By Christina Fox
He comes in to church late each Sunday. Tall and disheveled, he stands out among the crowd of nicely dressed and clean cut church goers. His speech is strange because he is mute and his behavior disconcerting. People smile politely but few bother to speak to him. We are uncomfortable around him. He’s an outsider and this is our church. We can’t communicate with him anyway, so why bother, right?
In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul refers to an incident with Peter where he had suddenly decided to stop eating with the Gentiles. For Jews, Gentiles were considered unclean and no one dared be associated with them. In Acts 10, God gave Peter a vision, revealing to him that through faith in Christ, the Gentiles were now made clean. He was free to eat with them; they were now part of the family of faith. For a while, he did eat with them but then he suddenly stopped (Gal. 2:12). It is this sudden departure from the truth of the gospel that Paul speaks to in this passage.
By refusing to eat with the Gentiles, he was in effect supporting the claims of some Jews that faith came by faith plus following the ceremonial laws and traditions. By his actions, Peter was supporting their claim that faith alone wasn’t enough to save. Rather than simply pointing out to Peter his sin and telling him he was wrong, Paul instead pointed him to the gospel. He reminded him that it is by faith we are saved, not faith plus something else.
Peter needed this reminder, as do we. It’s easy to add to grace. It’s easy to think we are better than other people for whom Christ died. Our own self-righteousness gets in the way. Even within our own churches, we may group together with like-minded people or people who look and dress as we do. For example, if we are highly educated, we might not associate with those in the church who are not. While we are polite, we wouldn’t think to invite people different from us into our homes.
Today’s passage reminds me of the homeless individual I often see at church. Paul’s words point at me and say, “Do you really believe in grace?” It challenges my faith where the rubber meets the road. If I really believed, I would reach out to those who are different than I am with the same love and grace Christ has given me. If I really believed in grace I wouldn’t treat other people as less than me.
It’s one thing to give verbal ascent to biblical truth; it’s another to live it out in daily life. This passage challenges us to look at our own behaviors toward others in the church. Who might we never acknowledge because they seem different from us? How do we portray self-righteousness against other Christians?
As Paul shows us, the way back to the truth is always through the gospel. When we find ourselves wandering from it or adding things to it, we have to return to the gospel and remember the grace God has given us. Our salvation comes, not because we look a certain way, or come from a certain place, or even know a certain thing, but solely from and through the gracious love of Christ.
Christina Fox is a homeschooling mom, licensed mental health counselor, and writer. She lives in sunny south Florida with her husband of sixteen years and their two boys. You can find her sharing her faith journey at www.toshowthemjesus.com.
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