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"Justified in Jesus, or Hampered by Hypocrisy?"

Jan.17, 2016 Galatians (1:11-2:10) 2:11-21


What's a prime reason people give for not coming to church? They often object, "The church is full of hypocrites." They've been burned by churchgoers who are less than perfect (as we all are); churchgoers whose actions do not match up with their professed beliefs. The gap between life and lip.

In 2013, Barna Group researchers surveyed 718 self-identified Christians from a variety of denominations to find to what extent their actions and attitudes lined up with those of Jesus. The study found only 1 in 7 Christians (14%) holds Christ-like beliefs and also acts in Christ-like ways. [see infographic] The percentage was a bit higher amongst evangelicals - 23% or nearly 1 in 4. That means 3/4 of evangelicals DON'T have both Christlike attitudes and actions!

The root for the word "hypocrisy" occurs twice in Galatians 2:13 referring to Peter and several others in the early church at Antioch: "The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." John MacArthur comments, "This Greek word refers to an actor who wore a mask to depict a mood or certain character. In the spiritual sense, it refers to someone who masks his true character by pretending to be something he is not." In this case, Peter and companions pretended to espouse the Good News of Jesus' grace, but acted more like Jewish legalists.

A hypocrite has no integrity, no consistency, they say one thing but do another. They may appear one thing on the outside, but underneath they're different.

In any great forest one may find many huge trees. They tower above other trees and appear to be the very picture of strength and maturity. But loggers sometimes won't even bother to cut down these huge trees. One might wonder, "Why leave them? After all, a tree that big must contain 2 or 3 times the amount of lumber as a smaller tree." The reason is simple: huge trees are often rotten on the inside. They're the hollow trees that children's picture books show raccoons living in. And THEY are the trees that are often blown over in a strong windstorm because, while they appear to be the picture of strength, in fact their hollowness makes them weak. That's the essence of hypocrisy - appearing strong on the outside when really the condition on the inside is hollow and rotten.

In today's passage, we see how Paul holds fast the truth of the gospel in the face of intense pressure from many others to compromise and yield to the enslavement of legalistic traditions. He shows how genuine faith enables us to be thoroughly Christian, not just on the surface.


Last week, at the beginning of Galatians 1, we saw how Paul chided the churches for abandoning the true gospel for the heresies promoted by the circumcision party or Judaizers. He leveled with them, reminding them how Christ loved them and gave Himself for our sins (1:4).

Paul was a walking example of the power of Jesus to transform a person's life. He talks about his own personal journey in the last half of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2. He had been a "Jew's Jew", a star student of noted teacher Gamaliel: 1:14 "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." Today we might call him "radicalized" to the point of terrorism: he admits, 1:13b, "how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." He recalls in Acts 26:10ff: "On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them."

But then came an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul met the Risen One Himself and was convinced Jesus had really risen from the dead. This must have been the first of various revelations in which God communicated truth to Saul, who changed his name to Paul; he came to understand how all the Hebrew Scripture prophecies about the Messiah actually had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. As he puts it in Gal 1:16, God was pleased "to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles..." Note he didn't just say "reveal His Son TO me" but "IN me". The Holy Spirit was actively indwelling Saul/Paul, unpacking Jesus in his understanding and life. With almost no contact with early church leaders for 17 years, Paul was nevertheless given a full understanding of the Good News about Jesus. He preached in Damascus, Syria, and Cilicia, probably including his hometown of Tarsus. The churches of Judea heard the report, Gal 1:23b: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." Isn't that a shocker! God took the worst-case, the hardest nut to crack, Saul the ultra-zealous radicalized persecutor, and turned him around 180 degrees so he was instead Paul, a preacher of Jesus, himself now getting beaten and stoned and run out of towns. He could speak passionately and persuasively about this Jesus changing lives because his own life had been so startlingly changed!

If people knew you before you knew Jesus, would they say there was any detectable difference between the "old" you and the "new" you? Paul says in 1:15 that God "set me apart from birth and called me by His grace..." Are you noticeably "set apart" in your behaviours compared to others who are not Christians? Or do you just blend into the woodwork, even where immoral behaviours are concerned? Is there a "Jesus difference" about your life? Paul says in 2Cor 2:14 God "through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him." Can others sniff Jesus' fragrance in your life?


Paul the apostle was receiving divine revelations about the deeper meanings and implications of the gospel of Jesus, but these needed to be made known and accepted in the larger church. He says of the gospel in 1:12, "I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." About 17 years after his conversion, he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to sort out a doctrinal issue with the church authorities there; 2:2 "I went in response to a revelation..." He tells us more about the context in 2:4: "[This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves." What slavery? Would Gentiles have to be circumcised and obey the other regulations in the law of Moses, and the burdensome "traditions of [the] fathers" (1:14), in order to be saved?

Paul laid out his case before, 2:9 "James, Peter, and John, those reputed to be pillars..." Paul says in 2:2 "I...set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain." Was he off-track, too libertarian? No; they confirmed what Paul was teaching. They corroborated all Paul had been shown by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus promised in John 16:13, "When he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth."

Paul recalls that the Big Three (2:6) "added nothing to my message." 2:9 They "gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me." This was official acknowledgment that Paul's teaching was orthodox, he was in line with what Jesus taught and what the other apostles proclaimed, even though he had not been taught it or received it from any man (1:12). Quite remarkable, when you think about it - teaching 17 years, then double-check: "Yep, you're exactly right!"

Not only did they "shake hands" and show official approval. Titus, who was Greek and was present, 2:3 was not compelled to be circumcised. Titus carried in his very person the living proof that early church leaders maintained people did not have to be circumcised to be accepted as Christians and part of the church. We can be SO GLAD! Not just about circumcision, but all that other Jewish "baggage" and rituals and dietary laws and interpretive add-ons that had become so burdensome and spiritually defeating over the centuries.

Paul observes in 2:5, "We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you." That "truth of the gospel" is very precious! Paul did not yield on the core principles of Christian freedom. What is the heart of this "gospel truth"?

How are we made right with God? How can a person ever be considered "just" or "righteous", acceptable in God's sight, fit for heaven? Most religions of the world require good works. If your good deeds don't outweigh your bad deeds on the great weigh scale of eternity, then you don't make it to paradise, they would imply. But Christianity is different. We don't get put right with God by our good works or accomplishments. It's by receiving what God has done for us at the cross: trusting in Jesus to save us.

The "truth of the gospel" is best summed up in this passage in Gal 2:16: we "know that [ALERT: TRUTH CONTENT COMING!] 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." Note Paul's repetition: how are we justified / made righteous (same root word in Greek)? By observing the law? No, no, no! By faith in Jesus.

As 2:21 puts it, "If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" To try to be justified by law-keeping is to nullify or set aside or frustrate the grace of God. The whole point of the cross is Jesus giving Himself for our sins, in our place, as our substitute, taking our penalty and punishment on Himself, so we can be forgiven, put right with God - and God still be considered a just Judge, requiring justice to be done.


So Paul established the "truth of the gospel", the leaders recognized the grace God had given him to preach to the Gentiles, they officially shook on it, and not even Titus had to be circumcised. Fast-forward a few years. Antioch in Syria towards the north on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean was the 3rd city of the Roman empire, after Rome and Alexandria. It had become the de facto headquarters of the Gentile church. Peter was visiting. 2:12 "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." Remember the vision Peter had back in Acts 10(11-16) of the sheet being let down from heaven, and the voice saying not to call anything impure that God has made clean. Peter had gone to Cornelius' house and preached the gospel. When he got back to Jerusalem, Acts 11:2bf "the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."" It's not nice to be criticized! Even though it seemed the issue had been settled and the church was persuaded God was accepting Gentiles through repentance, perhaps the memory of that criticism and a desire to please James, another of the "pillars", caused Peter to back-pedal. The circumcision group must have been pretty imposing, putting on the pressure to conform to Jewish ways. Gal 2:13 "The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." Hypocrisy was hampering the fellowship, causing separation amongst the believers between Jew and Gentile. It's a real test.

Paul says, 2:14 "I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel." That truth - so important! - they were not being consistent with the Good News. Paul couldn't tolerate this! 2:12 "I opposed [Peter] to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." Remember, he had been used to eating with the Gentiles; he had gone to Cornelius' house back in Acts 10. It was painfully obvious to the Gentile believers at Antioch that Peter was back-pedalling, contradicting his own earlier actions. Fear of man - wanting to please certain powerful people - was turning him into a hypocrite!

Bible teacher Ralph Keiper paraphrases Paul's confrontation in 2:11-13 this way. "Peter, I smell ham on your breath. You forgot your Certs. There was a time when you wouldn't eat ham as part of your hope of salvation. Then after you trusted Christ it didn't matter if you ate ham. But now when the no-ham eaters have come from Jerusalem you've gone back to your kosher ways. But the smell of ham still lingers on your breath. You're most inconsistent. You're compelling Gentile believers to observe Jewish law, which can never justify anyone."

Hypocrisy STINKS! (And I don't mean the smell of ham on one's breath.) It breaks up fellowship, infects others, and can lead astray even leaders. Consider for a moment Paul's courage: even Barnabas had been affected; it was "Paul against the world". It was a critical juncture in the church's history: would gospel truth prevail?

The rebuke worked. After all, it was so obvious Peter was back-tracking, contradicting his earlier stance. 2:18 "If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker." The apostles had torn down the barrier of Jewish legalism, and here Peter was trying to rebuild it! Paul championed for us here, today, the precious principle that we're saved through grace alone, by faith alone.


Hypocrisy pretends, it's play-acting, "keeping up appearances": the front or mask we try to show people is not what we really are down deep, on the inside. God wants us to be genuine believers, solid, grace through-and-through.

When Howard Carter and associates found the tomb of King Tutankhamen, they opened up his casket and found another within it. They opened up the second, which was covered with gold leaf, and found a third. Inside the third casket was a fourth made of pure gold. The pharaoh's body was in the fourth, wrapped in gold cloth with a gold face mask. But when the body was unwrapped, it was leathery and shriveled.

Whether we're trying to cloak a dead spiritual life, or something else, in caskets of gold to impress others - the beauty of the exterior does not change the absence of life on the interior.

We need Jesus INSIDE in order to be thoroughly Christian, to let His presence be evident throughout our entire life, inner and outer. Paul's really onto something exciting in 2:19f: "For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

To be authentically spiritually alive, you've got to die to yourself, to the law, to any attempts to "earn" your salvation by your own good works - so your focus is living for God, not for self. Paul calls it being "crucified with Christ": Jesus termed it "denying yourself" and "taking up your cross daily" (Luke 9:23). Is this hard? Incredibly! Impossible without God's help. But He DOES help - that's where the Holy Spirit comes in, bringing Jesus' very presence and power to bear in our personal situation. So Paul can say, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God..." That is grace, becoming ever more aware of Jesus' love poured out 'back then' at the cross and 'right now' moment-by-moment as we walk with Him.

Paul describes more experientially this having-Jesus-inside bit a couple of chapters later - Gal 3:26,4:6,5:16: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus...Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."...Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the [flesh]." You'll live consistently, not hypocritically.

Or as he put it when writing a little more at length to the church at Rome: Rom 6:4,6; 8:5,10 "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life...For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin...Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires."


2:20 "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Remembering that will help keep us genuine and just, not hypocritical.

Tony Campolo (Let Me Tell You a Story) tells how the unit of a young American lieutenant in World War II was ambushed by enemy soldiers. Almost all of them escaped the flying bullets by running into an old farmhouse. But out of the darkness came the moans of one of the men who'd been severely wounded. The young lieutenant did the heroic thing. He crawled out into the night, grabbed the young recruit, and dragged him to the safety of the farmhouse. He saved the man, but just as he himself was going through the door to safety, he was struck by a bullet and killed instantly.

A year or so later the young man for whom the lieutenant had heroically given his life was back in the States. The parents of the dead hero asked to meet him. On the day arranged, the soldier came to meet the mother and father of the man who had died for him. But when he arrived at the house where they lived, it was obvious to the parents of the dead hero that he was drunk!

They sat at dinner and tried to make conversation, but the man was loud and, at times, obscene. Toward the end of the meal he even vomited! The parents did the best they could do to make their way through a horrendous evening of suffering.

When the young soldier left, and they dosed the door behind him, the mother of the dead hero slumped against the wall and moaned, "To think that our precious son had to die for somebody like that."

When the angels in heaven see the behaviour of us believers when we're not acting very Christlike, do they shake their heads and say to one another, "To think that God's precious Son had to die for somebody like that!"? We owe Him better! He gave His life for me and I should be ready and willing to live this life in the body trusting and obeying Him, doing what He would do if He were in my place. Let's pray.