Truths in tension

There is a paradox in the Christian faith not often talked about. Two fundamental truths are in tension. The first truth is that God loves us, and identifies with us where we are. The second truth is that God is not content with how we live now, but wants us to do better.

If we focus just on God's love, we accept personal mediocrity or even dysfunction in our lives. Or if we focus just on God's standard of behavior, we set up an impossible standard of perfection that no one can measure up to, and present God as distant and forbidding.

We need to keep both in mind. God accepts us where we are, but then seeks to help us to improve. We shouldn't think we have to change before God can be pleased with us. We also shouldn't think we don't need to change, because we do.

I think Micah 6:8 reflects this paradox:
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

"To act justly" focuses on God's standard of behavior. "To love mercy" focuses on His acceptance of us where we are. Both are needed to walk humbly and fruitfully with our God.

Paul confronting Peter

My wife is working on a guide for new translators to the book of Galatians. She and her colleague have been grappling with the account of Paul confronting Peter. The usual interpretation of "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew" is that Paul says to Peter "You accept freedom from the Jewish law for yourself, why not give the Gentile believers the same freedom".

My wife and her colleague are thinking there is another interpretation. Maybe Paul is using 'Jew' in this phrase to mean 'a true person of God'. In Romans 2:28-29 he says a true Jew is not just an outward Jew, with a physical descent from Abraham and a physical circumcision; but one who is Jewish inwardly, circumcised in heart by the Spirit. So what would a 'true Gentile' be? Someone uncircumcised in heart, whether they were outwardly non-Jewish or even outwardly Jewish.

Maybe his accusation of Peter is saying "When you withdraw from eating with your Gentile brothers, you are reinstating the separation that Jesus died to end. You are uncircumcizing your heart and acting like a Gentile in heart, even though you are a physical Jew."

This sounds complicated. But I do think it makes a bit more sense of the next couple of verses. "If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God." (Gal 2: 18-19). I've always been puzzled by "if I rebuild what I destroyed", and thought it must mean when Paul repents of sins and attempts to restore relationships with people he'd sinned against, that is rebuilding what he had destroyed. That would mean "through the law I died to the law" is a new thought. But maybe the two are one thought. Maybe Paul means "If I rebuild as a requirement the Jewish law, which I once had died to through my faith in Jesus' death and resurrection, I have become a transgressor". Maybe Paul is imagining himself in the position Peter took briefly, to display what a bad mistake it would be to bring back the law as a requirement.

One thing that does seem clear to me. When Peter separated himself from the Gentile believers, he had forgotten the exhortation from the voice in his vision, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:15).