Galatians 2:11–21 (NKJV)
11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.Galatians 2:11-21
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
17 “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Paul recounts a story from the life of Peter. When Peter came for a visit to Antioch where Paul served at that time, he would eat with Gentiles, have fellowship with them, and make no differentiation between them and him. But when men visited from Jerusalem–Jews like Peter and Paul–Peter would separate himself from the Gentiles, and only sit with the Jewish visitors. Peter lived in fear of the reaction of the Jews to his fellowship with Gentiles. Paul called him out on his hypocrisy, and explained the better covenant of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is through faith and not through works. Therefore, the hypocrisy of Peter sent a mixed message of living in faith when among Gentiles, but embracing works when the Jews arrive. Paul asks the absurd question as to whether faith in Christ is vain and insufficient, which obviously would elicit a negative response. But he then announces the need to leave behind the old ways of salvation–works–in order to live in the freedom of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 20 is a pivotal passage in explaining the new life in Christ. The new believer has crucified the flesh, and Christ lives within him or her. Even the life that is lived is through faith in Christ, not in works. Therefore, Peter was in error to pick up the legalistic, Gentile-shunning, works-based life when Jews were present.
Paul’s message here is that one should not go back and pick up the old ways of living when around friends that were part of that stage of your life. Just because you see an old drinking buddy does not mean you should go out with him and get drunk. An old partner in crime should not be able to draw you back into an act of theft. No, you should be strong enough in your faith to resist going back to what once bound you. Even if it is a toxic church environment, you should not be drawn back into a negative life system. Be strong in your newfound faith and allow God to lead you into paths of life and not death. This is the way to true freedom. When the old ways come calling, remind them that you are a new creation, and Christ lives in you. He is your liberator, your freedom fighter. Live in the new freedom He provides!