The Way of Peace
The world hankers after peace but there will be none until He who is its rightful Prince reigns as King in righteousness. Men build peace on international agreements and treaties and there is peace—for a time—but history proves again and again that it never lasts. The ancient Greeks and Romans had gods of war but no gods of peace (although Dionysus was said to love peace). By contrast, the Bible describes God several times as the God of peace (see Rom. 15: 33 etc.)—but never as the God of war.
While international peace is important, there is a peace that is of paramount importance and which transcends all others. That peace is an individual’s peace with God. Peace between nations is an external condition but peace with God is an internal matter—a condition of soul, an inner feeling.
Peace with God
To know whether or not I possess something, I must be clear first as to what it is. So what is peace? Men would say it is the absence of war, of conflict and of strife. All very true. It is also a condition of calm and tranquillity, of quiet and rest, and a state in which anxiety, concern and worry have no place. But what of “peace with God” (Rom. 5: 1, AV)? These words are better translated as “peace towards God” for the Greek pronoun pros (towards) involves direction—that is if I look up to God, then there is nothing to disturb, nothing to cause anxiety or fear but that all is restful. I know that any question that might be raised against me to create doubt has been settled and settled for ever to God’s satisfaction. That is peace with God. So have you got this peace?
Now this peace is not about the absence of cares and worries, perplexities and uncertainties in my pathway here. These I can take to my Father in prayer and enjoy peace about them, a peace that God Himself gives—what Scripture calls the “peace of God” (Phil. 4: 7, my emphasis). This is distinct from peace with God. The latter assumes that there has been conflict and strife between God and me, but that now there is peace because what caused the enmity and made me an enemy has been removed.
The Apostle, quoting from Is. 59: 8, says of unbelievers that the “way of peace they have not known” (Rom. 3: 17). Sadly, this is also true of many who do believe and who should know. Several times in the NT we read the clause ‘that ye may know’ and this is the reason why I write—that you may know. Yet commonly, a dying man is asked if he has made his peace with God. This question assumes two things—both of them false. Firstly, it assumes that a man can make this peace—that it is within his power to do so. The Bible nowhere tells me to even attempt this. It is the assumption of all false religions that man can do something to placate God and to secure peace with Him. Secondly, the question also assumes that such a peace has not already been made. What Scripture says is that Christ has made peace “by the blood of His cross” (see Col. 1: 20)—thus the work has already been done by the only One who could do it. If I owe a sum of money, a righteous creditor cannot accept payment from me if another has already paid my debt!
A building is only as stable as the foundation on which it is built. Too many build their peace with God on false foundations. When the tremors of life come, Satan’s voice is heard, their faith is challenged, and their peace collapses because it rested on the wrong foundation. One such false foundation is the love of God, the sense in the soul that God loves me. Yes, “God so loved … that he gave” (John 3: 16), but the Bible never makes that the basis of peace. The Gospel is called “the glad tidings of peace” (Eph. 2: 17; 6: 15) and “the glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20: 24) but never ‘the glad tidings of the love of God’. We are “saved by grace” (Eph. 2: 8), not love—for grace is not just love, but involves what love has done. Love is never the basis of peace. As regards the Gospel, God’s love is its source, grace is its characteristic and peace is its end result. While a mother would do anything to save her drowning child, her love in itself will not save it. It needs someone to go into the water to do that. Thus making God’s love for me the grounds of my peace with God is a blunder, the result of defective present–day preaching that downgrades sin and stresses God’s love at the expense of His righteousness.
As peace is an emotion, an internal feeling, another mistake is to make my peace with God rest on His work in me. Now God’s work within me is just as important as His work for me, but peace is based on the latter, not the former. “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God” (Rom. 8: 16) but He does not testify that we have peace. Again, I am born again by the work of the Spirit of God in me, not the work of Christ for me. We are children of God because of new birth, but birth gives life not peace. If I am looking within to find peace, I am looking in the wrong place. It’s like looking for a bed in the kitchen—it is not the right room. As another has wisely said, thirst is the result of something that is produced inside of us but what allays it is something provided outside. When this outside provision is applied to the inside need then the thirst is quenched. The desire for peace within is likewise satisfied by what God has provided for us outside of ourselves in the work of Christ, not in the work of the Holy Spirit—vital though that is in its own sphere. Apart from the introduction, there is not a word about either the Holy Spirit or the love of God in the Roman epistle until the grounds of peace with God have been firmly established. Then, and then only, do we read about the Holy Spirit and God’s love (see Rom. 5: 5).
The Way of Peace
Throughout the Bible peace is rooted in righteousness: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever” (Is. 32: 17; see also Ps 72: 3; Rom. 14: 17; James 3: 18). The way of peace is set out in Rom. 4 culminating in the grand conclusion at the beginning of chapter 5: “Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 1). Let us examine these words in detail.
Firstly, it is peace towards God. It is God Himself as God that is in view. It is not the Father as such, but God as God. Why? Because it is God that has been offended by sin. Whenever we read about justification or reconciliation in the NT, it is always God and not the Father, the name of relationship. Thus “[It is] God who justifies” (Rom. 8: 33), Why? Because justification is a judicial matter and the Father does not judge any one (see John 5: 22). It is as “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18: 25), creation’s supreme Justice, that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4: 5).
Again, there is only one way of peace. It is not through the Holy Spirit, nor through the Father but “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5: 1). There is no other means. The work is His alone. It is a work done for me but entirely independent of me. Indeed, it was done before I was born. Note the title: the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His full title as Man, the One of whom Peter declares that “God has made him, this Jesus … both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 36). It is that Man who is now in the very presence of God, testimony not only to the completeness of the work but God’s satisfaction with it. He is the One “who has been delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification” (Rom. 4: 25). Note too that our sins are described as offences—the setting is judicial, stressing God’s attitude towards sin.
The word is “having been justified … we have peace” (Rom. 5: 1). It is not love, forgiveness, redemption or anything else that is the basis of peace, but justification. But why is redemption not the basis? Because redemption has a future element to it (see Rom. 8: 23) while there is no future element to justification. It is set in the past and is complete now (see Rom. 5: 9; 8: 30). However, justification does not just involve the discharge of all that is against me (as in Acts 13: 39) but is the declaration of positive righteousness by God on my behalf. This is the righteousness that was reckoned to Abraham (see Rom. 4: 3, 5, 22) and which is reckoned to every believer (see Rom. 4: 23–25). This righteousness is not inherent in me, for it is reckoned to me. What does that mean exactly? Well the same phraseology used for righteousness in chapter 4 is used regarding circumcision in chapter 2 where the sense is indisputable. There Paul says of the Gentile “If therefore the uncircumcision keep the requirements of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be reckoned for circumcision …?” (Rom. 2: 26). The preposition eis is translated for in Rom. 2: 26 and as in Rom. 4: 3, 22 and in each case takes the accusative case. The word reckoned is the same in all three cases. Clearly, the sense in Rom. 2 is that if the Gentile kept the law, then although still actually uncircumcised, he would be reckoned, accounted, viewed and treated as circumcised. He was physically not circumcised, nor would he now feel circumcised but was judged as such. In exactly the same way, believers, are reckoned, accounted, viewed and treated as righteous by God. Practically the believer is still unrighteous, but judicially he is accounted righteous. If I was righteous, then there would be no need to reckon me to be so! It is simply a judicial decision on the part of God. The righteousness is judicial not practical. I am justified, declared right and that by God Himself. No other can make that declaration, it comes from God alone: “[It is] God who justifies” (Rom. 8: 33).
The Principle of Faith
“Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace …” (Rom. 5: 1). While justification is God’s basis for peace, on our side there must be faith. But what is faith? There must be absolute certainty in the answer for everything hinges on it. It is seen distinctively in Abraham who is “[the] father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4: 11). Faith is independent of feelings within and circumstances and events without. It looks in one direction only—to God. Feelings are always within, they may be right, they may be wrong and they may vary. Feelings are not faith. To look within to see if I have faith is a mistake because I am really trying to have faith in faith. Faith has only one direction—outward. It always looks outward, otherwise it is not faith. Looking within to see if I have believed is really exchanging faith for feelings. “He that confideth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28: 26). Hence Paul does not say a word about Abraham’s feelings in Romans 4!
Now faith always rests on what is external. In Heb. 6: 19 Paul uses the figure of an anchor saying “which we have as anchor of the soul, both secure and firm”. When the anchor remains in the ship it effects nothing. It is only when the anchor is dropped outside the ship that it is of any use. The stability of the ship is determined by what the anchor is attached to. Faith is the soul’s anchor. Events are immaterial to faith irrespective of whether or not they agree with what is believed. When Christians speak of archaeological discoveries or historical events confirming the word of God they are on the line of unbelief, although they may not know it. Man’s supposed confirmation of what God has said is nothing more than an insult to Him.
What then is faith? It is believing God. It is believing what God has said for no other reason than that God has said it. What God has said cannot change for He is the God “who cannot lie (Tit. 1: 2). On the other hand if I do not believe God, then I make Him a liar as John reasons in 1 John 5: 10. As has already been said, faith looks in one direction only—to God. It rests on His Word and nothing else. A hospital patient naturally has great anxiety about his visit to the consultant. On the latter’s assurance that all is now well, anxieties give way to peace. On what does the inward peace rest? On the patient’s trust in the word of the doctor. The peace is internal; what creates the peace is, as ever, external. To base the peace on what I hope or what I think the consultant will say is no ground for peace. Nor does it rest on my feelings about my health. Again, the views of others on my medical condition are irrelevant, only the doctor’s word carries authority in the matter. Likewise true peace rests on faith in the external word and work of another.
See how faith was independent of circumstances in the case of Abraham. Everything militated against what God had told him concerning his having a son in his old age yet he “against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4: 18). What account did faith take of his natural condition? It says “he considered not” (v19). Yet in regard to what God had said he “hesitated not” (v20). Hesitation is the child of unbelief but “being fully persuaded” (v21) is the offspring of faith. His faith had nothing to go on but God’s Word. That is exactly where all believers stand.
For Abraham, the testimony was spoken (see v18); for us, it is written (see v23). For Abraham, the spoken testimony was to him alone; for us, it is there for all to see in the Scriptures. For Abraham, it was a promise of what God would do in the future (see v13); for us, it is the testimony of what God has done in the past. Unlike Abraham, we are not waiting for God to act, for He has already acted in grace and the work is done. He “has raised from among [the] dead Jesus our Lord, who has been delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification” (vs. 24, 25). If Abraham’s faith is ours then his reckoned righteousness is ours also and we are justified by faith—and it is on that basis that we have peace towards God.
There are many and various pathways in life but the “way of peace” (Rom. 3: 17) is a singular way. God Himself has paved that road. It is a road without restrictions so that all may tread its path. From God’s side all is complete and the way is open so that “being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5: 10). This is only made good on our side by the exercise of faith—by believing God. May each reader form the same conclusion as the Apostle: “Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5: 1)—and add his amen.