Peter, Doctrine, and Fear
Salina loved the gospel, never missed her morning devotional reading, and had Alexa belting Christian music throughout her house all day long. If the doors of her church building were open, she was there. If a Christian conference or concert came to her city, she’d probably go.
On the surface, everything looked fine with Salina. But Salina lived in constant fear. Somehow the big, transforming gospel that she consumed every day hadn’t freed her from perpetual real-world bondage to fear.
Salina lived with a gap between the doctrine she said she believed and the way she actually lived her life. This dichotomy became a workroom for the enemy. What I will say next may surprise you, but I think it needs to be stated and considered.
The enemy of your soul will happily allow you to have correct doctrine, if, in your practical daily life, he can control the thoughts and motives of your heart, and in so doing, control the way you act, react, and respond.
Like Jonah in the Old Testament, another striking story displays this dichotomy, this time from the New Testament. These historical accounts have been retained for us by the God of grace because they are about people just like us, and God does not want us to fall into the same traps they did.
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)
We know from Acts 10 that God had made it clear to Peter that Gentiles were included in his plan of redemption, and they were not to be excluded in any way or treated as second-class citizens. But Peter, who had been in open fellowship with the Gentiles, withdrew from them when a Jewish circumcision group showed up. In so doing, he acted in direct contradiction to the gospel doctrines he had been taught and had professed to believe.
It is important to note that what happened here was not the result of Peter changing his doctrinal position. The problem was not first theological; it was moral. Fear of man was a more powerful motivator in Peter’s heart than what God had taught him was right and true.
Where in our hearts is there a war of allegiance between what the doctrines of Scripture call us to and what we want for ourselves? Are there places where we have become comfortable with a dichotomy between what we say we believe and how we live?
We must always shine the light of the doctrines of Scripture on the thoughts, desires, motivations, and cravings of our hearts. That’s the motivation for my new book, Do You Believe?: 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life.
Do You Believe? is not an exhaustive consideration of the theology of Scripture, but rather a training manual on what it looks like to carry what you believe into the situations, locations, and relationships of your daily life. I haven’t covered every doctrine, and I haven’t traced out all of the implications of the doctrines that I do cover, but I hope that this book will help you to think of the theology of God’s word in new and practical ways.
My prayer is that the result would be less of a lifestyle of theological forgetfulness and more of an everyday culture in your life that is shaped and directed by the precious truths that God has so lovingly revealed to you and that you have come to hold dear.
Paul David Tripp
P.S. – Do You Believe?: 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life. is available now!
1. What makes you afraid? Where are you living in fear on a daily basis? Why does this fear or anxiety consume you, and what does it reveal about your heart?
2. How does the Word of God address your specific fears? Identify all the passages in the Bible that say, “Do not be afraid.” Do you have confidence that these historical declarations remain current for you today?
3. Where have you experienced fear of man recently? What about the opinions or power of another make you afraid? How has that impacted your words and actions?
4. How has the fear of man forced you to compromise on biblical living? How can you practically face this fear the next time it presents itself? What can you change with the power of the Holy Spirit?
5. Are there places where you have become comfortable with a dichotomy between what you say you believe and how you live? Examine yourself with humility and confess these to the Lord.