The Gospel Destroys Hypocrisy
Scripture: Galatians 2:11–16
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that 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.
Hypocrisy is a sin that Jesus spoke a lot about – in the Sermon on the Mount, and in his interactions with the religious leaders of the day. It’s a sin He spoke a lot about, and it’s also a sin that He died to abolish. Today our focus will be on how “The Gospel Destroys Hypocrisy.” Or you could say how Jesus destroys hypocrisy.
A definition of hypocrisy: it is a “pretense to being what one really is not, especially the pretense of being a better person than one really is.” Hypocrisy is the enemy of truth. And the truth is, all of us can be prone to hypocrisy, in some way or another.
But why is that? Why are we prone to hypocrisy? If we’re going to rightly understand what motivates our hypocrisy, we need to rightly understand what the Bible says about us as humans.
The Bible says we’re sinners. It says we are self-centered when we should be God-centered. Scripture is not at all shy about painting an honest picture of our sinfulness. It puts us all on an even playing field. It says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We like to believe that we are inherently good people. Christian and non-Christian alike, we tend toward this belief that we’re good. And so when we see something in ourselves that isn’t good, what do we do with that? We may pretend that the thing we see doesn’t actually exist. Out of fear, we may feel pressured to hide it from others around us. Because we want to show the world, show people around us, a version of us that’s good.
Now, in one sense, wanting to display goodness isn’t a bad thing. We were fundamentally created to display goodness, because we’re made to be God’s image-bearers. We’re made to reflect His likeness. So we have this desire to put goodness on display, to put God on display. The problem, though, is that often times when we seek to project goodness, we are doing it not to make God look great, but to make ourselves ourselves look great. And when we do this, when we feel compelled to show others a better version of ourselves, not only are we being dishonest, but we are also making those people into Master and Judge. Displacing God as Master and Judge. We are enslaving ourselves to their opinions, and so our lives begin to revolve around what those other people want – or what we think they want. We begin to focus on this goal of pleasing others, earning their approval, making them like us. And when we have that goal, when that is our focus, hypocrisy is inevitable.
When the reality of our sinfulness collides with, this need to be accepted by others, then hypocrisy is inevitable. That’s why so many people in this world go around wearing masks. Wearing false versions of themselves, covering up the truth about their weakness, their frailty, the truth about how sin has warped them. And this kind of living is not in step with the gospel.
Galatians 2 presents the contrast between living in hypocrisy and living in step with the gospel. Peter provides an example for us of how not to live, and Paul provides an example of how God desires that we live. With each of these men, we’re going to hone in on three things: their actions, their motivations, and their impact. So, what are the things they did, why did they do those things, and what was the result of what they did? Those are the questions we’re going to ask. Then after we do that, we’re going to bring this back to us, and the way we live.
So, let’s start with actions, and look at Peter first. Peter gives us a clear example of hypocrisy. In one sense this is an encouraging fact. Although it’s not a good thing that Peter sinned, I’m thankful that it was Peter, the apostle, and not just some obscure person that isn’t mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. The fact that it’s Peter, it means that we are not alone. Peter, the apostle, struggled with hypocrisy. If he did, we can all freely admit that we do too.
Let’s see what Peter’s actions were.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
What’s happening here is that Peter was having a meal with the Gentiles. Most scholars and commentators would say Peter was going against the Jewish dietary laws. This is probably because Paul says in verse 14 that Peter “live[s] like a Gentile and not like a Jew.” This implies that he was eating and drinking things that members of the circumcision party would not have approved of. So one minute, Peter’s gladly eating with the Gentiles, and the next minute he pulls away because he knows what the Jews will think of this. He knows that his actions go against their belief that dietary laws must still be followed by Jewish Christians. And so even though Peter knew that salvation was not obtained by works, but by faith in Christ, he still tried to maintain a facade before others. A facade that he was doing those works, that they believed were necessary for salvation. Peter was trying to present a “better,” more acceptable version of himself.
There are several aspects of Peter’s actions that stand out here. One major thing Peter did, by pulling away from the Gentiles, is that he belittled one group of people in favor of another. He showed partiality. And we saw last time we were in Galatians, that partiality is against the very nature of God. Our God is an impartial God, and so we are to be impartial people. And what Peter did amounted to favoritism, racism even, and sinful partiality. He was guilty for what he did. But Peter was also guilty because of what he didn’t do. He didn’t speak truth in this situation. He didn’t live out the truth in his example. And because he didn’t do those things, Paul had to step in to do them.
We see what Paul did in verse 11, and verse 14.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Paul confronted Peter. He called him out for his hypocrisy. Paul did the uncomfortable thing here. He engaged in a conflict. A conflict with one of the foremost leaders of the church at this time. Now, he didn’t do it disrespectfully. He didn’t call Peter any names. He didn’t act like he was better than Peter. He simply spoke the truth. He reminded Peter, and everyone else present, of the truth of the gospel.
Peter and Paul acted very differently. But this story is about much more than the men’s actions. It’s also about their hearts, their motives. We see Peter’s motives at the end of verse 12. The verse says:
12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Peter was motivated by fear. He was afraid of what the Jews would think of his actions. He was afraid of how they might view him. His focus was on self. “How is this going to impact me? How will this harm my social standing? How will others see me?” Peter was driven by a fear of others, not by love for others. He was driven by fear, while Paul was driven by love.
We see Paul’s love manifested in several different ways in this passage. In verse 11, he says Peter stood condemned. What does it look like to love a Christian brother or sister when they stand condemned in their sin? If you love them, and you truly want what’s best for them, then you will speak the truth they need to hear.
Later in this letter, in Galatians 6:1 Paul writes:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
Paul wanted Peter’s restoration. He wanted Peter to experience the grace and forgiveness of Christ. He didn’t want Peter to remain in sin. He cared deeply for his brother, and so he spoke.
Paul loved Peter. But we also see Paul’s love for others here. In verse 13, Paul says that the brothers were being led astray. So it wasn’t just Peter’s well-being at stake here. There were others following him in his abandonment of the gospel. And Paul loved those others. He loved Barnabas, he loved the other brothers, and so he spoke.
Verse 14 shows us another way that Paul’s love was manifested. He says there that these men’s “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Another translation says “they were deviating from the truth of the gospel.” Paul wanted the truth of the gospel preserved. We saw this earlier in this book. In Galatians 2:5 Paul was facing opposition for preaching the truth, and he says that to the opposition “we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
The preservation of the gospel is needed for the salvation of men. We need the true gospel in order to know the true Savior. The whole world needs the true gospel, and so Paul cared deeply about preserving it.
Because of Paul’s love for God, his love for others was threefold. First, he cared for Peter, he wants restoration for his brother Peter. Second, he cared for the other brothers who were being led astray. He wanted them to walk in the light. And lastly, he cared about the preservation of the gospel, because by the true gospel the lost can have true hope, and be saved.
Peter and Paul had very different motivations. Peter was driven by a fear of others, which was rooted in a love for self. Paul was driven by a love for others, which was rooted in his love for God.
Both men had different actions, they had different motivations, and, their impact was different as well.
Peter’s impact, simply, was that many others followed him in his sin. They followed him into hypocrisy.
13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Just think how much further that hypocrisy might have spread if Paul didn’t speak up. The reach of Peter’s hypocrisy may have extended all the way into our modern day, two thousand years later. But instead, it was stopped, and the love and faithfulness of Paul are impacting us most today.
Paul’s love likely helped lead Peter to repentance. Though we don’t have specific details of Peter repenting, we do have details throughout the New Testament of Peter’s continued faithful service to the church. In 2 Peter we can see the way Peter speaks of Paul, and of Paul’s wisdom, later in his life. And so we see evidence of Peter’s repentance, even if we don’t have specific details of it.
Because of Paul’s impact, the other Jews and Barnabas, who had been led astray, were shown the truth. And now we, and all the saints who have come before us, have been shown the truth as well through the preservation of this letter in Scripture. Paul’s impact, by the grace of God, was greater than he could have possibly imagined.
Martin Luther wrote, “It is wonderful that it was through just one person that God preserved the Gospel and the young church. Paul alone stuck to the truth, for he had lost Barnabas, and Peter was against him. Sometimes one person is able to do more in a council than all the rest of the council.”
Let’s bring this back to us. As I said earlier, we can all be prone to hypocrisy, to living “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” What is “the truth of the gospel”? Paul uses that phrase in verse 14. And we find out what it means in verse 16 – which says, “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.”
This is the truth of the gospel. We need this truth in order to live, not as hypocrites, but live in the light as God calls us to. The gospel destroys hypocrisy because the gospel says that “by works of the law no one will be justified.” Who does that apply to? It applies to you, and it applies to me. It applies to everyone. None of us can be justified by works of the law, no exceptions. Not the person who loves their spouse and kids well, not the child who is always obedient to his or her parents, not the person who gives so much of their time, energy, and money to serving those in need. These are all good things to do, but they cannot justify us. They cannot make us “good people” by God’s definition.
All of this sounds like bad news. It sounds like a crushing message, a reality that will cripple us if we truly believe it. And honestly, it is crippling – apart from Jesus. If there were no Jesus, then this truth would destroy us. We would have to respond to it in one of two ways: either we would have to deny it, claim that it’s not true, go on living like everything’s fine. Or, if we really believe this truth, we don’t deny it, then apart from Christ we would have to fall into utter despair. We might even put an end to our lives because we’re so distraught, we’re so crushed. Apart from Jesus those are the two options – denial, or despair.
We see this lived out all around us. When people are confronted by their own sin, and the evil that seems to reign in this world, then apart from Jesus their options are to deny what seems so evident, and cling to some false hope that things aren’t as bad as they seem, or, they fall into cynicism and despair.
A person cannot be justified by works of the law. By anything they do or don’t do. Without Christ this is crushing news, but, it turns into the best of news, when Jesus enters the picture. One of the reasons it becomes good news, that we cannot justify ourselves, is that it makes God’s grace all the more astounding. And His grace is key to the destruction of hypocrisy in our lives.
Only when we accept that we’re far worse people than we know, but that we’re far more loved by God than we could imagine – only when we understand this grace, will hypocrisy lose its power. Because what do we have to prove? God loves us. Not because of the works we’ve done, but in spite of the works we’ve done. We are accepted by the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Is that enough for us?
Rightly understanding God’s grace helps us to rightly view other people. If we are being driven by fear of others, always showing people a dishonest version of ourselves, then we are thinking more highly of others than we ought to think, and thinking more poorly of God than we ought to think. When people are big and God is small, we live out of step with the truth of the gospel.
This is what happened with Peter. Peter’s words and actions did not reflect the true gospel. Because he so craved the acceptance of the Jews, he compromised the truth that justification comes not by works, but through Christ. He compromised the truth that salvation is through Christ alone for all people, both Jews and Gentiles alike. Peter forgot the gospel. And forgetting the gospel is the same as forgetting Jesus, living in ignorance of Christ.
Peter had walked with Jesus on this earth. He had seen firsthand how Jesus didn’t focus on earning the approval of others – He simply spoke truth. Jesus viewed each person He encountered in the right way. He didn’t exalt them too highly, but at the same time He loved them dearly. Because He loved them, He spoke the truth, and He displayed the truth by how He lived.
Jesus lived this way in His time on earth, and He still lives this way today. He loves us, and He speaks truth to us through His Word, by His Spirit. He relates to us in a way that’s full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit of the Spirit, but that also means they are the fruit of Jesus Christ. He lives toward us in these ways all the time. Even though He sees right through our facades. Even though He knows what frauds we can be. He loves us. He loves us right in the face of our weakness and frailty. Even now.
He loves His people, whether we’re here and we’re receiving His Word with gratitude, with tender hearts, surrendered to Him, or if we’re distracted, or hard-hearted, we’re bored with Him. Wherever our hearts are this morning, Jesus is faithfully speaking. He is faithfully wooing us, and He will not cease to do that. His people will remain His people forever.
So if hypocrisy has taken root in your life in some way, remember Jesus Christ. If you’re driven more by fear of others than by love, remember Jesus Christ. If you’re tempted to hide the truth about yourself, about your sin, from others, remember the one who died to break the power of sin in your life. Remember Him. If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
No more living in darkness, no more hiding behind a mask. Jesus said: “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) May we live according to that freedom.