Who doesn’t love to see those words when you’re booking a cruise or going to a vacation resort? When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Jamaica, we found out how amazing those two words can be. We could eat at all the Sandals restaurants and order whatever we wanted without paying the bill (except for that little bill I paid before we left the States). But then we encountered multiple people on staff at this all-inclusive resort who wanted a tip: the men who put our bags on the bus, the bus driver from the airport to the resort, the bag boy who brought our bags to our room, etc. All the sudden that “all-inclusive” feel was out the window. I felt a little cheated.
What is my point?
In our interactions with those around us, I’m afraid many of us who claim to believe an all-inclusive gospel for all sinners actually cheat some out of it. We freely and joyfully hold out the living water to those who are like us, while avoiding or withholding it from those who are not like us. Sometimes we even expect something more from them than we do from others before they can receive its benefits.
In Galatians 2, we encounter a rare scene where one Apostle publicly rebukes another for conduct that was, “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). What sort of heinous and ungodly actions were committed that warranted such a public rebuke? Sexual immorality? Drunkenness? Blasphemy? Nope. Switching lunch tables.
Well at least that’s what it would look like from our perspective. What was so wrong with Peter’s decision to switch lunch tables? Can’t a guy eat with whoever he wants to at mealtime? And isn’t Paul’s open rebuke for something so trivial a little overboard? Maybe this reminds you of school fights in the lunchroom over the most ridiculous things. But Paul isn’t one to make a fuss over trivial matters, especially when it involves rebuking another Apostle. The truth is, Peter’s actions that day were far from innocent.
Jesus had called Simon to be his disciple and renamed him Peter (“rock”). Once a headstrong man with a foot-shaped mouth, Peter became a rock-like leader at Pentecost. Yet here, in a moment of personal weakness, Peter caved to the fear of man (Gal. 2:12b). Of all people, Peter knew the universal scope of the gospel. God had personally given Peter a vision of his intentions to save Jews and Gentiles through faith in Christ, and even sent Peter on the first apostolic mission into Gentile territory where the Spirit fell on those in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10). The issue of salvation for Gentiles became such a big deal that the leaders in Jerusalem called a council to clarify the matter (Acts 15). What was at stake in this council was the gospel itself. Was there hope for anyone outside Judaism? Is there any way possible for Gentiles to be accepted by God or are they all destined to hell forever? Thankfully, the council recognized the Spirit’s regenerating of both Jews and Gentiles and from there on the gospel message was freely offered to both.
Problem solved. Catastrophe diverted. But not quite. Peter knew the gospel was a message of free grace to all who will turn in faith to Christ, but like us, he struggled with national pride. He sometimes acted in ways that communicated another gospel. Not one of grace for all sinners, but one of judgment for those who don’t meet the mark through law-keeping.
Our scene plays out with Peter happily enjoying a meal with his new brothers in Christ from Gentile lands. Smiles and laughter fill the table as food is passed back and forth. Unity abounds and the Spirit is working. Then a door opens and everyone looks. In walk a group of angry-looking Jewish men adorned with their long robes and bushy beards. They look at Peter in disgust and glance with hate at the Gentile believers sitting beside him. The Gentiles move their eyes from these angry men to Peter’s reaction. And they see it. Peter’s demeanor has completely changed.
The once welcoming and happy Peter now looked fearful and serious. The encouraging conversation they were just having was cut short. Peter rose from the table as if he was a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He walked away from these Gentile believers like they all the sudden had contracted a contagious virus. No more eye contact, no more physical contact, no more friendliness. Then, to their dismay, Barnabas also followed suit. Then all the Jewish believers as well. The Gentiles all the sudden felt unclean all over again. The unity they once shared with Jewish believers was severed. Perhaps they thought to themselves, “I thought the blood of Jesus could cleanse all sinners. What about the gospel? Is it all too good to be true after all? If this Apostle and all his Jewish brothers now avoid us like the plague, then are we really forgiven and accepted by God?”
This simple scene of switching tables was presenting a serious threat to the gospel. Someone had to do something and fast. But who? It would have to be someone with the authority of an Apostle.
Enter the Apostle Paul.
The once diehard Jew who persecuted Christians, couldn’t sit still at this scene. He didn’t get up from the table when Peter did. When Paul saw this, he stood only to raise his voice so that all present could hear him. The echo of Paul’s voice through the dining area left everyone stunned in silence. “Peter! If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?” We can only imagine what was going on in Peter’s mind at this point. Perhaps Peter was rushed back to the scene where he had denied Christ for fear of a little girl and the rooster had crowed three times. He had done it again and he knew it. The pain of his foolish actions struck his heart like a sharp arrow and he probably felt he could run away and weep his eyes out all over again. Paul was determined to not only spare his brother Peter from a life dominated by fear, but he also was determined to reassure all Gentile believers that the gospel really is good news for them.
Paul shared this experience with the Galatian believers because he discovered that the old cronies who influenced Peter were trying to influence them to forget the gospel as well. Paul went on to explain to this church, “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:16, 21b).
What about you reader? You’d probably affirm that Christ came to save sinners from all walks of life and we should share the gospel equally with all people. But how does that play out in your life? Are there some that you avoid sharing this message with?
Christianity is an exclusive faith in that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet Christianity is inclusive of all who would come to Christ, no matter race, ethnicity, or past lifestyle choices. Do all groups of people from all walks of life equally feel the same warmth of the gospel pulsating from your life towards them? Those who have engaged in homosexual lifestyles? Those of a Middle Eastern descent? Those of a darker complexion? Those who live on the “other side of the railroad tracks”? Or are you communicating a message to them that says, “You don’t measure up because you’re not the right ethnicity or you’re sins are too grievous or you’re too different”?
Revelation 7:9 tells us that God’s future kingdom in heaven is made up of people from all walks of life who are washed in the blood of Jesus. Let’s make sure we’re expressing the same gospel to those different from us as to those like us.