"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Galatians 3:3
I couldn't believe my ears. Rubbing my sweaty palms on my tunic, and blinking several times, I listened to Bro. Paul verbally strike down the Apostle Peter in front of all those people...well, it was somewhat private, done in the hall leading to the great room. Still. The Apostle Peter, of all people. Peter, who walked with Jesus, who people called the pillar or rock.
But, as Bro. Paul continued, the Holy Spirit struck me. And I felt as though a dagger was thrust into my heart. I collapsed on the cushions beside the other members of the group that came from Jerusalem. I too, had fallen into the trap of trying to please the men that came from James and withdrew myself from the Gentile believers. As Bro. Paul said, "Fearing them which are of the circumcision."
That's been my downfall all my life, trying too hard to please people. I don't believe Peter was intentionally preaching the need for circumcision. It was a simple case of his actions speaking...and I followed his actions, not his words. Although, I do feel that he was being so careful in what he said, one might almost call it double-speak. But who am I to judge? Like Peter, I so easily get caught up in things and the 'air about the situation'. When James' men arrived, I followed Peter into the far end of the courtyard and chose to eat with them. Dear Lord, forgive me.
This I do know: I am saved by grace through faith and that not of myself but of Christ.
I've struggled often with the concept of sanctification, of setting apart myself for God. It seems a moving target, as flighty as a deer. I do believe we are to walk in Christ and that means obeying His Word. But obedience, without compassion and grace, without an understanding of mercy and judgment...well, I'm not sure that is aligning oneself with God.
Did not the prophet Hosea say, "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you"? and then again, "Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually"? Surely to live in the character of Christ, our strict obedience must be tempered with mercy and judgment...and sometimes, as I believe was the case with Peter and myself, the obedience isn't even consistent with the Lord's commandments, but rather man's interpretation of the law. Yada, Yada. If we only knew God more, we'd know better each moment what to do.
There will come a time, Paul teaches us, when all Christ's teaching will be available, the revelation of Christ complete. But I digress.
I watched from the room as Peter's chin dropped to his chest. He was stricken. And so was I. He nodded in agreement with Paul. Then he stepped from the hall and motioned the rest of us to follow him. Then, with true Peter-style, he took his goblet and a piece of bread, and joined the Gentile believers in the feast, begging their forgiveness for his rudeness and inconsistency.
Later, I sat on my cushion and watched the shift in the spirit of the evening. Rather, in the movement of God's Spirit in the room. Sanctification, I concluded after watching the joy and close fellowship shown in this mixed group, is a relationship with God which pours over and into our relationship with others. A relationship so close that what others do will not pull us from God and draws those who have eyes to see and ears to hear to God. I do things to please the Almighty Lord, my Holy Father, and to bless Him. That is it. No one else need be pleased.
Truth be told, I live a certain way because blessings come from living in obedience to my Lord. Do my works change me? hmm. I think perhaps only if those works cause me to know more of Christ can they make me more Christ-like. But if those works are merely to obtain the blessings, whether it be the praises of men or some other blessing, then I think Christ may not be in it. It is possible, as Peter, myself, and the others found, to live a 'righteous' life in the eyes of men, only to do harm to our relationship, or nearness to Christ.
But the other side of the coin is that discipline can change me, can cause me to form habits that are good, that bring God glory. The inner man--my wishes, desires--they are formed by my relationship with Christ. If first my inner man is shaped by the Holy Spirit, then the outer man will more readily conform to the discipline that pleases God.
That night, Bro. Paul asked me to close the fellowship in prayer. My prayer was short. "Lord, please help me, help us, to walk in Your ways for Your glory." For how else could I sum up the day?
"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." Galatians 2:20