"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision... I said to Cephas in the presence of all, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Galatians 2:11-14)Paul calls the acts of Peter hypocrisy because Peter knew the truth but did not act according to the truth. Paul says that Peter was not walking "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14) but rather was diverting from the straight truth of the message of Christ. The truth of the Gospel was that the Gentiles too were invited to salvation. In speaking of the mysteries that had previously been hidden but now revealed to us, Paul says that they include, "to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (Ephesians 3:6) This Peter knew, for when he entered Cornelius's house to preach to them the Gospel he realized "that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him." (Acts 10:34-35) However, in that moment, in his fear, he was moved to hypocrisy and, along with him, the other Jewish believers and even Barnabas.
What causes us to fear and to be hypocritical to what we believe? Certainly, fear for our life could cause us to do that. Throughout the ages there have been those who have had to make choices regarding their conscientiousness and their faith. Many of those we esteem now were at one time marked as heretics and threatened with condemnation and death by fire, and this from other so-called Christians. However, I don't think this was Peter's fear. The church had not yet lapsed into killing and burning their heretics. I think what Peter feared most was the loss of his reputation.
Paul tells us that these men came "from James" the brother of our Lord and one of the "pillars" of the church in Jerusalem. This do not necessarily mean that these men were on a mission from James or that James desired to force gentile believers to keep the Jewish law, but they were associated with James and whatever they saw or heard could make its way back to James. I think that Peter was afraid that, if they saw him eating with gentiles, then they might report this back to James and the church in Jerusalem and that, some how, his reputation with them might be harmed. In his fear, he chose to keep his reputation as a fine upstanding Jewish Christian intact, even if it meant obfuscating the truth.
The faith we have received is radical, so shouldn't our walk be as well? If the Gospel has set us free from sin and the law, should we not walk as if it is true? If we give in to fear and prefer our reputation over our faith, then who are we trying to please anyway? We have become man-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. Let us not worry so much about what man thinks of us and focus more on what God thinks of us. Let us choose to live our lives radically, in the radical truth of the Gospel. Let us not be conformed to old religion but enjoy the newness of life that Jesus paid such a great price that we might obtain. Let us live free from fear and let God be our reputation.