Witnessing Through Our Actions
(Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
I love the apostle Paul. He tells it like it is! In his letter to the Galatians, he is defending his apostleship and recounts a time when he had to call out Peter for his hypocrisy. Since this story is not recorded in Acts, we don't know for sure when it happened, but it probably occurred soon after Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey (Acts 14:26). Paul most likely wrote his letter from Antioch to the Galatians around this time as well.
PAUL CONFRONTS PETER
When Peter went to Antioch, he ate with the Gentile believers like it was the most natural thing to do. But when some friends of James, the brother of Jesus, came, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile believers. He was afraid of being criticized by James' friends because they were teaching the necessity of circumcision for salvation. Peter didn't want to cause any conflict, so he compromised the gospel message when he refused to share a meal with Gentiles, which in turn divided the Jewish and Gentile believers in Antioch. Other Jewish Christians followed Peter's example and also stopped eating with the Gentile Christians.
When Paul saw what was happening, he didn't like it! So he called out Peter for his hypocrisy in front of everyone. Paul accused Peter of being ashamed of the gospel. By not standing up for the truth in his actions, Peter was compromising the Good News that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. Paul says, "For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die" (Gal 2:21 NLT).
PETER KNEW BETTER
Peter knew and understood from his vision in Joppa and his experience in Caesarea that God was extending salvation to the Gentiles based on their faith in Christ's finished work on the cross (Acts 10:9-11:18). According to the law, it was forbidden for Jewish people to enter a Gentile home or associate with them. Eating with them was out of the question. But when God revealed to Peter that this was no longer the case, he entered the home of Cornelius, a Gentile Christian, and ate with him. So now that Peter refusing to eat with the Gentile believers in Antioch was perplexing.
We all know Peter from the Bible. He was bold and fearless. He often put his foot in his mouth in the days before the Holy Spirit came, but after He received the Spirit, he preached a straightforward and anointed message of salvation, and 3000 people were saved. His ministry was to the Jewish people, but he clearly understood that Gentiles no longer had to become Jews to be apart of God's family. They had only to put their faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. So by refusing to eat with the Gentile believers, Peter was communicating to everyone that they needed to follow the law to be saved. This type of thing was also happening in Galatia, and that's why Paul wrote a letter to them, to clear up the confusion the Galatians had about the need to be circumcised.
Paul was setting the record straight. Peter was wrong in what he did. Gentiles did not need to be circumcised or follow the law, and neither did the Jews. Jesus fulfilled the law. And anyone who believes in Jesus and what He did on the cross, will be saved. No one is accepted by God or made righteous by keeping the law or by good works. Both Jews and Gentiles are made righteous through faith in Christ alone.
Compromising our beliefs out of fear or a desire to not cause conflict is not right. Refusing to associate with other Christians because we are in the presence of unbelievers is sending the wrong message. Peter was aligning himself with James' friends who were teaching a false gospel by refusing to stand up to them. What James' friends believed is similar to those who believe good works are necessary for salvation. Both groups are saying Jesus' sacrifice isn't enough.
Peter's problem was his refusal to eat with the Gentile believers, which in no way means he had to ignore James' friends. If Peter had continued to eat with the Gentile believers after James' friends arrived, his actions would have made it clear what he believed. When through our actions, we behave like it's our good works that make us acceptable to God, we are sending a confusing message to those who wrongly believe good works are essential as well as to new believers, who may become confused and question their salvation. Good works have a place, but not in salvation. Salvation is through faith in what Jesus did on the cross. His shed blood satisfied God's holiness. When a person believes the gospel, God accepts them and declares them as righteous. There is no other way!
Our actions matter! What we do to show our faith is in Christ alone sends a message about what we believe. Our actions can open a door for us to share the gospel. Here are a few ways to consider:
Displaying the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)
An unwillingness to compromise even in the small things (Acts 5:4)
Living God's way and not for the things the world thinks are important (1 John 2:15)
Denying yourself, selflessness (Luke 9:23)
Loving your enemies, patiently enduring persecution (Matt 5:44)
Separating yourself for the work of Christ such as full-time ministry (John 20:21)
Having joy and peace amid hardship (James 1:2)
Being a light (Matt 5:14)
Being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)
Living a righteous and holy life (1 Pet 1:14-16)
Loving and accepting people who believe differently, maybe even sharing a meal with them ;) (Mark 12:31)