“The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace that does not start here can do other than mislead.”
JI Packer, ‘ The Heart of the Gospel’ in In My Place Condemned He Stood, p. 49
The Gospel brings us peace with God. That’s what it offers and that is what it provides. The phrase “peace of God” is often misunderstood. It’s not at its heart a feeling of inner calm and tranquility, or a transcendent and subjective state of being. As though at one point you may be struggling with a particular choice or decision but as you contemplate one option you feel a sense of peace and this is God’s gift and guidance to you.
This might be what happens from time to time but it’s not what the Bible is ever describing with the phrase “peace of God”. And whether or not this sense of peace should be interpreted as God’s tacit approval of a course of action is, in my opinion, a tough conclusion to draw from no clear Biblical evidence.
The basic building block of God’s peace is pardon and acceptance into covenant relationship. That is, forgiveness, adoption and so reconciliation. Our relationship with God changes. No longer under condemnation but instead justified. No longer an object of wrath but an object of love. God no longer against us but rather for us. No longer a relationship of hostility but mutual friendship. And where these elements are missing, so is the “peace of God”.
Imagine two neighbours are fighting, and they hate each other so much and can’t stand each other’s noise and visual existence. And so they build a 10 foot high, two foot thick concrete fence between their properties topped with a roll of razor wire. They can’t see each other, hear each other, the other’s tennis balls don’t end up in their backyard. We might say that hostility is over and there is calm and peace in that neighbourhood. The Bible would say different.
For the Bible, peace isn’t that enemies are kept apart with a mutual non-aggression pact and an official state of détente. For the Bible, peace is when enemies are brought together and reconciled and there is now no more fence and the two families are reconciled and everyone’s kid’s play in one big backyard.
The “peace of God”, then, is at its heart a new status and relationship of forgiveness and acceptance and embrace. And the source of this peace with God is sin removed and wrath turned aside in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In John’s Gospel when Jesus’ disciples are cowering in fear in the upper room, suddenly Jesus appears among them and says, “Peace be with you!” And then immediately “he showed them his hands and his side.” (John 20:19-20) He says this and does this to remind them that he has brought peace with God through his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross.
As Carson puts it, “Jesus’ ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening is the complement of ‘it is finished’ on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted.” (PNTC Gospel According to John, p. 647)
As Paul puts it in Colossians, God was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things … by making peace through [Jesus’] blood, shed on the cross.” (Col. 1:20)
The “peace of God” is not first and foremost a subjective feeling of inner tranquility, but rather an objective state of affairs which God has brought about for us, through Christ, where we are reconciled to Him and at peace with Him.
Without this as the heart and soul of our talk about “peace with God” we will only mislead and speak half-truths, which in the end are no-truths.