The Challenge of Speaking Truth to Power

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 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?”

(Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)
Hugh Latimer preaching to King Henry VI

Walking faithfully in the Christian life is filled with challenges and plenty of opportunities to grow and mature. Of course, maturity includes learning from our mistakes as well as our successes. 

The Apostle Peter had made his share of mistakes during his time with the Lord Jesus. Even in his older years, having matured spiritually and having seen many victories, he was still prone to wander at times, as Galatians 2 tells us. We all can learn from Peter’s mistakes and see the need for humility in our own lives.

Likewise as Paul in Galatians 2 encountered, there are times when we must deal with those who are in sin and error. We may be the more mature (at least in this area) or the one who was not deceived by this particular error and weren’t caught up in the false teaching. It can be an intimidating thing to confront someone about their faults and sins, especially when they are influential or in a position of authority. We can sometimes imagine the outcome of our confrontation—maybe a backlash of anger, or a shouting match, or a challenge to our questioning their maturity or faithfulness to the Lord and Scriptures. Maybe we imagine a broken relationship and friendship, or the family leaving our church, or turning others against us. Compound this with other past experiences when some of these things did happen, and it makes it especially hard to do the right thing. It often seems easier to just let it pass without a comment. I have had this temptation happen many times myself.

There are some things that we should allow to pass. Love does covers a multitude of sins (1Pet 4:8). But there are also many things that we cannot allow to pass by without speaking up. As Paul demonstrated in his letter to the churches of Galatia, we cannot remain silent about any deviation from the core doctrine of justification by faith alone. So, while we recognize the need for humility and grace, we also must confess the need for courage to confront and speak boldly for the sake of the truth.

The dangers are two-fold: in the name of faithfulness, be angry and caustic with no love for people while upholding truth, or allow the desire to be liked by men and avoid confrontation to drive us to silence so that we can avoid conflict. Both are sin. May God help us all to grow in this area where we can speak body with love for the sake of Christ, knowing that we would desire that when someone senses error in our own understanding of doctrine, that we too would want to have them come to us in a similar Christ-like manner.

Law Versus Gospel

The knowledge of God is of two types. The first is the sort of knowledge that the law preaches, namely, that there is a God, that he is a just judge, that he repays evil for evil and good for good. This kind of knowledge is something that even the Gentiles had to some extent. There has never been a people that has not known that it must have a god, even when it has been ignorant of what god it ought to have. . . . This knowledge of God is necessary, but it is not enough for salvation, because since we are sinners by nature, we get nothing from this knowledge except damnation. We know that God is a just judge. From that basic understanding of God comes all the idolatry in the world that we see among both Jews and Gentiles. It is also the source of the idolatry and ungodliness that we find among the hypocrites, the Muslims and other nations. Because they know that God is a just judge and acknowledge their own sinfulness, they invent various forms of worship in order to placate him and propitiate his wrath* . . . There is, however, another kind of knowledge of God, and this is the kind that the gospel proclaims. It says that God is a merciful Father through Jesus Christ and that he forgives the sins of those who believe in Christ. He counts such believers righteous not because of the merits of their works but only because of Christ by faith. This alone is the true knowledge of God, which is not known to us by nature but is learned through the gospel, whose author is the Holy Spirit.  –Johannes Brenz, Explanation of Galatians.