STUDY FIFTEEN: PEACE AND JOY
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
Note: in this Study ‘peace’ refers to the relationship of peace with God that is established through the death of Jesus Christ for those who believe in Christ. It is not about the subjective feeling of peace, although that too should flow out from the objective peace.
A. PEACE WITH GOD
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?
A.1 Peace with God – the opposite of accusation, condemnation and guilt
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 have this assurance from God: that never again will he hold their sin against them; never will his accusation and condemnation fall upon them; never again will they have to bear the guilt of their sin It all fell on Jesus Christ. That is enough. And that is peace with God. This justified person, this believer, can stand in the presence of the thrice holy God totally at peace, totally without fear of judgment, accusation and condemnation. Totally free of guilt.
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 ever again. The degree to which we understand and trust in this largely determines how much of this peace we actually feel.
A comment from John Calvin on Romans 5:1:
1. Being then justified, etc. The Apostle begins to illustrate by the effects, what he has hitherto said of the righteousness of faith: and hence the whole of this chapter is taken up with amplifications, which are no less calculated to explain than to confirm. He had said before, that faith is abolished, if righteousness is sought by works; and in this case perpetual inquietude would disturb miserable souls, as they can find nothing substantial in themselves: but he teaches us now, that they are rendered quiet and tranquil, when we have obtained righteousness by faith, We have peace with God; and this is the peculiar fruit of the righteousness of faith. When any one strives to seek tranquillity of conscience by works, (which is the case with profane and ignorant men,) he labors for it in vain; for either his heart is asleep through his disregard or forgetfulness of God's judgment, or else it is full of trembling and dread, until it reposes on Christ, who is alone our peace.
Then peace means tranquillity of conscience, which arises from this, -- that it feels itself to be reconciled to God. This the Pharisee has not, who swells with false confidence in his own works; nor the stupid sinner, who is not disquieted, because he is inebriated with the sweetness of vices: for though neither of these seems to have a manifest disquietude, as he is who is smitten with a consciousness of sin; yet as they do not really approach the tribunal of God, they have no reconciliation with him; for insensibility of conscience is, as it were, a sort of retreating from God. Peace with God is opposed to the dead security of the flesh, and for this reason, -- because the first thing is, that every one should become awakened as to the account he must render of his life; and no one can stand boldly before God, but he who relies on a gratuitous reconciliation; for as long as he is God, all must otherwise tremble and be confounded. And this is the strongest of proofs, that our opponents do nothing but prate to no purpose, when they ascribe righteousness to works; for this conclusion of Paul is derived from this fact, -- that miserable souls always tremble, except they repose on the grace of Christ.
Task #1: Discussion
Read and discuss Calvin’s comments. In particular discuss the following statements. What do they teach about peace with God?
‘faith is abolished if righteousness is sought by works; and in this case perpetual inquietude would disturb miserable souls’
‘Then peace means tranquillity of conscience, which arises from this, -- that it feels itself to be reconciled to God.’
‘Peace with God is opposed to the dead security of the flesh’
‘no one can stand boldly before God, but he who relies on a gratuitous reconciliation’
A. 2 Gospel peace is the opposite of alienation from God
Task #2: Scripture research
How do these verses describe the alienation, enmity and wrath that is in place between God and man apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ?
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]. The whole Old Testament system of sacrifice and priesthood attests this fundamental alienation, enmity and wrath.
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 redemption, reconciliation and 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, and reminiscent of the cherubim barring the way to the tree of life in Genesis 3:24, this curtain symbolized the fact that no sinner can enter God’s presence and live. Now, because Jesus has died, bearing our sin, our 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 aspect of 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. It is 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; he has made us his friends; he has removed the enmity. Therefore no sin of ours can alter this peace and re-establish alienation, enmity and wrath [Romans 5:8-11].
Leon Morris comments:
‘In the New Testament we get the thought that Christ brings man peace. That is to say He ends man’s alienation from God. He brings man into the closest and warmest relation of personal fellowship with God. In this new fellowship, man can and does receive the fullness of blessing’ [p137 The Cross in the New Testament]
‘This great word [peace] is used often with no mention of reconciliation, but reconciliation is always implied. This follows from Paul’s references to ‘enmity’, ‘enemies’, and the like. If sinful men by nature are enemies of God, and if Paul can speak of men as enjoying peace, then obviously the war must be over.’ [ibid, p252’]
Martin Lloyd-Jones commenting on Romans 5:1, states:
‘The Apostle is reminding us that through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by means of justification by faith, we have peace with regard to God. He means that by justification by faith those obstacles which exist between God and the sinner are removed, have ceased to be, and that there is an entirely new relationship, there was formerly a barrier, there was a state of enmity, there was a state of war and antagonism; but being justified by faith, all that has gone, and a condition of peace is established between God and the man who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead…’ [p11, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 5 – Assurance].
A.3 Gospel 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, but only uncertain striving, laced with fear of spiritual failure and rejection.
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. In this mindset, which is the mindset of the ‘flesh’ or of ‘sinful nature’ spoken of in Paul’s letters, coming from ‘human traditions and the basic principles of this world’ [Colossians 2:8], there is:
• No peace
• No certainty
• No assurance of salvation
• And a constant need to perform
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. 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 his own, he made them holy, he sanctified them.
‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.’ [Exodus 31:13]
‘I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.’ [Ezekiel 20:12]
Christians live in a perpetual Sabbath: the Gospel of Jesus Christ promises us rest from this constant need to perform which hounds 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 letters to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Hebrews call us when we are tempted to credit our own actions or religious performance with the ability to gain or maintain our salvation, when we are tempted to stop trusting the complete and finished work of Jesus and trust our own religious endeavours instead.
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 this objective peace which is already and permanently ours in Christ, 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].
Task #3: More Scripture research
Describe and discuss Paul’s rebukes and warnings to those who had succumbed, or were about to succumb, to this performance mindset. In what ways does this performance mindset erode peace with God?
The Gospel of salvation in and through Jesus Christ, on the other hand, sets us free from this constant need to keep that law in order to be accepted by God. The Gospel presents salvation in Christ as a free gift, which we did not merit, which we did not earn, for which we did not work, and, which, consequently, is guaranteed and secure because it is totally and permanently in and because of Christ and never in and because of ourselves. Because of this we rest from our own works.
It is to this rest, this peace, that is the result of faith in Jesus Christ, that the writer to the Hebrews commands us to return and to embrace and to enjoy in Hebrews 3 and 4. This letter was written to people who were on the brink of giving up their faith in Christ because of extreme pressure from both Judaisers and Romans. Under this spiritual and physical pressure it seemed an easy way out to simply stop believing in Jesus and to revert to Jewish ritual religion. The writer challenged them with a reminder of the sin of unbelief demonstrated by the Israelites in Numbers 13 when they stood on the edge of the promised land and missed out on the promised rest because of that unbelief. Now, the writer exhorts, don’t you fail to enter the ‘rest’ promised you in Christ, because of a similar unbelief. Rather hold on to Christ and in holding on to him, in believing in him, you enter and enjoy the ultimate rest – that spiritual peace of which that promised land rest was a mere physical symbol.
So confident are the New Testament writers of the salvation we have in Christ that they state that it is guaranteed [Romans 4:16], that Christ himself is the guarantee [Hebrews 7:22], and that it is established by the oath of God [Hebrews 7:21,22]. [Assurance of salvation is the focus of a later study.]
Task #4: Personal inventory
Keeping in mind what the Bible teaches about peace with God, keep a check on yourself day by day and identify the thoughts that you allow to interfere with this peace that Jesus paid so dearly to gain for you. When your peace with God is threatened, ask yourself: am I looking at the perfect work of Jesus Christ on my behalf, or am I looking at my own ability to maintain what I, or others, perceive to be an acceptable standard of goodness?
B.1 Joy at the birth of the Saviour
In Study Three we looked at the concept of Christ’s incarnation as a salvation concept: we saw that great and incredible act in which the almighty, eternal God, stepped into time and space, clothed in human flesh, revealing himself to us in a way that we can see and understand. If he had not done this, we would still be in the darkness, ignorant of his true nature, worshipping, serving and fearing gods created by our own minds. If he had not done this – if Jesus Christ was either not fully God or not fully man - then all of his claims and all his death is said to achieve for us, are null and void.
That point in time, that point at which God came to us, was a cause of joy:
The wise men knew this: ‘When they saw the star, they were overjoyed’ [Matthew 2:10]
The angels knew this: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ [Luke 2:10,11].
As we see the shepherds there on that Judean hillside, we see their real and valid fear in the presence of the glory of the Lord. They, sinners like the rest of us, knew, as perhaps we do not know, that sinful man has every reason to fear in the presence of God, in fact he can do nothing else but fear. Yet the angel said: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Why? Why should a sinner not be afraid in the presence of the glory of the Lord? Because the Saviour of the world has come. Because the one who was about to live and die and rise again, and in that living, dying and rising, to procure salvation for all who would believe in him, has been born. This, the angel said, is good news of great joy.
Here is a twofold cause of joy: firstly, that God has come to us and made himself known, and secondly, that he has come to us as the one who saves us. These two foundations of our faith: true knowledge of God and the accompanying knowledge of salvation are historically linked in the Bible as the basis of true joy.
B.2 Joy and salvation in the Old Testament
Task #5: Scripture research into joy
What is the connection between God, salvation and joy in these verses?
Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11
From the above verses we can see that salvation produces not only joy in salvation, but the freedom to rejoice in God himself. As we read these verses we understand that:
David experienced this joy:
‘Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD
and delight in his salvation’ [Psalm 35:9].
Isaiah knew this joy:
‘I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness ...’ [Isaiah 61:10].
Habakkuk, surrounded by every reason to despair, stated:
‘yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.’ [Habakkuk 3:18].
Because of salvation God is no longer the enemy, the judge, the one who evokes fear and dread, and discomfort and guilt. Rather God becomes the source and the focus of sheer joy, a deep down underneath everything joy that sings in the heart even when all observable circumstances deny not only the love and compassion of God but his very existence.
B.3 Present joy because of Christ and his salvation
Just as Jesus promised peace to his disciples just before his arrest, so also he promised them joy. He said: ‘I have told you these things so that … your joy may be complete’ [John 15:11].
Task #6: Questions
Read the verses below and answer these questions for each verse:
1. What is the cause, focus or circumstances of joy or rejoicing in these verses?
2. What is the relation of the joy or rejoicing to salvation, or to any aspect of salvation?
3. To what degree is rejoicing in God evident?
[Read a few verses before and/or after if the answers are not clear in the verse.]
Romans 15:10, 13
This joy is the privilege, the possession and the responsibility of everyone who knows Jesus Christ and his salvation. To know Christ is to have joy. To know the salvation he gives is to have joy. It is to have a joy that results from both the knowledge of God in Christ, and the utter liberation and completeness of the salvation he has given us. The spiritual burdens, the guilt, the fear of rejection and condemnation, the alienation from God, the despair of our own inability and imperfection – all of these are gone, washed away by the power of his love and the power of his guarantee. God – the One we feared, the One we had offended, is now the fount and focus of deep, unquenchable joy.
Thus Paul affirmed: ‘... we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation’ (Romans 5:11).
B.4 When joy is absent
Grounded in knowing God and knowing his salvation Christian joy is an eternal joy. Isaiah told of ‘everlasting joy’ [Isaiah 35:10; 61:7], and Jesus promised ‘you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ [John 16:22]. Paul calls us to centre our joy not in ourselves and our religious performance, but exclusively on the Lord: ‘finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! ... Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ [Philippians 3:1; 4:4]. The Lord is the source, the cause and the focus of Christian joy; and because he does not change, neither does the cause of Christian joy change.
There are things that change:
earthly conditions - physical, economic, social - change, but Christian joy is not based on earthly comforts or success [Habakkuk 3:17,18].
personal relationships change and cease, but Christian joy is not the absence of earthly sorrow [Romans 12:15].
our ability to obey moral and religious laws fluctuates, but Christian joy is not based on human moral or religious achievement [Philippians 3:1-11].
It is good to enjoy any good gift that God gives us and to thank him for it with joy, but it is wrong to make them the source, cause and focus of joy. Such joy is temporary and insecure. It is interesting that one of the New Testament verbs for ‘rejoice’ is also the word for ‘glory’ or ‘boast’. This raises the question: what do we rejoice in? What do we glory in, or boast about? Is the source, cause and focus of our rejoicing, our glorying, our boasting human [our possessions, our relationships, our abilities, our religious performance] or divine [God and our salvation in Jesus Christ]?
Jeremiah expressed it this way:
‘ “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.’ (Jeremiah 9:23,24).
The joy that Jesus both promised and prayed for - ‘that they may have the full measure of my joy within them’ [John 17:13], this fullness of joy, this everlasting joy promised by the prophets, is ours. It is part of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. It is ‘an inexpressible and glorious joy’ [1Peter 1:9]. It is a grand, confident joy, too great for words.
Why then ... behind their sometimes smiling faces and joyous expressions of worship ... do so many of today’s Christians live with deep inner fears and insecurities, spiritual despair and depression, condemnation and guilt, and joyless disillusionment? Why this despairing lack of true joy that permeates the lives of so many Christians? Why has this fear supplanted the joy promised by the angels?
Is salvation just ‘pie in the sky’ after all, with no present cause for joy? Does Jesus Christ have no relevance to our relationship to God here and now, but merely a rain-check hope to be cashed in at some distant and currently irrelevant future date?
Now, right now, we are the children of God. [1John 3:2].
Now, right now, we have eternal life [1John 5:12; John 3:36; 5:24].
Now, right now, we both see and know God in Christ [John 14:6-10]
Now, right now, we are not condemned [John 3:18; Romans 8:1].
Now, right now, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer [Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10].
Now, right now, we have bold and confident access into the very presence of God [Hebrews 10:19-22; Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12].
Well might Isaiah cry out to this generation of the people of God:
‘Do you not know?
Have you not heard?’ [Isaiah 40:21,27].
And then remind us
‘Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation. ...
Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’ [Isaiah 12:2,3,5,6].
Nehemiah said it well: ‘... the joy of the LORD is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10).
Task #7: Personal check up
If this joy in God and in your salvation in Christ is not a feature of your life, check out what you are trusting in. When you feel joyless … are you indulging in spiritual introspection? Are you looking at your sins as though they were not nailed to the cross? Are you listening to the Devil’s accusations and forgetting that those accusations, although true, no longer have the power to condemn you? Are you thinking that your God has cut you off because of some sin, and forgetting that you are reconciled to God through the death of his Son?
C. THE UNEXPECTED DIMENSION TO JOY
There is another, unexpected, aspect to joy: God himself rejoices in us:
‘The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17).
.’.. for the LORD will take delight in you,
... as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.’ (Isaiah 62:4,5).
The Lord rejoices in us. For this reason, for this joy, he endured the cross [Hebrews 12:2].
Let us then cast aside our focus on ourselves and our own sins and failures, and rejoice in him and his great gift of salvation; with hearts full of joy and gratitude let us exult with David:
‘Then will I go … to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you... O God, my God.’ [Psalm 43:4].
And then we will give him joy.