Experiencing His Peace
by Greg Albrecht
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.—Ephesians 2:13-18
Peace is, next to love, one of the peak experiences humans most deeply desire. We desire to be in love and we desire to be at peace. What kind of peace does God offer us? The peace of God is much more than simply the absence of conflict—God’s peace is security, assurance and serenity, produced by knowing God, by his grace, in a special and intimate way.
Our keynote passage is all about being one in Christ. Paul begins by talking about separation—humans from other humans, and humans from God. He continues the discussion of separation and alienation by noting the divide between Jews and non-Jews (the biblical term for non-Jews is gentiles) and all humans from God.
In the first verse of our passage (verse 13) Paul says that now, because of Christ Jesus, those of us who were once far away are now near, through the blood of Christ. We have peace because the separation—the gulf, the divide, between us and God—has been bridged by Jesus.
Because of Jesus we are now something we were not before. Because of Jesus we are not separated, we are near. Because of Jesus we now know God, as opposed to a time when we did not. Because of Jesus we now experience God’s peace.
Before we accept Christ, we are, essentially, at war with God. We are not at peace with him, we are fighting against him. Unless and until we accept Christ, virtually everything we do is the opposite of God’s ways. We are out to get what we want. We want our way, not God’s way. We are hostile to God, because we feel that we are the center of the universe. We resent God—we don’t want him involved in our lives. We don’t want Jesus helping us—we believe that we can take care of our own lives. We seek our own peace, our own security and comfort by the acquisition of wealth and power.
Apart from Christ, our idea of peace in the western world is usually based on externals. It’s all about what we can do.
Humanly, there are several maxims regarding peace by external means.
1) First, many define peace as the absence of conflict. So, in order to ensure both national and personal peace, they feel that they need to do unto others before they do unto us.
2) Apart from Christ, some believe that peace is based on becoming powerful, on being a person no one wants to mess with, therefore everyone will leave them alone. They assume that they can earn peace by becoming so powerful and influential that others will not bother them.
Nationally, the human wisdom goes something like this: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” So government leaders feel that the way to peace is a strong military. They build more jet fighters, produce more tanks and invest in more new and sophisticated military research and development in a frantic race to maintain the lead in weapons technology. The assumption is that we ensure peace by military superiority, because no one wants to go to war with us.
Some try to ensure peace in their lives by trying to make others love them. They pursue peace by attempting to purchase the goodwill of others.
Contrast the external actions many take trying to gain and produce peace with the teachings of Jesus, who said that peace is not about what we produce externally, but it’s about a reality that is experienced internally.
During Jesus’ ministry, the Romans occupied Palestine. The Jews, of course, wanted peace. They wanted to be relieved of the Roman occupation. They were divided into two camps.
The first group expressed their views something like this: “The Romans are more powerful, they can crush us. Let’s appease them. Give them what they want and we will have peace.”
The second group represented the other end of the spectrum. This group said, in effect: “Let’s find peace by driving out the Romans, let’s be revolutionaries, let’s arm ourselves with weapons, because the only way we can have peace is to be more powerful than the Romans.”
How did Jesus react to both of these viewpoints? First of all, Jesus disagreed with those who said “let’s surrender to the Romans and do whatever they want us to do.” While the New Testament teaches us to respect those in authority over us (Romans 13:1) it also teaches that God and God alone is our sovereign and we are not ultimately loyal to any other power.
For those who said “let’s become more powerful than the Romans and drive them out militarily” Jesus explained that military conquest does not provide real peace. Jesus preached that we should pray for our enemies, thus “getting rid of” our enemies by making them our friends, not by killing and destroying them.
Spiritually, the same principles are at work. Much Christ-less religion teaches that we can find peace from our fears, our pain—the abuse we have suffered and the loss we have experienced—by what we do. Performance-based religion teaches us that peace may be achieved as a result of external efforts. Do more things. Prove to God you are worthy of his blessing. Show God you are sorry. Perform more ceremonies, more rituals. Get to church more often—give God more money—do more good things—and then you will have peace. You will know, proposes performance-based religion, that God loves you based on what you have done.
Verse 14 of the first chapter of Ephesians declares that Jesus is our peace. The peace of God is not a cessation of worry, fear, anger or arguments, whether between us and other individuals, or between our nation and other nations.
The peace of God is who and what he is. God’s peace is his presence. He is our peace. When we are in Christ, and when he is in us, then we are not only at peace with God but we are at peace with our fellow man.
We are not at peace in him on the basis of performing religious rites or ceremonies, or because of external actions we undertake. We are at peace because of a divine, internal transformation that God has worked within us, the indwelling of Jesus Christ in our hearts and our souls.
Consider this situation. How do you love someone who just doesn’t want to get along with you at all? Suppose you have stopped waging war on God, you have accepted Jesus Christ unconditionally, but I haven’t. We live next door to each other, or perhaps we are brothers, brothers-in-law or co-workers. Try as you might, you can’t get along with me because I am a nasty, disagreeable, hardheaded person. How can you be at peace?
The key to this kind of human interaction is found in the person who enjoys a personal relationship with God, and lives in his peace. Though you might find that peace with someone as disagreeable as I am to be virtually impossible, you will still have the peace of God, because you know that God is in charge of your life.
You don’t need to struggle with or worry about those nasty, disagreeable, hardheaded people in your life who refuse to be at peace with you. You don’t have to think of me as an enemy either. You will realize and know that God will deal with people like me in his own way and in his own time and you can pray for me knowing that God loves me just as much as he does you. You can also leave me with God, because you know I am not your responsibility. God hasn’t asked you to change me from a nasty person into a nice person. That’s his job. You, because you experience God’s peace, will have peace with the fact that God is in charge.
You will then, because of your relationship with God, because of the love that God has given you, begin to love me. You will see me as a person who is loved by God, not just as a nasty, disagreeable, hardheaded person. Because of God’s grace, you won’t hate me or condemn me but you will pray that God would, in his wisdom and in his perfect plan, transform me from what I am now into what he wants me to be—just as he has already transformed you.
That’s an entirely different approach to our neighbors than some advocate, in the name of God. Some in Christendom seem to have the idea that our primary role toward those who are non-Christians is to condemn them. First of all, let’s start with the terminology that we often hear within Christendom. When a person who is not a Christian is talked about, we often hear the terms “un-saved” or “lost.”
I believe those terms are arrogant, judgmental and patronizing—it seems to me that these terms, and others like them, lead to “looking down our nose” at others who we think are not as good as we are.
Then, going beyond the use of terms, many say that we need to rescue these “un-saved” people. We need to scare them with hell fire and tell them they won’t be Raptured and saved from horrible events unless they join our church.
Some who believe themselves to be Christians read a passage in Ezekiel (in the 33rd chapter) and decide that just as God asked Ezekiel to be a watchman over Israel, so too should Christians today be watch-persons over their neighbors, their family, as well as their city, state, and nation. Is that a correct interpretation of this passage, in the light of the new covenant? Does God want us to be moral watchdogs or to pray for our enemies? Can we read the book of Ezekiel and determine that we, as Christians, are watchmen, the morality police, of our nations? Some do!
Some Christians believe that if they see sin in anyone’s life, and if they fail to warn that person of the consequences of that sin, then they will share the judgment for that sin. This motivation leads many to live lives as moral watchdogs, forever on the prowl, forever sticking their nose in other people’s business, forever passing judgment on others.
So is the job of “bringing” someone to Christ ours alone? If we fail to “convert” someone, if we are too tired to talk (some call this religiously mandated activity “witnessing”) to that person next to us on the bus, if we fail to change their life, will we be held accountable by God?
Many take this passage in Ezekiel out of its context, failing to read the commission given to one person, Ezekiel, to warn his people. God did not, even at that time, call each Jew to watch over every other Jew. In addition, God gave this charge to Ezekiel within the boundaries of the old covenant, which included the boundaries of time—that specific time in history—and of space—that specific piece of land. The message God gave to Ezekiel was time-bound and space-bound. The Cross of Christ terminated the old covenant, offering all humanity a new covenant. That’s exactly what our passage is telling us—the Cross of Christ changed everything.
If you are enslaved to Christ-less religion chances are you will consider anyone who is not performing the same religious duties and regulations you are, anyone who is not marching along to the same religious tune you are, as “outsiders.”
Those who have been indoctrinated by such religious propaganda are living outside of the peace of God, they are not experiencing his peace, nor are they resting in the Lord. Religious legalisms turn them into the very thing they accuse others of being—”unsaved.” As bond-slaves of religion, they keep trying, endlessly, to justify themselves on the basis of their own deeds and performance, rather than accepting the justification of Jesus’ work on the cross.
How much harm, how much misery and heartache, has been done in the name of God by those who feel that they are charged with maintaining purity and moral standards? How many problems have been caused, and how much spiritual damage has been inflicted by those who attempt to identify sin, bring people to repentance (which often means becoming a member of their church) sometimes using any method necessary?
In the name of religion, sincere (and sincerely wrong!) people have misrepresented God and alienated others from God, by their attempts to shame them into doing what they believe to be the right thing. The party spirit of religious fault-finding creates exclusive clubs of holiness (which some call churches) to which outsiders need not, and dare not, apply. This attitude wreaks havoc within the body of Christ—it is the exact opposite of being one in Christ, which our passage today preaches.
Verse 14 of our passage speaks of a dividing wall of hostility that existed between Jews and gentiles. This was a literal and a spiritual barrier. During the time of Jesus, and during the time when this letter of Ephesians was written, there was a stone wall of separation at the temple in Jerusalem. This wall was between the temple and what was called the Court of the Gentiles. The inscription on the wall read, “No one of another nation to enter within the fence and enclosure round the temple. And whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues.”
Religious purity and separation from anything or anyone that was “unclean” was a huge issue for Jews. The Jews essentially felt that they and they alone had a special and unique relationship with God and that by virtue of race, as well as religion, no gentile could come near to the very inner and holiest places of the temple where it was believed God lived.
Paul is saying in our keynote passage that in Christ we have all now come near, he is saying that dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed.
The wall of arrogance, religious pride and spiritual vanity has been destroyed. Now, all may be one in Christ, we may all choose to be near God, not far away. We are near to God, not because of our religion or our race, we are close to God not because of our religious deeds and creeds, God is available to us because of Jesus.
Up until the Cross of Christ, his resurrection and the new covenant, the Jews had been given a law by God. They felt that their law made them better and superior, though that was not God’s intent in giving them the law. They believed their law codes, the covenant of Sinai, and how they carefully obeyed that covenant meant that God loved them more.
The law with all of its detailed ordinances of ceremonies and regulations imposed a barrier between Jews and all other human beings. But the law, as Paul notes in Galatians, brought a curse. The law left the Jews thinking they were morally superior, while at the same time it left everyone condemned and alienated, for neither Jew nor gentile could perfectly observe it.
Jesus came, obeyed the old covenant law perfectly, something that no human had ever done, or could ever do, and then on his Cross destroyed the law and the curse it brought. His righteous and perfect work on the Cross brought all humanity near to God by God’s grace.
Does God’s peace come to us automatically? Do we experience his peace no matter what we do? God’s peace must be accepted, on his terms.
The reason many people, including many people who go to church regularly and think they are doing everything God wants them to do, have not experienced God’s peace is because they have not surrendered. Experiencing His Peace is not easy.
In order to be at peace, to experience God’s peace, we must surrender to Jesus. We must accept that he alone is Lord. We must stop thinking that we can please God on the basis of our deeds.
We must lose our religion—we must give up the idea that our relationship with God will be enhanced and improved on the basis of our performance.
Our relationship with God is all about Jesus. Our relationship with God is not determined by externals, our relationship with God depends on our transformed, spiritually transformed heart and soul, our acceptance of who and what Jesus is, our acceptance that he and he alone can do for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Now, because of Christ, we may all experience God because of his grace. We may all know him, not because of who we are—not because of what we have done, are doing and will do—but because of who and what Jesus is, because of what Jesus has done, is doing or will do.
Experiencing His Peace is all about Jesus. He is our peace.
In verse 17 of our passage we read that Jesus came and preached peace to those who were far away (at least on the basis of the old covenant law and the outsider status of being non-Jews), as well as those who are near (at least those who presumed that they were close to God because they were who they were racially and because they had a religious covenant with God which they assumed made them closer to God).
All of that changed at the Cross of Christ. Everything changed. Peace was redefined. Peace was now possible by knowing God, by knowing him in a personal way, not mediated by law, but mediated by love.
God provides some incredible pictures of peace in the Bible, pictures of what his kingdom of peace actually looks like. Some think of these pictures only as some idyllic, future event, and may minimize or even overlook the work of Jesus Christ in the lives of Christians today. I am thinking of the passage in Isaiah, chapter 11, verses 6-9
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.—Isaiah 11:6-9
This is a metaphor, a word picture of people who, before they were transformed by Jesus Christ, were opposite—in their interests and motivation—as cows and bears, as lions and oxen, as wolves and lambs.
This is a picture of the peace of God and of the reality of experiencing his peace, which as Christians we enjoy because of Jesus.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It has many meanings, among them “wholeness”—in a spiritual sense.
1) God’s peace is not something we produce externally—God’s peace is his gift given to us by his grace. God’s peace is experienced internally.
2) The peace of God is Him. The peace of God is who and what he is. God’s peace is his presence. He is our peace.
3) When we are in Christ, and when he is in us, then we are not only at peace with God but we are peace with our fellow man.