The second chapter of Galatians introduces Paul’s experience in Jerusalem after his conversion to Christ (about seventeen years earlier, cf. Galatians 1:18 and 2:1). He went there to confer with the other apostles, as a way of confirming that the message he was preaching – among the Gentiles – was the same as they had presented to the Jews (and it was, 2:9-10). While he was in Jerusalem, however, some “false brethren” attempted to impose additional requirements on what Paul was teaching the Gentiles (evidently they wanted the Gentiles to first become proselyte Jews as a condition of being considere Christians – cf. verses 3 and 12-14). Note Paul’s response in verse 5: He refused to allow them to add a requirement to the gospel! What we should draw out of this incident is a practical confirmation of the Lord’s warning in Revelation 22:18, about the penalty for adding human “requirements” to the things God requires for salvation!
In verses 11-14, however, we find that even fellow-apostles could be tempted and swayed by the prospect of intimidation. Peter – under the influence of some who were associated with James (cf. Acts 21:20-22) – was induced to withdraw from associating with some of the Gentile brethren in Antioch. Paul’s response to Peter was the same as it had been to those in Jerusalem, in standing up to him and pointing out the hypocrisy of his actions. Note that there is nothing here to indicate that his opposition was done in a harsh or unkind way, but it is plain that Paul spoke very frankly and did not offer any kind of “compromise” or try “meet Peter half way” in this matter. Peter was wrong, and needed to repent! We need to take great care that we are not persuaded to “give a little” when someone introduces or champions a doctrine or practice for which there is no biblical warrant. It is not a matter of “fairness” for those who stand with the truth to be expected to “back off” what the bible says, in order to keep peace with those who want to incorporate things for which they have no bible authority! We must stand where Paul stood, giving no ground at all to error!
Chapter 2:20 offers one of the most beautifully succinct summaries of what it means to be a Christian to be found anywhere in the bible:
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
When Paul writes of being “crucified with Christ,” it is plain that his former life (as a Jew, and a persecutor of Christians) was sacrificed in order to gain salvation in Christ. This is the sacrifice every individual must make in order to obtain salvation, but many are simply unwilling to make it; since the beginning of the church, people have tried to find some way of combining the world with the gospel, but there is none! The life in which Paul labored for the Lord was lived “by” (in, within) the faith of the Christ, rather than according to his own whims or desires, and so must our lives in Christ be also.