If Paul was willing to confront Peter to his face over this issue, it must be important!
From what we can tell, while Peter was in Antioch, he was fellowshipping and sharing meals with Gentile Christians, as he had already come to understand that “the dividing wall of hostility” had been broken down (Eph. 2:14) and in Christ the Gentiles and Jews were one new man (Eph. 2:15). The old divisions of the ritual laws and cleanliness laws were no longer valid, Christ had come and He is our peace (think back to this past Sunday’s sermon).
Yet, when some Jews from Jerusalem showed up, Peter seems to have gotten cold feet… somehow he felt uncomfortable because he knew that these “men from James” wouldn’t like that Peter was eating with the “uncircumcised.” Suddenly, the law (and not Christ alone) was the dividing line. Once again, Peter was separated from his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul would not just stand by and let this go because it went to the very heart of the Gospel. Galatians 2:21, the last line of this chapter reveals the central concern Paul had:
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
See, for Paul, Peter’s actions were saying that Christ and His life, death, resurrection, and ascension were not enough. Gentiles still needed the law to be “righteous” or “clean”. If they still needed the law, what was the point of Christ?
No, Paul realized that adding anything to Christ for righteousness is nullifying the grace of God. In other words, if salvation comes to us by anything we do, any of our works, our relations, our efforts… we are no longer saved by grace. And if no longer saved by grace, Christ’s death is without purpose. Wow!
How concerned are we to keep the focus where it ought to be, on Christ alone? How aware are we of the glory of the grace of God in Christ? That the salvation we have is a gift and if try to add anything to this gift as necessary for our salvation, we’ve made His work obsolete?
It’s no surprise that Paul opens Galatians 3 with this rebuke:
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . . Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
May the work of Christ continue to be magnified in our hearts so that we live by faith each and every day.