Rev. Smit is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. Previous article in this series: April 1, 2008, p. 300.
Following love and joy, the next aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22, is peace. Like love and joy, peace is also a significant part of the believer’s life. In fact, I believe that it would be fair to conclude that peace is very precious to you, dear reader. We would be most miserable, wouldn’t we, without the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) and without the blessed enjoyment of that peace with those in our earthly relationships.
True peace is not the illusive peace of the world. The illusiveness of the world’s peace is seen among those nations and peoples who have been at war with each other for many years and whose attempts at peace have only failed to yield reconciliation and an end to hostilities. The world will admit that in spite of its failures to broker lasting peace between warring nations and between warring groups in society, and in spite of civil unrest in many places, yet man can find a way out of his mess of strife, hatred, envy, and war. Generally speaking, we hear the world proclaim that peace for man is what he can create on the foundation of his own wisdom, goodness, and righteousness. Man boasts that he can and will find solutions to his problems. He will build his kingdom of righteousness and peace in this earth.
Although the world boasts optimistically of an inevitable coming new world order of human peace, yet “there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Is. 48:22, 57:21). The reality is that the world of sinful and corrupt man is like the troubled waves of the sea: ceaselessly restless. That is true because man is by nature at war with God and refuses to confess that he is unrighteous and guilty. He willingly ignores the fact that he stands under the condemnation and curse of God and is the recipient of God’s wrath, which, even today at the end of the ages, He does reveal from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18). Under that relentless firestorm and in the grip of that blasting typhoon of God’s wrath, what real, lasting, unconquerable, and restful peace can man have?
The world has no true peace. One day it will have its worldwide, earthly peace in the kingdom of the Antichrist. Nevertheless, even while the world lives in tumultuous enmity against God, it remains under the billows and waves of God’s fierce wrath, which will cast the unrighteous down to eternal destruction and endless, spiritual unrest. By nature, that is where we would be too, except for the grace of God towards us in Christ Jesus. By nature, we could have and desire no real peace.
By nature, we were enemies of God and at war with Him. Our sins are expressions of that spiritual violence and warfare against God’s sovereignty and authority. By nature, we do not want peace with God, but war with Him in order to destroy Him, if that were possible. Our daily sins testify of that spiritual enmity and war against God and our neighbor. Certainly, you and I may not have murdered anyone in a dimly lit, back alley, under the cover of a dark and rainy night. Nevertheless, we have slain our thousands, and our hands, unless washed clean by the blood of Christ, would be permanently stained with the blood of thousands, slain by our biting words, cruel gestures, envious thoughts, and murderous actions. For all our bullying, hostile confrontation, bitter envying, and all that is symptomatic of our enmity and warfare against God, we deserve not peace, but endless unrest under His curse.
Since true peace does not have its source in us, but in Christ alone, we rejoice that unto us, who are of ourselves unable to have, desire, and enjoy peace, Christ proclaims the wonder of His peace for us and in us. Unto His beloved church He proclaims, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you . . .” (John 14:27). Jesus does have the authority and power to say and to give unto His church this peace because He is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). He has established this peace, and He gives this peace unto His eternally chosen church by His Holy Spirit.
What is this peace? This peace is fundamentally the peace of being right with God. We know that if one is not right with God, he stands before God under condemnation on account of his unrighteousness and guilt before the law. However, one who is right with God stands before God under no condemnation. He who is right with God is justified before God. He is justified before God, not because of his own righteousness, for he has none, but because of the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God imputes to us through faith alone. Because we are justified by God, we stand in a relationship before God in which He is not at war with us, and we are not at war with Him. Instead of the war that we deserve, there is for us only peace with God. That peace is the blessed fruit of our justification (Rom. 5:1).
The dearest part of this knowledge of our peace with God and, at the same time, the part that surpasses our understanding, is the fact that although our sins testify that by nature we were enemies of God, yet God is not at war with us. Though our sins are more than we can count, and the guilt of those sins piles up to an altitude beyond the height of Mt. Everest or its neighboring lofty peaks, God justifies us through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. He declares us righteous and innocent in His sight on the basis of the obedience of Christ. He makes us partake of that blessing through faith alone. He views us as those who were never at war with Him but always delighted in peace with Him. In turn, we learn through justifying faith that God is delighted in us and is not at war with us, but is at peace with us.
What is so amazing is that to establish this peace God made Christ to suffer the vengeance of His eternal wrath. What is amazing about this peace is that even while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10), Christ died for us. While we were by nature so at war with God that we were guilty of the crucifixion of Christ, yet Christ so loved us that He died for us and reconciled us unto God by His very own atoning death. Therefore, God by the wonder of His grace has reconciled us unto Himself in peace by the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb. 13:20). In His covenant, God is at peace with us, holding us in the position of His favor always. Do you see now why peace is described in Philippians 4:7 as the peace that passes all your understanding?
True peace for us is that knowledge and assurance that all our sins are washed away in the blood of Christ and that God sees us not in our sin but in the righteousness of Christ alone. True peace for us is the knowledge and assurance that God is our heavenly Father, who will always be at peace with us all the days of our life.
That peace is so dear to us because we have learned and continue to learn its great value in our present afflictions. Especially in time of afflictions that are sharp, sudden, deep, or drawn out, we are prone to wonder if God is at peace with us and whether we still are in the position of His favor. We need to be reminded constantly by the truth set forth in Romans 5:1-5. This section of Scripture begins by declaring the great fruit of our justification by faith alone: peace with God! The passage continues to show that, being so justified and at peace with God, we stand in the position before God’s throne of His favor and grace. Since we stand always before the face of God in that grace in peace with Him, what then can our tribulations and afflictions be, but servants for our salvation and for our spiritual growth! For that reason, the apostle Paul could “glory in tribulations also” (Rom. 5:3a). By faith he could do that because he knew that these things worked the blessed fruit of patience, experience, and an unashamed hope in the God who afflicts us for our eternal good and who, all the while, is at peace with us.
Or there may be times in our life when the guilt of past sins begins to trouble our souls. We may endure sleepless nights, or nights with very little or restless sleep, because a troubled soul and mind are embroiled in the memory and stinging guilt of past sins. Precious is this peace when by faith we are led by the Spirit in the way of confession and an ardent looking to the perfect and complete atonement of Christ on His cross, offered not just for others, but also for us personally.
This knowledge of peace with God will appear to others as a spiritual calm in the midst of calamity. While our life may be turned upside down outwardly, yet in this inner, spiritual peace with God, we receive whatever His hand gives us in life with contentment, patience, and trust. We trust that God, who looks upon us in His attitude of favor and who is at peace with us, does all things well.
Now, we do not always experience and live in this aspect of peace as we ought. We stand worthy of the rebuke of Jesus: “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). The historical occasion for that rebuke was the disciples’ lack of faith and trust in God and Jesus while they and Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee in a gale that was for the disciples unprecedented. The ship was filling with water and Jesus was sleeping, and the disciples, being terrified, were quite certain that they and Jesus would perish. While they in reality had no reason to be fearful since the only begotten Son of God was with them, they doubted whether Christ really cared for them and would do anything to save them. In that unbelief, they had no peace, but only great fear.¹
Are we really any different? In the face of catastrophe and crisis, quickly gone is the conscious knowledge and assurance of the truth that God always beholds us in His grace and has thoughts of peace towards us always for Christ’s sake. Easily gone is the inner and unshakable confidence of peace that God will work out for good all and even our worst tribulations. How we need the Spirit of Christ to work in us that inner peace and rest in our souls in which we know that Christ is for us, with us, and in us by His Spirit in the bond of His everlasting peace.
As a result, for the believer, there is a refuge of rest and peace in the midst of this tumultuous life. There is a place in this life that is unconquerable from the violent waves of ungodliness that the world pours out in order to destroy the church. There is a place for the Christian soldier to go in the heat of the spiritual battles of this life against the violence of sin and ungodliness. There is a place near at hand to which we may run in time of trouble and find restful refreshment for our souls.
That place of blissful refuge and unconquerable protection is under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty. In that place there is neither terror nor fear, but only that satisfying peace with God (Ps. 91:1-5). Let us enter that place in prayer and in worship to our heavenly Father faithfully and daily.
The outgrowth of this blessed peace with God is our peace with one another. Scripture shows that the enjoyment of our peace with God affects our relationships with our spouses, children, fellow believers, and all whom God is pleased to bring upon our pathway. In our next article, the Lord willing, we will consider how this peace of God ought to rule in our hearts and lives (Col. 3:15).
¹ For an essay on how this incident in Jesus’ earthly ministry, recorded in Mark 4:35-41, applies to our peace, please read Mr. Don Doezema, “Chapter 4. Peace,” Jesus Beauty Shining in You (Grand Rapids: Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies, 1989), pp. 39-44.