It was in 1947 when Auden spoke of the “age of anxiety.” We find ourselves in a very similar age still in 2017. We are an anxious people, especially in this country of the “land of the brave.” Christians ought to look different, but all to often we are as anxious about the future as anyone. Understanding more pointedly, then, how “peace” is a fruit of the Spirit should be a pressing concern for today’s Christians. When we understand that peace comes from God then we can live at peace in the world.
The Hebrew word “shalom” carriers a greater range of meaning that our English word “peace.” Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, it is the presence of a comprehensive well-being. This well-being stems from a right relationship with God. So, Paul speaks in his various writings of “peace with God.” So, in Romans 5:1-2 we read:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-5)
Through Jesus death and resurrection all believers are brought into a right relationship with God. They are no longer considered enemies, but “have peace” with Him. As Christopher Wright explains:
When we put our trust in Jesus, who died for our sins, then we know that we come into a right relationship with God, which gives us peace. Peace with God means peace of heart and conscience, the absence of guilt and fear. We no longer need to be anxious about God’s verdict on the last day. In Christ we are declared to be among the righteous, those who belong to God’s family. (Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, 57)
In other words, God gives us peace through Jesus Christ. It is the natural product of being in relationship with God. As a result of peace with God, we can then live at peace in the world.
The New Testament speaks boldly of the “peace of God.” This is that sense of rest, confidence, and calm. It is a firm trust in God despite circumstances. It is “peace of mind, freedom from anxiety and panic” (Wright, 58). So, Jesus can call on his disciples to resist anxiety about food and clothing because they have a God who knows their needs and will surely take care of them (Matt. 6:25:34). And Paul can urge the Philippians to be anxious for nothing, instead they should pray to the “God of peace” who will guard their “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Peace with God opens up to the believer a life of peace. When I know that God loves me enough to send His only Son to die for me, then I know that no other need of mine is too great or too costly for Him (Rom. 8:32). When I know that God loves me, then I can surrender all my concerns to His loving and sovereign care (1 Peter 5:7). When I know that this God gives me peace, then I can strive to live in peace with others. Wright notes that there is a “third kind of peace” which plays out in the believer’s life: the peace that god calls for. He says:
Since God has made peace between himself and us (at his own great cost through the death of Jesus on the cross), God now calls us to live in peace with one another, as a way of “living out” the transforming power of the cross in our own practical lives. (60)
God’s peace transforms our relational dynamics. This is, I believe, partly what the apostle John has in mind when he speaks of the “love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We can love others well because we have been loved well by God. Perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment. But when that punishment has been taken away I can risk more to love others. I have no fear of their rejection or their refusal or their betrayal, because ultimately I am accepted in God – and what can man do to me (Heb. 13:6).
Peace comes from God through Jesus Christ. Being in a relationship of rest with the Holy God of the universe allows me to experience peace in the rest of my life and in my other relationships. Cultivating this peace means regularly reminding myself of the truth of my firm identity in Christ. It means earnestly praying to God when I have worries, and not as a last resort but as a first response. It also means striving to resolve conflicts with others and be long-suffering with them (Rom. 12:18; 14:19; Eph. 4:3). Peace stems from our relationship with God, but when we rest confident in it, this fruit will be evident in the rest of our lives.