The church in Antioch was different from the one in Jerusalem in that it was a mainly a Gentile church. I want to explain something before we move forward that I think is important. It was the tradition of many churches in this day to have a feast before they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. (You might remember that Paul had to fuss at the church in Corinth because of the way they were acting at this feast.)
In any case these people would get together and eat. It seems that there were two tables at the feast. One was the Gentile table and the other was the Jewish table. The difference being that the Gentile table had things on it like meat that had been offered to idols. It also had things like pork and other animals that Jews did not eat. The Jewish table would be kosher.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the things that these Gentiles were eating. In Jesus Christ they had the liberty to eat what they pleased. The Jews however were not able to break away from the days when they were in bondage to the Law of Moses, and because of this weakness they could not enjoy their liberty. The reason I know that the Gentile table was okay was because that is where Paul ate.
Well one day Peter comes to visit the church in Antioch. At the feast Peter is presented with something that he has never really had before, Gentile food. I believe Peter was one of those who were still living in a certain amount of bondage.
In my mind I can picture Peter trying pork chops and bacon for the first time in his life. I bet he loved them. Who doesn’t love bacon? Everything is better with bacon. Peter is really enjoying himself eating with Paul and the Gentiles.
The problem is that one day some of the Jews came down to visit, and when they showed up Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles and returned to the Jewish table. He was ashamed of the liberty he had been enjoying thereby setting a double standard before these believers.
By returning to the Jewish table he was saying that living in the liberty of Christ was wrong. When this happened Paul says that he confronted him face to face.
Before I move on and we beat up on Peter too much let me ask you a question. How many of us are truly living examples of what we know as bible doctrines? Peter stood up for this type of living in Acts 15. After his experience in Acts 11 at the house of Cornelius he was called on the carpet before the Jews and he defended himself. The problem here is that Peter’s freedom was threatened by Peter’s fear.
Peter was a very impulsive man. One moment he is cutting off a soldier’s ear for trying to arrest Jesus and the next he is denying he even knows Jesus. Peter could walk on water one moment and be drowning the next.
For Peter to fear was one thing but for his fear to be brought out in the public was another. If Paul had not confronted him these false teachers could have used this as an example of proof for their false teaching.
It is funny how people teach and preach that a man or woman must keep the law or live without sin in order to maintain their salvation. The reason this is funny is because outside of Christ no one has ever been able to keep the law. These Jews were teaching a works salvation, but they were not able to keep the law themselves.
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law.”
This includes the Law of Moses as well as any other legal system. If a person says that you have to join a certain church, speak in tongues, be baptized or any other work in order to obtain salvation they are preaching a false doctrine.
In Hebrews we are given a record of Christ offering his own blood upon the mercy seat in heaven. Let me point out a verse to you.
“When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” Hebrews 1:3
The fact that Jesus sat down after presenting his blood tells us that the work was finished. If there was more work to be done then Jesus would not have sat down, he would have kept working. When Jesus died for you He did everything necessary to purchase your salvation.
Paul even says that “we” had to leave the law in order to be justified by Christ. The “we” in this verse are the Jews. The Jews had to turn from their works to faith so that they could be saved.
The Paul finishes with a pretty clear statement.
“for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
The word “justified” means to declare a person right. Let me give you a definition of this word. “Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ.”
We are declared right by Jesus Christ. The wonderful thing about Christ is that when He saves us He not only removes our sin, but He also adds His righteousness to our account.
If God could have saved us by any other means then He would have done so. The fact is that the death of Christ was the only way for us to be justified.
In the garden Jesus prayed “if it be possible let this cup pass from me.” There was no other way therefore He willingly laid down his life so that you can live. That was enough for God and it should be enough for us.
In the next chapter we will be given a biblical example of a man who was saved apart from the works of the Law. This man simply placed his trust in God. By doing so God placed righteousness on his account.