The aspiration for peace has loomed large in the popular consciousness against the backdrop of continual wars, conflict, and social upheaval. It is the dream of every pageant contestant. And it has its own iconography: the v hand signal and the famous “peace sign” created for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s and adopted by the hippie movement of the 1960s. But peace is also a major theme of the Bible. It is the third in a list of “the fruit of the Spirit” coming only after “love” and “joy” (Gal. 6:22). It takes a prominent place in other presentations of God’s grace as well. Think of the standard apostolic greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:1), a greeting formed after the example of the Lord who came among his disciples after his Resurrection saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19). He is the one Isaiah foresaw as “the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) So what is this peace and how do we come to enjoy it?
Peace in the Bible is something God accomplishes. It involves quelling external conflict and bringing about a state of wellness leading to an internal sense of calm for those who embrace it. The Hebrew word Shalom is used for wholeness or completeness. Through the Lord Jesus, God purposed to “reconcile all things to himself, making peace by the blood of his Cross” (Col. 1:19-20). His death satisfies the justice of God against wayward humanity. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19) Thus he fulfilled the design of the Old Testament sacrifices to establish and maintain peace between Israel and God. Only, the peace he accomplishes is for the whole world, even the entire creation. As the angelic salutation at Jesus’ birth proclaims, he brings “peace on earth.” (Luke 2:14) In Isaiah’s vision, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” because “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:6,9) This is the result of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection out of which a new creation is born.
On the basis of the finished work of Christ, we experience peace with God under the terms of surrender offered by God the Father in the message of the Cross at baptism: “repent and believe the gospel”. The Spirit works this out in our lives both passively and actively.
Passively, we enjoy “peace of conscience,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it in Q&A 36. In the inspired words of Paul, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1-2) As Luther, Wesley, and countless others have testified, heaven stands open before us in the message of Christ and him crucified. This peace is not merely intellectual, but a matter of trust. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isa 26:3-4) Peace results from faith resting in God’s almighty power and love. It is “the peace of God which passes all understanding,” as the ending to the order for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us, alluding to the Apostle’s words in Philippians 4:7.
Actively, we work to pursue peace with others after the model of Christ himself. We uphold truth and justice, pursuing righteousness with mercy and self-sacrificial service. “If possible, so far as it depends on you”–an important qualification–“live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18) We practice forgiveness and loving our enemies. Carrying forward Jesus’ beatitude, “blessed are the peacemakers,” the Apostle James portrays peace as moral and spiritual integrity working harmony among people who are receptive to its influence (James 1:17-18). The breaking down of political, racial, national, and even personal animus is a proper result of Christ’s death and faith in him. And in a day of constant online bickering and social unrest, people are desperate for this peace that God alone can bring. May we grow in the peace that flows from Emmanuel’s veins and is the fruit of the Spirit’s influence on our lives.
The Rev. Steven M. McCarthy is a church planter at St. Barnabas Anglican Fellowship, an extension work in the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Mid-America (ACNA). He and his wife Emily are raising four young children in their hometown of Lansing, MI.
 Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. 3rd edition. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996.
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