For the last 18 months I’ve been fixated on Philippians especially chapter two where Paul commends a life of humility and service like Christ (2:1-11). As I was reading it recently, I came across this favorite of Christian retailers: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). Or as the King James Version eloquently puts it, “a peace that passeth all understanding.”
Some evangelicals would interpret this peace from God as some kind of in the clouds, intangible peace in your gut. A kind of subjective good feeling about your personal relationship with God. You can’t quite put your finger on it but you’ve got it (whatever it is). However, this line of thought could not be farther from what Paul had in mind. The concept of peace is rooted in the Old Testament shalom. For Israel, it was a tangible rest found in the promised land when the land flourished and all enemies were subdued. And that happened when Israel was living in obedience to God.
In the New Testament, this concept is developed further during the advent announcement. Again I love how the KJV renders Luke 2: “[O]n earth peace, good will toward men.” There’s a gospel expectancy because the question of how isn’t explicit answered. I would like to suggest that this advent proclamation of peace is foundational for Paul’s theology on justification.
The proclamation that Jesus is king and that he’s come to establish his kingdom is discernibly bad news for rebels who have done nothing but break God’s covenant and reject his precepts. But how then does Paul preach this as good news to the gentiles? Because he elaborates on the how through out his epistles. The clearest example is found in Romans 5,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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 5:1-2 bold mine; see also Colossians 1:19-20, Ephesians 2:13-16, and Ephesians 6:14-15).
Paul then throws the haymaker when he calls us “fellow heirs with Christ” and adopted sons in Romans 8. He closes this chapter with a proclamation that no one can condemn us, nothing can separate us from God’s love, and no one can stand against us. The peace from God then surpasses understanding because who could imagine rebels standing before God justified and being called sons?
The peace we have is tangible. It is objective. Our standing before God as sons and daughters is sure because it’s ours in Christ Jesus. He is our yes and amen. He is our guarantee of peace with God.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He blogs at Grace for Sinners and Marginalia: On the Margins of the Writing Life. His family is covenanted at Downtown Presbyterian Church.