Think Biblically!

Galatians 2:11-13

Doctrine Worth Fighting For

Prepared by Moe Bergeron

Open to Galatians 2:11-13 to see what was going on:  “When Cephas, that the apostle Peterm came to Antioch, I (that’s Paul) opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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.

Read the larger context of Galatians 2:11-21 when you are able. 

The account presents a pivotal moment in the early Christian community, highlighting a confrontation between two leading apostles, Paul and Peter, over the issue of Jewish law and Gentile inclusion. This passage is set against the backdrop of the early church's struggle to define the extent to which Gentile Christians were required to observe Jewish customs, particularly dietary laws and circumcision. Law observance creeps in slowly through such things. 

Paul recounts his public rebuke of Peter in Antioch, where Peter, after initially eating with Gentile believers, withdrew from them out of fear of criticism from those advocating for circumcision. He criticizes Peter's actions as hypocritical and not in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This confrontation is more than a personal dispute; it serves as a theological exposition on justification by faith, the essence of the Christian gospel. Paul argues forcefully that righteousness cannot be achieved through the law but only through faith in Jesus Christ. This principle underlines the radical inclusivity of the gospel, which breaks down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, uniting all believers in Christ. 

Paul's argument in Galatians 2:11-21 challenges the early church to reconsider the role of the Mosaic Law for Christians and lays foundational doctrines about grace, faith, and Christian identity. This passage is crucial for understanding the theological underpinnings of Christian liberty and the universal nature of the gospel, themes that resonate throughout Paul's letters and have shaped Christian thought for centuries.

So here is the question: What would have happened if Peter and the others who agreed with him prevailed?

 If Peter and others who shared his view at the time (before Paul confronted him) had prevailed, several essential Christian doctrines could have been jeopardized or significantly altered. Here are five such doctrines:

1. Justification by Faith Alone: This is the cornerstone of Pauline theology, asserting that individuals are made right with God (justified) through faith in Jesus Christ, not by adhering to the Mosaic Law. Paul argues vigorously in Galatians 2:16 that "a person is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ." If Peter's view had prevailed, this fundamental doctrine might have been undermined by reintroducing the observance of the Law as a requirement for justification.

2. Unity of Believers: Paul's argument in Galatians also stresses the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. In Galatians 3:28, Paul famously states, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." The insistence on Gentile circumcision and adherence to Jewish customs could have fractured the early church into distinct factions, jeopardizing the doctrine of the unity of all believers in Christ.

3. The Nature of the Gospel: The debate touches on the very nature of the Gospel itself, which Paul sees as a message of grace and freedom from the Law. Galatians 2:21 says, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." If the early church had required Gentiles to follow the Jewish law fully, it would have altered the Gospel from a message of grace to one of law adherence.

4. Christian Liberty: Closely related to the nature of the Gospel is the doctrine of Christian liberty, which asserts that believers are free from the ceremonial obligations of the Mosaic Law because of Christ's fulfillment of the Law. This freedom allows Christians to live by the Spirit rather than being bound by the letter of the Law. If adherence to the Law had been enforced, this principle of Christian liberty would have been severely compromised.

5. The Role of the Holy Spirit: The argument in Galatians also highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, which is closely tied to the doctrine of justification by faith and Christian liberty. Paul suggests that the Spirit is received by hearing with faith, not by observing the Law (Galatians 3:2). Enforcing the Law for Gentile converts could have diminished the perceived need for reliance on the Holy Spirit in guiding and empowering the believer's life.

The confrontation in Galatians 2:11-21 was not merely about dietary laws or social customs but touched on fundamental issues regarding the nature of salvation, the unity of the church, and the essence of the Christian life.

So here’s the second question: How do we guard against false teaching and quite possibly lose the Gospel?

 If only the Galatians remembered what Paul had taught them not that long before. 

All of what we have said to this point about the bad doctrine that infected the churches in Galatia is a warning for modern day Christians to give themselves to the study of their Bibles. Let me give you the example of the Bereans. First, let’s open and read Acts 17:10-12:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”

The Berean Jews are commended for doing their due diligence. They are described as more noble, than those in Thessalonica, because they received the message of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, with great eagerness, and they examined the Scriptures daily, to see if what Paul said was true. Being a "good Berean" has come to symbolize the practice of diligently studying and verifying the teachings one receives against the scriptures. Are Christians today, even able to do the same? And how important is it for the average Christian to study to know God’s word, and what may happen if they haven’t the ability to do so? 

Christians who are unable to serve as good Bereans and examine doctrine critically face several dangers, including:

1. Susceptibility to False Teachings: Without the practice of examining teachings against scripture, Christians can become easily misled by false doctrines or teachings that sound good on the surface but are not biblically sound. This can lead to confusion, spiritual stagnation, or even leading others astray.

2. Spiritual Immaturity: Christians who do not engage in personal study and reliance on the Scripture for understanding may remain spiritually immature. The Apostle Paul addresses this issue in Hebrews 5:12-14, criticizing those who, by reason of time, ought to be teachers but need someone to teach them the basic principles of God's word again.

Hebrews 5:12-14 reads; “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

3. A Lack of Discernment: Without the habit of examining doctrines, Christians may lack spiritual discernment, making it difficult for them to distinguish between truth and error. This lack of discernment can lead to a compromised faith and vulnerability to every wind of doctrine, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-14. Here’s the passage: 

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

4. A dangerous Dependency on Others for Spiritual Understanding: Christians who do not verify teachings through their study may become overly dependent on pastors, teachers, or spiritual leaders for their understanding of the Bible. While leadership and teaching are vital functions within the church, an excessive dependency can lead to uncritical acceptance of whatever is taught, without seeking personal confirmation through Scripture.

5. A serious erosion of Personal Faith: Ultimately, the inability to examine and affirm one's beliefs through Scripture can lead to an erosion of personal faith. When challenges or doubts arise, without a solid foundation in personal study and understanding, a Christian's faith may waver.

6. A Division within the Church: A lack of good Berean practice can lead to divisions within the church, as individuals or groups latch onto different teachings without a common commitment to scriptural truth. This can fracture the unity of the church and hinder its witness to the outside world.

How then do we know the difference between truth and false doctrine? Dear Christian, it begins with you. The danger of Christians who cannot serve as good Bereans is significant, affecting personal faith, the health of the church community, and the effective witness of the church to the world. Encouraging a culture of diligent Scripture study and verification of teachings can help mitigate these dangers, fostering a more mature, discerning, and unified body of believers.

Jesus taught that false prophets are recognized by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Doctrines that lead to ungodliness, division, exploitation, or abuse within the church community indicate a departure from the truth of the gospel. True doctrine, conversely, produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

One last word, read all of second Corinthians, chapter three, and how the old Law Covenant, was a ministry of death while the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit brings life.