Posted by: Brad Beaman | June 13, 2008

The Gospel: Opposes Legalism, Galatians 2:11-16

How would you like to walk up to the man who preached the Pentecost sermon, get up close to his face, (this man who walked on water), look him straight in the eye in front of a crowd of people and say, Peter my buddy, Cephas old pal, you are not preaching the true gospel. You better straiten up and fly right.

 

That’s what Paul did. He rebuked Peter to his face. And there was nothing Peter could do except stand there red faced knowing that Paul was exactly right. 

 

In Chapter 1 of Galatians Paul expresses his astonishment that the churches in the region of Galatia have so quickly deserted the true gospel for a false Gospel. Then in the first part of Chapter 2 Paul flashes back to what is known as the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15.

 

There was a monumental issue at stake. The Gospel of Grace was being weighed in the balance. At the Jerusalem conference Paul scored a victory for Spiritual Liberty. Just to think that the first century church almost abandoned the true gospel for a system of legalism. It was about to become like the church of the dark ages before the reformation.

 

But it got even worse. After the Jerusalem Council it seemed like everyone but Paul was willing to compromise the gospel and the central issue of salvation. It was almost like a second rate science fiction plot.

 

You know the movie plot. Aliens invade the earth from outer space and come to take over the world. These aliens have a ray gun and all the good guys are under their spell and helping the aliens take over the world. Only the movie hero is not affected and he must stand alone (along with one heroine) to save the world. He finds a way to get the other good guys back to their right mind and he saves the day. Hurray!

 

The list of the good guys who were under the spell of the Judaizers’ ray gun was unbelievable: Peter, Barnabas and James. This time it is not science fiction. Paul is the hero and he must get the good guys back to their right mind to save the day for the true gospel. The true gospel opposes legalism.

 

Galatians 2:11-16

11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before 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. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

    14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter 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?

    15″We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know that a man is not justified 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.

 

At the Jerusalem council Paul won a battle for Spiritual Liberty. But any struggle for Liberty is never final. Patrick Henry cried, “Give me liberty or give me death.” His cry was regarding American freedom from an oppressive English government. It was a battle for free speech and freedom of religion.

 

But Patrick Henry also had to fight for liberty again on another day. This time he helped the Baptists of Virginia who had endured cruel punishments, even beatings, because a state church formed supported by taxes. They were persecuted from the fellow Americans that had just gained their own liberty. Those who had gained their freedom now oppressed others.

 

Leon McBeth in the textbook The Baptist Heritage/Four Centuries of Baptist Witness says:  “Ironically the settlers, who had come from dissenter status, moved to worship according to their convictions, established themselves as the official church in America and persecuted those who dissented from them.”   page 255

 

Human nature is drawn to sin. It seems every one of us are prone to legalism and bondage. The battle for liberty must be repeated. There was a first century struggle found in the New Testament for spiritual liberty.

 

Legalism is an ongoing issue and we must be aware. Moody Monthly Magazine listed “The Trouble with Legalism” as their lead story in 1994. It is as relevant today as at any time. As Christians we should never walk by rules, we must walk by faith. The Holy Spirit is our guide.  

 

When I graduated from college I started working as a factory supervisor for Quaker Oats. A man who had been a supervisor in that factory for 22 years gave me a book. It was the union contract. He told me to read it, carry it, sleep with it and breathe it. The whole thing was full of rules. It even had rules on how people were to go to the toilet.

 

Legalism wants rules. The Moody article, says it this way, “legalism is the lazy way out. Christianity is a relationship not a set of rules.” The battle against legalism is not once and for all. We are never done with legalism. It will continue to threaten the Gospel. Time after time legalism has been defeated only to reappear.  

 

How do we detect legalism? When you see Christianity reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts. Legalists are rule orientated, inflexible and judgmental. They will focus on the insignificant. Paul described them in Galatians 2:4 “they sneak in to enslave.”

 

We read that Peter came to Antioch and Paul opposed him (Vs. 11). Peter would eat with Gentiles (Vs 12).  He wasn’t bound to dietary regulations. He exercised his freedom in Christ, but then certain men came from James and Peter started obeying Jewish law. Peter withdrew himself from the gentile believers.

 

He went back to his old ways like in Acts chapter 10 when he considered himself above even going to the house of a gentile. Legalistic hypocrisy had captured him.  Peter was concerned about what the legalists would think of him.

 

They showed their disapproval with their frowns. Peter was now thinking of his reputation. Legalists can be very intimidating. They will talk about you if you do not conform. They led others astray even Barnabas. Peter how could you do this? After the vision of the sheet you had recorded in Acts 10 you can do this? After the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 and what took place you can do this?   

 

In some ways I think this is Peter’s worst mistake ever. It may be even worse than when he denied Christ. At that point he did not have the Holy Spirit. He had not declared like he did in Acts 10:34, “Now I know the gospel for all.”  After all this he let the Judaizers intimidate him. Paul says it in verse 11, Peter was clearly wrong.

 

People do not want to go to a church where they go and meet legalism. The emphasis usually shifts to what you don’t do. Before I became a Christian I saw church that way. But a campus ministry showed me joy. They talked of Christian life as a great adventure. They emphasized that Christ came to bring abundant life.

 

We don’t want legalism, we want liberty. Peter was undermining the Gospel of grace. We must beware. Peter preached the Pentecost sermon after all. We walk by the Spirit. If we are not vigilant we may wake up and find we gradually moved to walking in the flesh. How dangerous. How relevant this passage of Scripture.

 

In his book Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll has a chapter called Squaring off Against Legalism. He says, “One of the most serious problems facing the church is legalism. One of the most serious problems facing the church in Paul’s day was legalism. In every day it’s the same. Legalism wrenches the joy from the Christian believer and with his joy goes his power. Nothing is left but cramp, somber dull listless profession. The truth is betrayed and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a glooming kill-joy. The Christian under the law is a miserable parody of the real thing.”   Grace Awakening p 76

 

Legalism saps joy from Christian and seeks to sneak in, bring others into bondage. In The Masterlife Discipleship course there is section on tendencies. One tendency is a liberator. Other people are opened up and grow in Christ when influenced by the liberator. The other tendency is a dominator who restricts and controls. The dominator is a classic legalist.  

 

Peter fell to legalism. Even Barnabas was led astray. The more lifeless the church the more adamant it becomes about restrictions. I stayed in the home of a man named Angus in Scotland. He lived in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. Before the revivals swept the Hebrides there was a spirit of legalism. When he was a boy one Sunday his dog jumped up on him wagging his tail to be friendly. He reached down to pet his dog. His father said, “Angus we don’t do pleasurable things on the Lord’s Day.” 

 

What can we do? We must emphasize relationship over rules. We must be sure we are walk by the Spirit and have not ourselves fallen to legalism. We must be love centered.

We can encourage others. At times we might have to do what Paul did. Confront an important leader who has fallen to legalism. There is no record of it, but surely Peter thanked him later.       

 

Don’t turn Christianity into a list of rules. It takes extra work to be Spirit led. Legalism asks what is the rule here? It behaves like a court of law that seeks what has been done before. The Liberator asks what is the situation here. How can we do what’s best. He takes into consideration that we are dealing with human beings.

 

Legalism was at its worst when Christ walked the earth. The religious establishment spent great efforts trying to intimidate Jesus into following their rules. They were so rigid that they would bust open like old wine skins at the first hint of spiritual liberty. They were all about pride and conformity.   

 

We have put our faith in Christ. We are saved by faith in Jesus. Let’s continue in faith and walk by faith. We need the oil of the Spirit. We must seek freshness in our walk with God. Influence of legalism is strong and reappears often. But Galatians teaches spiritual liberty life by the Spirit of God.

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