WORDS OF SALVATION
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY ELEVEN: PEACE
Heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, the angels sang 'on earth peace ... ' (Luke 2:14). Jesus promised ' ... I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28). Paul affirmed ' ... since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1), and taught that God has reconciled us to himself, 'making peace through his blood, shed on the cross' (Colossians 1:20). The Christian message is called 'the gospel of peace' (Ephesians 6:15), 'the good news of peace through Jesus Christ' (Acts 10:36), and, simply, 'peace' (Ephesians 2:17).
What is this peace, this one word summary of the Gospel?
Peace is the opposite of accusation/condemnation
When Paul writes 'we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1) it is because 'we have been justified through faith'.'Justification' indicates the declaration of acquittal. This legal declaration, resulting in peace with God, is an acquittal not based on our merit or deserving, that is, it is pronounced not because we are actually not guilty, but 'through faith' and 'through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Even though we are guilty in the presence of God, the just Judge, even though all the accusations and condemnations of his Law are rightly and deservedly hurled against us in the court of heaven, the Judge declares: I acquit this person of all charges. I remove all record of them (Colossians 2:14). There is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
David understood this peace:
'Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him' (Psalm 32:2a).
All who truly believe in Jesus Christ can have this assurance: never again will God hold their sin against them; never will his accusation and condemnation fall upon them. It all fell on Jesus Christ. That is enough. And that is peace with God.
This peace with God is an objective fact. It is true of our relationship with God, even if we don't feel it. As far as God is concerned this legal peace stands. He does not, and he will not, hold those who trust in Jesus Christ legally accountable for their sin. The degree to which we understand and trust in this largely determines how much of this peace we actually feel.
Peace is the opposite of alienation
Sin cuts us off from God and hence from eternal life. Not only did God ban us from eternal life in Genesis 3:24, but he also tells us 'your iniquities have separated you from your God' (Isaiah 59:2). This separation is neither peaceful nor neutral; it is characterized by both human enmity towards God (Romans 1:28-30; 5:10; Colossians 1:21) and divine wrath towards man (Romans 1:18; John 3:36; Colossians 3:6). When God reconciles us to himself through the sin-bearing, wrath-bearing death of Jesus Christ, he diverts his wrath from us onto his Son, so that it will never again be directed against those who are united to Jesus Christ by faith. By that same death, the barrier of separation that sin erects between God and man is lifted, ripped away in God's incredible act of forgiveness.
Through all that God did in the death of his Son sin is robbed of its power and its right to ever again come between man and God. This was vividly affirmed by God when he ripped the temple curtain in two from top to bottom at the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:44-46). Barring the way to the symbolic presence of God in the Most Holy Place, this curtain symbolized the fact that no sinner can enter God's presence and live. Now, because Jesus has died, bearing our sin, that sin can never again come between the believer and God. God nailed all that stood against us to the cross of Jesus (Colossians 2:14) and turned his back on him (Matthew 27:46), so that never again will he turn his back on those reconciled to him through the blood of Jesus.
This peace also is an objective fact, grounded in the death of Jesus Christ. It does not originate with our feelings; it is true even when we do not feel it. If there is any reduction or disturbance in our feelings of this peace of reconciliation it is in our minds and hearts, not God's, generated by our own unbelief or by the misguided perceptions of our fellow Christians.
The grand fact of this gospel peace is that God no longer regards or treats us as his enemies: he has reconciled us to himself through the blood of Jesus, when we were still sinners. Therefore no sin of ours can alter this peace and re-establish alienation, enmity and wrath (Romans 5:8-11).
Peace is the opposite of compulsory work
World religions, nominal Christianity, and the cults, all tell us that we must do something, must work, or perform, in one way or another, to gain or maintain whatever 'salvation' is. There is no rest in this; there is no peace in this. Yet, surprisingly, this is the way the human heart wants it: we like to believe that we must contribute to our eternal destiny or salvation. We do not like to be told we can't do it, that we have nothing with which to satisfy our 'god'. Religious people worldwide are sincerely striving, working or performing, hoping to qualify themselves to secure their eternal destiny. And all round the world there is no peace.
As long as we perceive that we must work for our 'salvation', as long as we believe that our eternal destiny is in our own hands, we have to keep on striving to satisfy the standards of performance laid down either by our religion or by our own consciences.
This performance based relationship to God has sabotaged the gospel of peace from the beginning. Much of the New Testament was written to defend the gospel against this delusion And even in the Old Testament the whole concept of the Sabbath rest was a weekly symbolic reminder that the Israelites were not God's people because of any merit or performance of their own, but because the Lord had chosen to set them apart for himself: he called them own, he made them holy, he sanctified them (Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12).
Christians live in a perpetual Sabbath: the Gospel of Jesus Christ promises us rest from this constant need to perform which dogs the human soul. It commands us to rely on God and his saving work in and through Jesus Christ, and not on our own performance. This is the rest, the peace, to which the letter to the Hebrews calls us when we are tempted to credit our own actions or religious performance with the ability to gain or maintain our salvation.
Again, this state of peace is an objective fact. But if we fail to embrace it here, and set about working to gain or maintain our relationship with God by our own effort, we will neither understand nor experience subjective or inner peace with God in any of its expressions: the peace of acquittal, the peace of reconciliation, or the peace of rest. These are all ours in fact; but they are only ours in feeling, when we believe that when Jesus Christ did what he did he did it all, and he did it perfectly.
'Come to me,' he said, 'and I will give you rest. ... . Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give you.' (Matthew 11:28; John 14:27a).