Maintaining Consistency

Grace, Justification, Righteousness, Consistency, Hypocrisy

The greatest and most persistent criticism against Christianity is the hypocrisy of its followers. In other words, people hear Christians talking about grace and love yet see them acting mean to each other and to those outside the church. They also see believers who seem to act like they are better (and more deserving) of God’s grace and blessing than others.

If we want to effectively point people to Jesus we need to live what we say we believe. We must stop acting like the world around us and begin living in the God-honoring freedom that has been made possible through Christ.

This morning we look at an example of hypocrisy. In this case it is Peter who acted hypocritically. He behaved one way when he was with only the Gentiles, and acted another way when the Judaizers (or the people who said the Jewish ceremonial laws should be kept by any new believer) came to visit.

Let’s look at the account in Galatians 2 starting in verse 11,

11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

14 When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?

Peter had seen firsthand the gospel given freely to the Gentiles. In Acts 10 we read the account of Peter with the household of Cornelius. He was led to Cornelius’ home by God and this Gentile and his family became believers, were baptized, and then were filled with the Holy Spirit just like at Pentecost. Peter agreed that the Gentiles were equal members of the body of Christ without any other conditions required.

Now he is with the Gentiles and Paul. The apostles fellowshipped joyfully with the Gentiles. Then the Judaizers came to town. Peter pulled away from the Gentiles and ate with the Jews. This action effectively denied the equality of the Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ. There were again two classes of Christians: Gentile believers and Jewish believers. It was the equivalent of putting a “Whites Only” sign on your drinking fountain. Paul took Peter to task for his actions.

The Danger of Inconsistency

Paul said Peter behaved the way he did because he was afraid of criticism from the Jewish leaders. This of course, is Paul’s analysis of the situation (inspired by the Holy Spirit). Peter may have explained things differently. Perhaps he would have said he was just trying to defuse a conflict. The point however is anytime you become more concerned about the opinions of men than you are the Word of God, you are in trouble. You cannot please both God and man! There are some conflicts that are necessary. A conflict over the nature of the gospel is one of those conflicts.

Paul knew that Peter’s compromise with the Judaizers would lead to more and more compromise and further walls being built. Paul said many other Jews followed Peter’s lead. Even Barnabas, who was a missionary to the Gentiles, followed Peter’s lead of treating the Gentiles like they were a different brand of disciple.

The church has unfortunately been famous for creating “us” versus “them” alliances. There have been walls erected between blacks and whites, men and woman, rich and poor. Many denominations and churches started because people could no longer get along together. Is it any wonder that the world scoffs at the notion of “loving Christians?”

Any time we forget grace when dealing with others, we have actually abandoned the gospel message! Anytime we build walls instead of bridges there is a good chance we are adding requirements to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. When we add requirements we are actually diluting the power of the gospel rather than protecting it.

Does this mean we must embrace all theologies and belief systems? No, it does not. However, it does mean we must make sure that before we separate we need to make sure that the beliefs or practice clearly contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture rather than just being a matter of personal preference. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean:

Necessary Divisions Unnecessary Walls
The deity of Christ Speaking in Tongues
The authority of the Word of God The Version of the Bible you Use
The Bodily Resurrection The amount of water in Baptism
Salvation by Grace Alone The style of Worship You Embrace
The Death of Christ as payment for sin The importance of an Altar Call
The fact of the Second Coming The timetable for the Second Coming

Discernment chooses between essential truth and personal preference. It is vital that we learn to tell the difference! In this case, Paul would argue that a disagreement or error in “what is required for salvation?” requires confrontation.

Because this issue was of great significance Paul confronted Peter in front of the group. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t correct someone publicly. It should be done privately out of respect for the person. However, when the sin has been public, the rebuke needs to be public as well, this way you are also correcting any who have been led astray by the actions of the person in error.

The Confrontation

15 “You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. 16 Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

17 But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down.

Peter did what was wrong In seeking to be “politically or socially correct” we often deny the gospel. Paul cared enough about Peter, and the message of the gospel, to confront and correct Peter.

The argument Paul makes is this: “God is the one who told us (and showed us) that the Gentiles were given the exact same experience as the Jews so they were obviously equal members of the Christian community. So, says Paul, if you believe what God said and act accordingly, then those who criticize, like the Judaizers, are really saying Christ has led us into sin by causing us to accept the Gentiles as brothers! Peter’s actions were actually denying the Word of God given specifically to Peter.

There is a good principle here: If God tells you to do something (and you are sure it is God and the Scriptures actually say what you think they say) . . . it isn’t wrong, no matter who says otherwise!

The Miracle of Justification

Paul continues with one of the great verses in Scripture,

19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

We have to make a choice. We can keep trying to earn salvation by doing the right things but like Paul, the result will be that the Law will condemn us. No matter how hard we try, the law will condemn us. Sure, we may have some good days where we feel we have done a pretty good job, but . . . we will not be able to sustain it.

Paul was an example of a guy who was a really good Jew. He knew the Law of God and worked hard to try to live by that Law. He was so zealous to be obedient to the Lord that he even sought to kill the Christians who he believed to be heretics. Yet even Paul confessed that the Law condemned him. Paul was “better” than most of the people, but he knew he still fell far short of God’s standard.

We see something similar in the life of Martin Luther. He lived as a monk a life where he deprived himself and spent hours in prayer. However, he still felt the need to spend hours in the confessional because he knew that even though he was one of the most religious people around, he fell far short of God’s standard.

Think about it like trying to swim to Hawaii from San Francisco. Some of you are going to swim farther than others. You may even be able to swim for many days on end but eventually you will fail.

Paul said there is futility in trying to earn God’s favor. So instead He embraced Christ. In other words, when Paul embraced the message of God’s grace he knew the old Paul (Saul) essentially died on the cross with Jesus. True faith is not just an intellectual belief. It is a transformation. It is surrender. Our heart of stone is crushed, our pride surrenders to His grace, and our life is turned over to the Savior.

We no longer live life depending on our ability. We live our lives depending on Him. One commentator says it well,

When Paul says he has been crucified with Christ, he’s virtually saying, “It’s not the same ‘me’ anymore. It’s not the ‘I’ that tried to work for God and failed every time, nor the ‘I’ that thought the world revolved around him. The pride of the old ‘I’ directed everything to focus on self-esteem, self-confidence, self-direction, and self-exaltation. And it lived for personal pleasure and position. But my life is no longer about me,” Paul says, “because Christ lives in me.” This is where the key of faith comes in.[1]

To stick with our illustration of trying to swim to Hawaii from San Francisco. Putting your trust in Christ is like boarding a Cruise ship headed to Hawaii. We no longer worry about the journey, we trust the ship and in the captain of the ship.

This is what grace and justification is all about. It is no longer about what we can (or should) do, it is about what Christ has done and is doing in us. We can stop struggling and began enjoying the relationship that is offered freely to us.

I love this story that is found in many different places,

A man purchased a Rolls-Royce and took his new car to France. It had been advertised as the car of all cars— a problem-free automobile. But when the man got his car to France, it broke down. So he called the Rolls-Royce folks in England. They flew a mechanic to France to fix the man’s car. Of course, the man expected to get an expensive bill from Rolls-Royce, since they had flown all the way out of the country to fix his car. But months passed by and he never heard from them. So finally he wrote to them and said, “I can pay the bill, just send it to me.” Rolls-Royce sent him a note back that said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we have no record of anything ever having gone wrong with your car.” To his surprise, the bill was clean.

This is what happens when someone believes the gospel. When you place your faith in Christ and receive His forgiveness and righteousness, God looks at you and says, “I have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong in your life.” Praise God for His grace!

Keep in mind, however, that justification is not the same as sweeping sin under the rug and pretending it never existed. God knows it exists. Sin has a penalty, but that penalty has been paid.[2]

If the message of God’s grace is new to you, I know what you are thinking: “That is too easy! There must be more to it than this!” This is the Law mentality talking. When we say such things we show that we resist putting all of our hope for eternal life on the Lord. We want to do something. We want to contribute. We want to EARN our salvation.

The Bible says it is a gift. Salvation is God’s expression of unimaginable love to us.

Suppose you loved someone of the opposite sex. You do all kinds of things for them. You pay their bills, you buy them gifts, you take them places, you express to them over and over again that you are doing all of this because you love them.

How will most people respond to this kind of love? Most people will respond not by trying to pay back the person (that is actually offensive), but by loving them in return. You are drawn to someone who loves you like this aren’t you? You will relish spending time with them. And, unless you have a real heart of stone, you will love them back.

I hope you see the parallel to the gospel. God has loved us extravagantly. He does so because he wants a relationship with us. He wants us to commit to him like a bride might commit to her husband or vice versa. It is not a contest; it is a relationship.

Conclusion

Paul says he does not treat the grace of God as meaningless. His argument is that if it were possible to earn our way to Heaven we wouldn’t need God’s grace. If you will, God would have made a mistake in sending Christ to the cross (but of course, God does not make mistakes). Paul welcomes and proclaims the incredible and staggering grace of God.

So let’s drive this home. Are you struggling with every ounce of strength you have to swim to Hawaii?  How long will it be before you realize the hopelessness of your endeavor? Why not trust the Lord Jesus and let Him take you into His Kingdom?

The gospel is called good news because it is a message of rescue, hope, and new life. As His followers, it is important that we guard the good news. Any time we add requirements to the gospel we are turning the good news into another frustrating assignment that we know we can’t complete.

Some resist the message of the Gospel because they say people will take advantage of God’s grace and live recklessly because they believe it doesn’t matter what they do. But this is to misunderstand the nature of faith and the transforming power of love. We talked about how people respond to the love of another person. Unless that love is obsessive we will desire to love the person in return. Love changes us.

The Christian still pursues holiness, but they do it not to earn God’s favor, but because Christ is now living in us. The Lord’s values and His heart become the core of our being. We serve Him out of love. We serve Him because we know He has our best interest at heart. We trust Him.

Here’s another question: Are you compromising the gospel by living inconsistently?

  • Do you proclaim that God reaches out to everyone yet act like some people are not “worthy” of salvation?
  • Do you talk about unity but instead of building bridges you blow them up?
  • Do you say you want to reach others with the message of God’s grace and yet relate to others in a non-loving way?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you need to work on your consistency. You are drifting like Peter, and your behavior is going to lead others to compromise their faith.

Our challenge is to proclaim Christ to all people. We are called to love the unlovely, the difficult, and even the exasperating. We do this not because it is easy . . . we do it because this is the way Jesus loved us. Because He loved us we can now be forgiven and made new. We can know the joy of living in relationship with the Lord right here and right now.  That kind of love should motivate us to love each other.

[1] Platt, David; Merida, Tony (2014-08-04). Exalting Jesus in Galatians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (pp. 49-50). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] ibid

Scripture:

Galatians 2:11-21