizers came to Antioch, things changed between Peter and the Gentile believers there.  Peter began to withdraw and shy away from them.  That means that he no longer ate with them or spent any time with them at all.  By his doing that, Peter was basically saying that he agreed with the Judaizers and that what they were teaching was true.  If he's saying that, at the same time he's also denying that salvation is by God's grace alone through man's faith alone.   

            Better than any other apostle, Peter should have known that in Christ all foods are clean and that all believers are equal.  He heard Jesus explain it.  Mark 7:18-19.  He had experienced it himself.  Acts 10:34-35.  Even at the Jerusalem council, Peter forcefully opposed the Judaizers and what they were teaching.  Acts 15:8-11. 

            His reaction as a whole was very interesting.  He didn't fear the Judaizers because they threatened his life; or threatened his freedom in any way.  They had absolutely no authority to do anything of the sort.  They claimed to be Christians, so they certainly didn't have the backing of the Jewish authorities to arrest, harass, or put to death anyone for any reason.  The most the Judaizers could have done to Peter was to ridicule him and malign him in Jerusalem.  Peter was apparently afraid of just that.  He was afraid of losing popularity and prestige with a group of self-righteous hypocrites whose doctrines were heretical and whose tactics were deceitful.


            Not only did Peter himself withdraw from the Gentile believers, but by his example he indirectly induces the rest of the Jews who were with him to join in the hypocrisy.  The Greek term used here translated hypocrisy originally referred to "an actor wearing a mask to indicate a particular mood or type of character."  A hypocrite is someone who, like an actor, "masks his true self." 

            The hypocrisy became so bad that even Barnabas got caught up in it.  Barnabas is another man who should have known better.  It was Barnabas who had first befriended and defended Paul when he went to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion.  It was Barnabas who had just recently been on a fruitful mission journey with Paul.  It was Barnabas who had been with Paul at the Jerusalem council.  It was Barnabas who was now a co-pastor with Paul of the Gentile church in Antioch.  Paul and Barnabas had taught together; prayed together; ministered together; and suffered together.  They were the closest of friends and loved each other deeply.

            Not only that, but many times Barnabas had heard Paul preach the message of the gospel of salvation by faith alone.  He would have actually preached the same message himself many times.  But even he got carried away by the legalistic hypocrisy of Peter and the others.

            We have to believe that Peter and the other Jewish believers who withdrew with him knew what they were doing was wrong.  But they were intimidated by the Judaizers into going against the truth of their convictions and the guidance of their consciences.  In seeking to please those hypocrites, they became hypocrites themselves.  Doing that brought heartache to their Gentile brothers and most importantly heartache to their Lord. 


            Once Paul found out what was happening, he took immediate action.  Paul took it upon himself to oppose Peter.  Opposed means "hidden or forbidden."  It says that Paul opposed him because he stood condemned.  Peter wasn't condemned in the sense of losing his salvation, that can't happen.  He was condemned in the sense of "being guilty of sin by taking a position that he knew was wrong."  He no doubt also stood condemned as a sinner in the eyes of the Gentile believers in Antioch.  They were no doubt perplexed and deeply hurt by his ostracism of them.

            As an apostle, Peter was the most accountable and it was his wrong example that had drawn the others into the destructive hypocrisy.  Paul writes there that he felt they were deviating from the truth of the gospel.  What he means by that is that Peter and the others were "not living parallel to God's Word;" they were not walking a straight spiritual course.

            Before Peter's compromise could do serious damage in the Antioch church, God used Paul to nip the error in the bud.  Because Peter's offense was public, Paul rebuked him in public.  Unless the public sin of a believer is dealt with publicly, people will think the church does not take sin seriously and therefore gives tacit approval of it.  A church that does not discipline sinning members, loses its credibility because it doesn't take seriously its own doctrines and standards.  Paul's rebuke of Peter shows that no Christian leader, regardless of status, is beyond discipline by the Body.  Public sin demands public rebuke.

            Paul's indictment was straight forward.  He simply pointed out the obvious inconsistency with Peter's behavior in Antioch.  He reminded him that when he first arrived there, Peter had freely fellowshipped with Gentile believers and regularly ate with them.  He had openly visited in their homes and joined them in love feasts and communion, showing no evidence of legalism or prejudice.  He lived like a Gentile, not like the Jews who were known for their separation from all other ethnic and religious groups.  But when the Judaizers came, he slipped back into his old ways.  Paul simply wanted to correct him and get him back on track. 


            Peter certainly was wrong and he needed to be reprimanded by Paul.  But before we ostracize him too much, we need to look at ourselves.  In fact, it's always a good idea to examine our hearts and our lives to make sure that we are living the way that God wants us to be living. 

            The fact, is, Peter wasn't unlike most of us today.  Peter would show great courage and great conviction and then stumble.  He would staunchly defend the faith and then succumb to compromise.  How many times do we do exactly the same thing?  It can be difficult to be consistent with spiritual commitments and spiritual disciplines.  It can be difficult for us in our modern culture and society to maintain our spiritual vigilance. 

            Just like it wasn't OK for Peter to compromise or for Peter to struggle with maintaining spiritual vigilance in his life, it's not OK for us to live that way, either.  In order to help us maintain our spiritual vigilance, there are a couple of truths that we can learn from this lesson and seek to apply to our lives.  For one, we need to walk straight according to the gospel. 

            Hebrews 12:13 tells us to do that exact thing.  We are told here to make straight paths for our feet.  This would refer to staying in your own lane in a race.  When a runner gets out of his or her lane, they not only disqualify themselves, but they also often interfere with other runners.  A good runner never intentionally gets out of his lane.  That only happens when they are distracted or careless; when they lose their concentration on the goal; or when fatigue robs them of the will to win.

            When we set out in the race of faith, nothing should distract us or cause us to waver or change course.  Don't let the world and the things of the world distract you from following God.  Don't lose sight of why you're living and who you're living for.  When we start to do things for self instead of for God, we start to drift out of our lane.  Don't give up and don't give in.  It seems at times as if living the Christian life just isn't worth it and it seems like it would be easier to just quit and give in.  It wouldn't.  Don't lose your will to be victorious in and for the Lord.             One way for us to drift out of our lane is by showing bigotry or prejudice towards others, like Peter did.  We can't wrongly judge someone for how or when they were baptized.  We can't look down on others based on anything but especially when it comes to the color of their skin or their ethnicity.  It doesn't matter what economic class someone comes from or which side of the tracks they live on. 

            Jesus died for everyone.  Not everyone is going to be saved, but we don't know who is or who isn't, so we need to treat and relate to everyone as if they are a potential child of God, because they are.  We need to treat everyone with love and respect because whether saved or unsaved, all people were still created in the image of God and deserve to be treated in a decent and loving manner. 

            It's never OK for us to look down on others or to elevate ourselves to a level above others, thinking that we are so high and mighty.  We're not.  The only difference between us and any other human being, including the likes of Hitler and Stalin and history's worst people, is nothing more than the grace of God.  If you think you're above that or above them or that you'd never do what horrible people like that would do, you're wrong.

            We can keep from becoming like them by living on the straight and narrow.  We need to be regularly engaging in spiritual disciplines and working regularly on maintaining spiritual vigilance in our lives.  Read your Bible; pray daily; serve others; love God; live a life that exemplifies the Lord and shows to a watching world that you belong to Jesus.  Don't do anything that would quench or grieve the Spirit's working in your life.  Philippians 1:27 tells us to "live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ."  High standards indeed.  That's how we stay on the straight and narrow path in life.


            The other truth that we need to consider this morning and that we need to apply to our lives is that we must oppose those who deny the gospel.  In 1 Cor. 16:13 and again in 2 Thess. 2:15 we are told to "stand firm."  We need to stand firm for the truth; we need to stand firm for the gospel message; we need to stand firm in our defense of who God is, who Jesus is and what their message is for a lost and dying world.

            If we don't stand firm, who will?  Sometimes standing firm requires us to get in someone's face and rebuke them for their sin.  1 Tim. 5:20.  Are you kind of surprised that verse is even in the Bible?  This isn't a church discipline type of scenario.  It simply means that we need to deal with sin in a way that honors and glorifies God and that leads others to repentance.  But even if the sinning party doesn't repent, there's still a place for rebuke.

            The word rebuke means "to expose," "to bring to open conviction," "to correct," or "to reprove."  This is not an easy thing to do and takes great courage.  It also means that we are doing our best and living our lives above reproach so that we will be in a position where we can be used of God to rebuke someone for their sin.

            The church needs to be diligent to preserve and defend the standards that God has given to us.  He wants His body pure and holy; He wants to use us to make a difference in the world for Christ.  We can't do that if there is blatant, public sin being committed.  If that is the case, then we have a responsibility to stand firm and to take action to bring people's lives in line with Scripture.  That is what Paul did with Peter.


            As Believers, we must be diligent in maintaining spiritual vigilance in our lives.  There is never a time when it is OK to let your guard down; it is never OK for us to slack off in our responsibilities before the Lord.  We are followers of God all of the time; it never stops; we never take a break.

            So keep your eye on the prize and keep running the race of faith that you have started to run.  Never stop; never quit; never give up; run on the straight path and keep focused on Jesus.  As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to respond publicly to God's working in your life as we stand and as we sing.