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RCCG Miracle Land Dundalk
Thursday, July 11 2019

Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai

INTRODUCTION: In last week’s study we learnt about how Paul became accepted by the other apostles. We also learnt that we can serve together with believers of other viewpoints if we cooperate in areas we agree about. In today’s study, we will consider the conflict at Antioch and how Paul handled it.

First, let’s look at the background to this study. Paul and Barnabas have been labouring for years in Antioch to teach the new believers who had come to Christ out of paganism. There were many bonds of mutual love and caring. Peter, also, comes to Antioch to teach and mingles freely with the new believers. Then, some Jewish Christians, supposedly representing James, (Jesus ‘brother, head of the Jerusalem church), also came to check up on the progress of the mission in Antioch. But these men are strict in their observance of the kosher laws. They have special food prepared for them in the prescribed manner and won't eat meals with the new believers in the church.


" When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 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. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray."

Paul opposes Peter to his face; not behind him, not by spreading gossip because Peter was clearly in the wrong! It was not because of a rumour Paul had heard or for reasons he didn’t understand or aware of. He was clearly being a hypocrite and before long, it wasn't just a small group of Jerusalem believers who withdrew table fellowship from the new Christians, but all the Jewish Christians were now eating separate from the non-Jewish Christians! Barnabas too! Notice the reason for the separation: Peter "was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group" (2:12b). Peter wasn't acting out of conviction but out of fear of being smeared by the law-keeping Jews who threaten to ruin his reputation as the leading apostle of the Christian movement. As Peter wasn't acting from conviction, then he was therefore guilty of hypocrisy -- saying one thing but doing another. And this was a time to oppose the action!


When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Paul found himself to be the only Jew who would now eat and associate with the Gentiles in the Antioch church. The Jewish-Christian circumcision party from Jerusalem -- who as yet didn't really understand the gospel to the Gentiles -- had staged a full coup.

So, Paul publicly confronted the situation. He wasn't just being difficult. There is a possibility that he may have privately tried to reason the whole situation out without any success. But the influence of the "men from James" was too strong. If he didn't publicly confront the situation, the mission to the Gentiles would shrivel up and die. Basically, Paul calls Peter a hypocrite publicly, acting one way when he's with Gentiles only, and another way when members of the circumcision party from Jerusalem are around. It was a potentially dangerous thing to do. After all, they were the "insiders" and "original believers," while Paul was a "newcomer" to the faith. But Peter's blatant hypocrisy was so inexcusable that Paul apparently won the day. He not only won over Barnabas, but eventually Peter and the others, too, but it required going back to Jerusalem to hash it out -- and apparently that didn't take place until after Paul's First Missionary Journey.


“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Next, Paul tells the Galatians the theological argument he used when confronting Peter and the others over their refusal to associate with the Gentiles. The primary theological issue is how a person is justified before God -- by the law or by faith. "Justified" is dikaioō, generally, "to render a favourable verdict, vindicate." Here, it means, "be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous."

These Jewish believers accepted that Jesus died for their sins. The reason they still kept the law was because it was their culture, their way of life. But sometimes they would slip back into their old thinking that their observance of the law somehow was enough to make them right in God's eyes. But Paul's logic is relentless: if they need Jesus to die for their sins to make them right with God, to justify them, then it stood to reason that keeping the law had not justified them. They hadn't thought it through -- as many Christians haven't. Being good doesn't justify us or prepare us for heaven. We are saved by Jesus dying for our sins -- period! The law is good, but it doesn't save. It isn't the core of the gospel -- Jesus the Messiah is.


“But if, while we seek to be justified in Christ [by faith], we ourselves are found to be sinners, does that make Christ an advocate or promoter of our sin? Certainly not! For if I [or anyone else should] rebuild [through word or by practice] what I once tore down [the belief that observing the Law is essential for salvation], I prove myself to be a transgressor.” [AMP]

The inevitable conclusion of this line of thinking is, since they are trusting Christ for salvation, not the law, they are now on the same level before God as the Gentiles. Christ's death for our sins -- which all believers acknow­ledged -- puts us all on an even playing field. Thus, not associating with Gentiles is hypocrisy, a way of pretending we are better, rather than recognizing that we are all the same under grace. So, Paul is saying, if I now depend upon Christ for my justification, it suddenly makes me realize that I'm a sinner needing his justification, no longer a Jew that seems secure in being "righteous" within the covenant. I'm suddenly aware of my sin and vulnerability because of it. Does this mean that Christ somehow makes me a sinner where I wasn't one before? No. That's foolishness! For if I build again — By my sinful practice; the things which I destroyed — Or professed that I wished to destroy, by my preaching, or by my believing; I make myself a transgressor — I show that I act very inconsistently, building up again what I pretended I was pulling down. In other words, I show myself, not Christ, to be a transgressor; the whole blame lies on me, not on him or his gospel.


“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

First, Paul introduces a new idea to this letter -- dying to the law. How did we "die to the law" through or "by means of" the law? What Paul was referring to is that he is forever dead to the legalistic and Pharisaic notion that he can save himself by devotion to keeping the law. He is now forever dead to a legalistic understanding of salvation. For him it is now grace -- all grace -- a grace he will not "set aside." Then he goes further to indicate being crucified with Christ, that Christ has redefined his life and entire motivational system. Where once he acted as if he directed his own life, now Paul sees that this old life is dead. His life in this physical body is energized by Christ and his Spirit and lived on the principle of faith in Christ as his Leader and Saviour. That's the overall idea. But now let's examine the pieces of this remarkable statement.

"Christ lives in me" is another piece of the compelling evidence that the law has been superseded by the Spirit that the Messiah sends. This is an amazing truth: Christ lives in us by his Spirit! This is more than Christ living in us in a figurative sense because we share his values. This is the Spirit of Christ actually living within our bodies. Amazing! And then he brings every believer to the realization that our “new lives” must be lived by faith in Jesus who died for us!


"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! "

We shall look at three parts in conclusion. First, Paul’s amazing conclusion of this section of his letter with a summary verse that combines in a single sentence his main themes: grace, righteousness (or justification), law, and Christ's death. The logical conclusion of the circumcision party was that keeping the law was sufficient to justify a person. But if this were true, says Paul, then Christ died needlessly.

Secondly, church politics can be ugly. We see that in Paul's day it was ugly too. What is however important is that Paul did not “wash” his hands of all church politics, instead he addressed issues where they existed. It is vital that we stand for the principles of our faith, even when others don't understand.

Finally, the root of the conflict in Antioch is a common issue of mixing the gospel with culture. We should be able to decipher between what the core gospel is, that we teach new believers and how much of our own culture we import into it when reaching out to other cultures. It is therefore best to serve the Gospel without any cultural inclinations.

Parts of this study was culled from

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