The gospel is easy to believe, hard to live out

by Kyle
published February 15, 2014


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Peter, the brash and impulsive man who always had his foot in his mouth, became the superstar of the early church 10 days after Jesus left earth.

The church enjoyed a 2,500 percent growth over just a few hours when Holy Spirit came at Pentecost because of Peter’s first message. He began to do miracles. People would lie in the streets they knew Peter frequented hoping his shadow would pass over them and heal them.

Where Jesus did miracles, now Peter did. Where Jesus opposed the religious establishment, now Peter did. Where Jesus received direct revelation from God, now Peter did.

For some time, Christianity — or “the Way” as it was called — was viewed as a sect of Judaism. The early church thought the gospel was only available to those who were either born into or converted to Judaism. For at least several months, but perhaps even a couple of years, God’s church on earth had no idea that members were supposed to reach out to anyone but Jews with the gospel.

That is, until God told Peter otherwise in Acts 10.

Even Paul — who received the gospel directly from the resurrected Christ and penned 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament — was compelled by God Himself to go and check with Peter to make sure he understood the gospel correctly.

But Peter was still human.

In Galatians 2, Paul tells two stories about Peter. In verses 1-10, he recalls how, after having served Christ for 14 years around Syria and Cilicia, God directed him to go to Jerusalem and consult with the apostles Peter, James (Jesus’ half-brother) and John (who wrote the Gospel of John) to make sure what he was preaching to non-Jews was accurate.

Peter, James and John — whom Paul refers to as pillars of the church — confirmed what Paul and been preaching for the previous 14 years. Salvation is for the gentiles as well and does not require circumcision or any other kind of conversion to Judaism (or any other outward act like baptism, communion or prayer). Most importantly, salvation comes only by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But even then, contrary to the leadership of the apostles, there seems to have been still in the church a minority who still believed that gentiles needed to convert to Judaism before they could be saved. They would become the very people Paul so vehemently opposed in Galatians 1. Biblical scholars call them “Judaizers.”

By Galatians 2:11, Peter still looks pretty good. He’s a prominent church leader in Jerusalem, notable for his close relationship with Jesus and all the miracles he had performed. So it makes sense for Paul to “oppose him to his face because he stood condemned,” right? (Galatians 2:11)

What did Paul find so objectionable about this hero of the faith?

When Peter came to visit the city of Antioch in modern-day Turkey where Jews were a minority, Paul noticed that Peter was only eating with other Jewish Christians. Though Peter never said it out loud, his actions communicated a simple message: “You might believe in Jesus, but if you don’t do [insert your favorite religious ritual here], you aren’t even worth eating with.”

In essence, Peter seemed to see two kinds of Christians: truly spiritual people who belonged to God’s people on the one hand and people God tolerated because they at least believed in Jesus on the other. Paul didn’t tolerate this kind of thinking in anyone else, so he wasn’t going to tolerate it in Peter at all.

The problem with Peter’s thinking, whether he was conscious of it or not, was that at least believing in Jesus is the only thing that matters.

So Paul chastised Peter: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)

Paul goes on to again explain that there is nothing you can do to win favor with God. There is nothing you can do to get into heaven. There is nothing you can do to undo all the evil you’ve done in your life. Your only hope is in what Jesus did! If you could do something on your own, then “Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

Even Peter, who we can all look to as a spiritual titan and example, had trouble living out the gospel. He knew it. He even authorized Paul to preach it. But when it came time to live like the gospel is really true and people who have trusted Jesus become completely God’s children, he failed just like you and I tend to do.

So what’s the solution? How to we live out what we know is true about what God has done for us? Paul’s formula for the Christian life is in Galatians 2:20.

“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.”

Your life before Christ was filled with sin. When you trusted Christ, you were linked with Him because He paid the penalty for your sin with His life. That means that whatever was left of your life after your sins were taken away belonged to Him. This makes Him free to live through your life.

If we really let Jesus live through us, then His attitudes will become our attitudes. His friends will become our friends. His brothers and sisters will become our brothers and sisters, no matter what they act, look or smell like. His love will become our love.

If we want to live out the gospel, we have to give up seeking out what we want for ourselves and always look for what God wants for others. Seek to want only what God wants. And that’s the challenge.

Are you up to it?

What do you think?

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