When writers of the New Testament open their letters, they are quick to pray that their readers experience both grace and peace. The Apostles Paul and Peter open each of their letters with this prayer, and the Apostle John opens both 2 John and Revelation with it. On three occasions, the word, “mercy” is added to this prayer (1 & 2 Timothy, 2 John). Given this convincing recital, we may have here one of our earliest fixed, liturgical traditions. These two or three key words establish a foundation, preserve a center point, define an essential for us.
Peace, we understand. Peace with others, peace within ourselves. Outwardly, we desire the end of hostility, the absence of harm, freedom from attack. Peace treaties promise the end of fighting about things upon which we have now reached a compromise. This outward peace, however, cannot truly be accomplished without inner peace. We must be “at peace” with whatever compromises we accept. If we regret our compromise, our lack of inner peace will eventually spill into our interaction with others. Peace treaties will be broken and hostilities, renewed.
The writers of the New Testament remind us that there will be no peace without grace. Grace and peace must occur together. Grace addresses inner peace so it can address outer peace.
In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther says:
“Grace and peace—these two words embrace the whole of Christianity. Grace forgives sin, and peace stills the conscience.” (Luther’s Works, 26:6)
Inner peace comes when we are at peace with a Holy God. When He affirms us as children, His beloved, then we no longer fear His condemnation. Grace removes this fear. We know we fail. We sin, We are weak. We mess up. In grace, however, God views our sin as condemned entirely in the death of Jesus. We therefore commune with God as innocent children, clothed, protected and cleansed by the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
This inner peace with God informs our life within a broken and judged world. On one level, we know that another’s judgment of us will not stand. In their eyes, we are guilty, and therefore we deserve condemnation, punishment or even death. In God eyes, however, we may in fact be guilty apart from Him, but, in Him, we are forgiven, healed and restored. Our sense of peace comes from His view of us, quite apart from their view of us.
When we have this inner peace with God, our interaction with world’s hostilities can change. Grace becomes an option for us. We can overcome fear because:
“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6, NIV 2011)
We can also release our anger, because:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip….” Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV 2011).
My enemy’s judgment is an affair that they themselves must address with God. They must realize the same inner peace that I have discovered.
In all of this, we remain confident that sin has been severely judged. We have neither minimized sin nor ignored its effect. In grace, God has severely judged sin through the death of His Son. Someone has in fact died for both our sin and everyone else’s sin. When we extend grace to enemies, therefore, we are simply acknowledging that Jesus is already sacrificed for their sin, the same way that He died for our sin. The only difference between us and them is that we have believed the message that this death is not the end. New life has arisen from our death, in the power of the resurrected Jesus.
The grace of this death and resurrection delivers peace to us, and we want others to experience it as well. So, we pray for them, rather than attack them. We repeat the ancient prayer of the apostles:
“Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:2)