We’ve just come out of a season that talks a lot about peace. Christmas time is the season of the year that carries a special place in our imaginations, that evokes certain feelings in our hearts. We sing songs about the cattle peacefully lowing, and the baby quietly sleeping. We have images in our heads or on TV of snuggling warmly next to the fire and being surrounded by children contentedly playing quietly with their toys beneath the tree. Everything is picture-perfect, the night is silent, the peace of the season pervades every square inch with Christmas magic.
And then we wake up to reality, and we remember that real life is not like a Thomas Kincade painting or a hallmark channel movie. The bills are piling up, the children are bickering, the car needs a new starter, your co-worker is still gossiping about you, your family member is still mad at you for what you said last year, and all these things add up to give you, not a profound feeling of Christmas peace, but a crippling sense of anxiety and restlessness. Rather than being filled with goodwill toward men, we feel guilty because we maybe have bitterness, anger, or vengeful thoughts. We are dominated by disquieted hearts, wrapped up in every feeling, every feeling except the peace of God.
Once we have come to faith we know that we have an objective peace with God (e.g., Romans 5:1), but we often struggle because we lack a feeling of peace. While feelings aren’t ultimate, they are important and a real aspect of our lives.
Thankfully, we aren’t left without hope. The Second London Baptist Confession says that we must diligently make our calling sure so that our “heart may be enlarged in peace” (2LBCF 18.3). By meditating on Christ’s work for us, and examining our vital union with him, we may experience the feeling of peace with God. We can have peace in our souls by meditating on what Christ has done to provide peace between us and God. With some help from David Murray, consider these various ways that we might experience peace in our souls through faith in Christ:
1. When we come to faith we can have the peace of forgiveness instead of guilt. “Forgiveness quiets the disturbing dread of just judgment for our sin.” That feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you know you’re guilty, you’re caught, you’re dead. That feeling of dread can be replaced when we receive the peace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This knowledge that he has completely satisfied God’s wrath and taken away our curse allows us to battle against the feeling of guilt that can linger so strongly in our hearts, and replace it with the peace of forgiveness.
2. When we come to faith we can have the peace of friendship instead of fear. God was formerly our greatest foe. He was at war with us and we were at war with him. He was not a benevolent father, but a vengeful foe, with his white-hot wrath poised to plunge us deep into eternal hell as punishment for our sins. And that enmity produced fear within our hearts. But now He is our Father, our good, loving, and benevolent father, and even more than that, He our best friend. The fear of wrath that so crippled us can be replaced with the peace that comes through genuine friendship. Friendship that knows that we can do nothing to break that bond, friendship that comes with completely open and non-judgmental communication, friendship that is so satisfying and secure that all the earthly friendships that we can have only pale in comparison. Your best earthly friendship that you have, your favorite and most loyal friend, is only a small shadow of the peace of friendship that we have with God through Christ Jesus.
3. When we come to faith we can have the peace of acceptance instead of rejection. “Before faith, no matter how hard we tried to please God, we were rightly rejected and resisted.” God was both unwilling and unable to mingle with us in our sinfulness. We were alone in our fight, rejected by God and men, and without hope of restoration or forgiveness. But after conversion, we are completely accepted in Christ. There is no more fighting and resistance, only acceptance. There is no more enmity and estrangement, only unity. There is no more brokenness and alienation, only intimacy. We have in Jesus, the peace of acceptance instead of rejection.
4. When we come to faith we can have the peace of doing what I can instead of doing what I can’t (Mark. 14:8). “I can stop trying to be a Martha and enjoy being a Mary. Instead of spending life rushed off my feet, I can sit calmly at Jesus’s feet.” Instead of busying myself to death worried about all the things that I can’t do, I can cultivate a heart of peace that is content to serve God in the ways that he’s gifted me, and I can trust that he is both glorified and satisfied with my humble acts of service.
5. When we come to faith we can have the peace of God-glorifying instead of self-seeking. Without peace with God, we all sought to build up our lives, to make for ourselves our own personal towers of Babel, to make ourselves great. We are driven by pride. But when we’ve been gripped by peace with God, we can give up on self-promotion and aim only at God-promotion. We no longer have a heart that clamors for attention and fame, a heart that is motivated by the praise of men, and instead we have hearts that scream, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Rather than being driven to hear the praise of men, we instead become driven by the desire to hear, “well done my good and faithful servant,” which is done through seeking to glorify God instead of ourselves.
6. When we come to faith we can have the peace of love instead of hate. Before faith in Christ we are full of hatred. We hate those that have crossed us, those that have broken our hearts, those that are arrogant, those that annoy us, those that are our enemies, those that take what we think should be ours. But in our hating, we do nothing but bind our own souls to the turbulence of a stormy heart. But, because of the peace of God, “love stills that ugly storm and sends gentle ripples of peace through the soul.” Tranquility can dominate your once hate-filled soul, once you have been changed by the peace of God in Christ.
7. When we come to faith we can have the peace of peace-making instead of vengeance-taking. “No longer do I have to get even. Vengeance is God’s – I give it all over to His repayment department.” I can dissolve my bitter heart with the medicine of his peace-bringing grace. My need for vengeance died on the cross when God’s vengeance toward me was crucified on the back of his son in my place. I no longer need revenge, because I’ve been forgiven, which allows me to then become a peace maker, just like Christ.
8. When we come to faith we can have the peace of contentment instead of envy. Envy makes us full of unrest. Covetousness drives us to always look for the next, the greater, the other, the green pastures on the other side of the fence, and to never have contentment and peace with what we have been given. But, when we come to have peace with God, we know that we have been provided everything that we could ever need in Jesus Christ, that we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading waiting for us in heaven. I can be content that God has the knowledge of my every need, the power to meet my every need, and the goodness to be inclined to meet my every need. When I am content, I know peace that passes understanding, rather than the unrest that comes with envy.
9. When we come to faith we can have the peace of presence instead of loneliness. “No matter how alone I am, I am never lonely, because God is with me everywhere.” The God of all peace has promised to be with me, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. My anxious heart of loneliness has been replaced instead with the peace of his presence.
10. When we come to faith we can have the peace of patience instead of impatience. Impatience makes our souls fidgety. We sit at the red light and fiddle with the steering wheel pleading for a green light. We tap our feet in frustration waiting for our number to be called at the DMV. We’re controlled by our perception of time, rather than by the peace of God. But, when we’ve been changed by God’s peace, “we no longer have to get agitated and annoyed at every delay, but rather wait calmly on God’s better timing.” We remember that God’s clock is more accurate than our own, and we can trust in the goodness of our divine time-keeper.
11. When we come to faith we can have the peace of purpose instead of aimlessness. Without the peace of God, we are adrift, wandering, unsure of our footing and floating through life seeking for we-know-not-what. But, “instead of zig-zagging, tacking, chopping, and changing my way through life, never knowing what I should do, I now have a God-given purpose, aim, and significance.” Peace with God makes me into a son of God, which gives me eternal, God-glorifying, soul-quieting purpose.
12. When we come to faith we can have the peace of obedience rather than rebellion. “Disobedience results in chaos.” That was true in the garden with Adam, and it is true in our lives. But, just like disobedience necessarily brings chaos, “Obedience results in harmony.” That was true for Jesus and it is true for us. Where there is true, heart-level, faith-fueled obedience, there will grow in your heart a peace that God uses to reward those that seek to joyfully follow the commandments of his Son.
13. When we come to faith we can have the peace of identity rather than confusion. “In a world that cannot even tell the difference between male and female, I can have the peace of a God-given identity in Christ.” I can know that I am not a mistake, and that although my feelings might be mistaken, God’s word is never so. God’s word is light in a world of confused darkness, and it reminds me that I am a son of the King, adopted into his family, and loved by our benevolent father. I find my identity in what he says about me, and not what the world, or even my fickle heart, says about me.
In conclusion, there is good news of peace with God that can be yours if you would but come to him in faith, turn from your sins, embrace the calling of our God, and you too may have your soul freed from unrest and anxiety, and enter into the glorious peace of God, a peace which surpasses all understanding.