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|8th August, 1999|
As we pack up and get ready to enter the twentyfirst century, what should be take with us? I suggested last week, we need to take a new outlook. The tired old way will not do. With that we must take a sense of inner peace. Our world is becoming stressed. People are alienated from each other, their environment and their God. Families are becoming dysfunctional and few have a sense of harmony. What must be carried into the next century is that inner peace which can hold a person as an integrated whole, and a community without its tearing itself apart, and a world so that it is in a right relationship with its Creator. Without inner peace, all is lost.
I counselled a family man recently. Alcohol has taken over his life and led him into foolish acts that have deeply divided his family. He spends his days in anguish and uncertainty. He wants to be right with God but his conscience accuses Him. Unable to concentrate, depressed of mind, and overwhelmed by troubles his work suffered, his wife is distraught and his future is bleak. He needs inner peace. A British psychiatrist said: "With peace in his soul a man can face the most terrifying experiences. But without peace he cannot manage even as simple a task as writing a letter." This man's life is in a downward spiral. He needs peace with God. For when a person is at peace with God, then all the other relationships can be worked out satisfactorily. When there is peace in the heart, there can be peace in the home. When there is peace within our homes there can be peace within the nation. When there is peace within the nation there can be peace within the world.
Professor Charles Birch, who was Challis Professor of Biological Sciences at Sydney University and one of the world's leading environmentalists, wrote: "There is chaos on four levels today. There is the inner chaos revealed by peoples inability to live with themselves; social chaos revealed in man's inability to live with his neighbour; environmental chaos where man is eliminating this natural surroundings for concrete jungles; and metaphysical chaos where man feels he has no relationship with the universe about him. Man today has no at-one-ment with himself, his neighbour, his environment or his God. Man is alienated, estranged, disintegrated and diseased." Professor Birch is right! By himself man has no at-one-ment.
Peace with God is one consequence of being justified by our faith. Paul commences Chapter five of his letter to the Romans which is about how we are saved by faith with the word "Therefore". Paul is a careful and logical writer and his argument meticulously follows the path of reason. Twelve times in this letter he starts a section with the consequences of the previous argument. He sums the argument up with the logical conclusion, commencing "Therefore..." The greatest "therefore" lies in this sentence that sums up all the argument of the previous chapter. In presenting his case, Paul has proved that the whole world is guilty before God, and that no one can be saved by religious deeds, by acts of charity or by striving to live a good life. God's way of salvation has always been "by grace, through faith" (Eph. 2:8-9). Romans 5 is Paul's explanation of the last two words in Romans 4: "our justification".
Paul sums up the consequences of our justification by faith: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." 5:1-2 These words have an air of confidence about them. Paul does not argue as he did in the preceding chapters. He simply states the facts in a series of confident assertions. Paul speaks personally in the first person plural "we" for this is the experience of all true believers. This passage is filled with contagious joy for every Christian who understands the benefits of justification by faith.
Through justification we receive "peace". "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Before we were Christians, we had no real peace because we were far from God. God had given us over to the negative effects of sin. 1:24,26,28 This resulted in a profound alienation not only from God but from our fellow human beings, and a constant tendency toward more depravity. To top it off, we stood under the ultimate wrath and judgment of God. No amount of personal bootstrap improvement could help us. However, as Paul tells us, God decided "through Christ to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross." Col.1:20 But when we believed, God gave us peace with Himself through the blood of Jesus shed upon the Cross. The objective fact of that peace makes possible the inner subjective experience of peace with God. Previously it was impossible to experience true inner peace.5.
But once we are at peace with God, the Prince of Peace reigns in our hearts. That is why at the birth of Christ the angels chorused, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." Luke 2:14 Great battles are fought within some people. Sometimes a person lives for years under constant siege because they have stood against injustice, inhumanity and cruelty. They have campaigned for what is right from bureaucracies, governments and profiteers. They have known no rest when their bodies have cried for rest, and have known no peace when they want peace. That is one of mankind's strong driving forces.
There is a way one can have peace while surround- ed by controversy and injustice, or living in a world torn apart by war and inhumanity. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We need to break this sentence into each of its parts to understand it.
1. "Peace". God is concerned about healing the body, cleansing the soul, and perfecting the spirit to save the whole person from sin and dysfunction. The Old Testament simply uses one word to embody this: Shalom. This is sometimes translated "peace", "prosperity", or "welfare". The idea points to the abundant life of joy, fullness, health, blessing, and friendship with God. Shalom means to be physically well, emotionally sound, and spiritually whole. When God is central to life, life hangs together. Alienation and antagonism are ended with harmony in an aggressive world and serenity in an anxious mind. Without it there is no peace.
2. "Peace with God". What is Paul describing here? It is not the peace by God. In the bloodshed of war millions have perished. The end of war, is our fervent prayer. That peace or harmony in an aggressive world is the work of our Heavenly Father. This is not what Paul is speaking about here. The peace of God is an internal peace. For some the war is within. They are troubled, anxious, stressed, tense, burdened with guilt and grief - they need inner peace. To achieve inner peace some stand on their heads in yoga, walk along a beach, water their gardens, take tablets and block out the world, some talk to psychiatrists to empty out their minds, some practise positive thinking - but whatever the means we need the peace of God within. That peace of God, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, means serenity in the anxious mind. This is not what Paul is speaking about here.
Peace with God is what Paul is considering. The other two senses of peace are not fully possible until each person is reconciled with others, and integrated within. The battle between nations without and in the minds of persons within, can only be finally solved when there is peace with God. That is the task of Jesus Christ, God's Son, who brings us into a right relationship with ourselves, God, and others resulting in peace with God. That is the Son's task, the reconciliation of the alienated soul. This is what Paul is speaking about here!
3. "We have peace with God". Peace with God is not an idealistic dream. We can now possess peace with God. It is available now. We have peace with God.
We need turn from fighting without and fears within, and claim it. Who are the "we" who "have peace with God"? We are they who are right with God. Those who have accepted God's gift of inner peace. Those who have been made right with Him. Those who have claimed the promise of Jesus: "Peace is what I leave with you, my peace I give you."
4. "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is not offering a feeling, but a relationship. He brings you into a right relationship with God, the world, your neighbour and yourself. Feelings may change, but your relationship with God need never change. How can we know this peace? The point of His coming was to bring us into a right relationship with God. "God has shown us how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!" This is why Jesus is unique. He alone died for the sins of the world. He alone died for sinful people to bring us into a right relationship with God. No other religious leader or teacher ever died for us. He alone opened the way to God. How can we claim this peace of God beyond understanding?
5. "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Being justified by faith is the means by which we have peace with God. Faith is more than a feeling, it brings a relationship. Faith does more than fight our fears, it makes us right with God. Once "we have been justified through faith," we have a relationship with God nothing can break. Being justified by faith means we have peace with God.
The American Psychiatrist, Dr Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled: "Whatever Happened to Sin". He calls a sophisticated generation to a new awareness of sin. For too long we have blamed our troubles upon our heredity, environment, genes, lack of education, social environment and psychological ills. Now the great psychiatrist says: "But there is immorality. There is unethical behaviour. There is wrong doing. There is usefulness in retaining the concept of SIN."
The twentieth century scoffed at sin as a cause, but we were left with symptoms without a cure. Jesus Christ came to remove sin. Its symptoms: alienation, lostness, inner turmoil, outer conflict - can be removed by Jesus Christ who puts us right with ourselves, others, the universe and God. Whatever happened to sin? For the Christian, God has removed it through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Through faith in Christ we are reconciled with God. The hostility is gone. The walls of separation are torn down. The chasms of alienation are filled. The distance between us is bridged. Hence our tensions, our aggressions, our guilt, our stress, our burdens, our inner turmoil and outer antagonism have been removed. We are left with peace of body, mind and spirit. Harmony exists with others and serenity exists within, because we have been made right with God. That atonement for sin has been completed by Jesus Christ enabling us to be right with God. "Christ has for sins atonement made, Hallelujah! What a Saviour!" "The sinner who believes is free, Can say, 'The Saviour died for me'; Can point to the atoning blood, And say, 'This made my peace with God.'"
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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