Fear Can Cause Us to Betray Our Beliefs

Fitting into a social group is a daunting task; am I cool enough, smart enough, hip enough or snarky enough to be accepted?  The middle and high school years of many a person was filled with the fear of not fitting into one social group or another.  It’s enough to deal with grades, college SAT’s and prom; add on fitting into a social group and it’s enough to send people beyond the breaking point.  Factions or social groups are breeding grounds for fear.  The early church faced a challenge to her unity by factions fueled by fear. 

Galatians 2: 1-14 marks a watershed moment for the early church: would division be allowed in the church?  Paul goes to Jerusalem after 14 years on the road sharing the Gospel and planting churches to the north and west of Jerusalem.  Paul returns to Jerusalem to meet the leaders of the church with two right-hand men.  Barnabas a Jewish convert to Christianity who was instrumental in introducing Paul to the church after his conversion in Damascus (Acts 9).  Titus was a Gentile convert to Christianity from Antioch.  Both men came to Christ as their Savior through the gospel of grace (Christ alone).  These men become to object lessons of grace that Paul has come to show the leaders of the church.

Paul came to this meeting with the fear that might be running in vain or had run in vain.  Not that his message needed confirming; rather, that false teachers need to be rebuked.  His teaching and the very gospel of grace was hanging in the balance.  Men who were reported to be coming from Jerusalem (with presumed authority from the mother church) and teaching that you needed to observe the Old Testament Law to be a full Christian (Jesus + the law of Moses) were spreading false teaching and upsetting the church at large (e.g. Galatia)

The unity of the church was at stake.  Consider the message of the false teachers from Jerusalem, “Not all Jews are Christians, but all Christians must become Jews.” The Gospel of Grace is for people of all cultures – nothing added to faith in Jesus.  If the leaders of the church even tolerated the teaching that Christians needed to observe Jewish laws, it would split the movement.  It could lead to a division that pitted Jewish Christians versus the Gentile Christians – who was the more Christian?

Vs. 6-10 – The leaders of the church recognize Paul’s calling to the uncircumcised (Gentiles) on par with Peter’s call to the circumcised (Jews).  Crisis averted, the right-hand of fellowship given to Paul – the gospel of grace was affirmed.  “Remember the poor.”  Seems a strange footnote to the meeting between Paul and the leaders of the church?  This reminds us that balance must be maintained between the issues of theology and practical ministry.  Practical theology is that which is active and alive – affecting lives for the common good as well as imparting the information necessary to ensure sound doctrine.

Fear can cause us to betray our beliefs.

(vs. 11-14) a case study in table manners highlights the effects of fear and the betrayal of belief that can happen!  Cephas (Peter) was in Antioch (Gentile City) – Paul confronted him about his behavior because it primarily reflected poorly on the Gospel.  Before Jews from Jerusalem (certain men from James) showed up he ate with Gentiles without issue.  But Peter pulls back from eating with Gentiles “holding himself aloof” when he sees these men from James.  The peer pressure and resulting fear causes Peter to betray his beliefs. 

Peter being a leader in the church, was having a confusing effect on other Jews who were engaging life together with the Gentiles – even Barnabas was caught up in the “hypocrisy!”  Paul directly calls out Peter’s behavior – he’s not being straightforward about the truth of the gospel.  Paul writes that he challenged Peter with these words, “If you being a Jew live like a Gentile how can you demand that Gentiles live like Jews?”

Fear can cause us to betray our beliefs.

When we fall prey to our fears (imposed by others or psychologically implanted leading us to add something to Jesus in order to be accepted by God) we run the risk of compromising and confusing the gospel of grace with works, class, religious activity, ethnicity or even social standing.  It’s a sobering reminder that if Peter could fall into this trap we must all be on guard against it!

How we might safe guard against the fear to betray our beliefs?

1.     Examine your heart – by what are you saved? 

a.     Does your performance play any part in being accepted by God?

b.     Does your performance play any part in being accepted by the people of God?

c.      Are you holding others up to a standard in addition to the gospel of grace?

2.     Are there people in church you have intentionally not been “eating with” because they are not like you?  Will you move to change this?

3.     How can you encourage another Christian this week less with guilt and more with the gospel? 

a.     Intentionally greet that person you seemingly have nothing in common with.

b.     Intentionally ask how someone if doing and wait for the answer.

c.      Next opportunity sit with people you don’t know in church.

d.     Serve in the hospitality or Caring Ministry and get dirty!

Why is it important to do this type of introspection?  Simply, performance management is a hard way to live.  Do I measure up?  Am I cool enough to be accepted?  Have we not had enough of this!  This is not the gospel of grace. 

Set one another free by freely accepting them in Christ – let Christ be the determining factor in your relationships.  Set yourself free – set others free to run – dance and sing with their lives – not living in the shadow of fear (If I don’t measure up I’m gone).

Invite someone into your home, around your table or to a cup of coffee this week you might normally otherwise look past.   

Fear can cause us to betray our beliefs.