Peace With God

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 5:1

St. Augustine said it best, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless til they rest in you.”

The human heart is a fickle thing. I don’t mean the muscle that pumps our blood, and that so swiftly fells us when a blood clot gets stuck in the wrong place. I’m talking about the heart as our inmost self, the center of our personality, the home of our loves and desires. And there’s something wrong there, in our hearts. It manifests itself in a recurring sense of unrest. You can see it all around; just look at the way fads and styles come in and go out. Or look into your own heart. We never seem to be able to settle for anything for very long before craving something else or something more, something bigger, better, fancier.

But be honest with yourself. Imagine that you did have more money, a nicer house, a newer car, a different job. Would that really satisfy you permanently? Would all your discontentment then be laid to rest? And if so, how long do you think it would be before you needed something else to make you happy again? See what I mean? Our hearts are never quite satisfied by things, no matter how beautiful or exciting those things may be.

Let me tell you about a man who learned this lesson about the human heart a long time ago. His name was Augustine. Born in North Africa during the last days of the Roman Empire, Augustine as a young man had made his way to Italy where he became a teacher. Brilliant, eloquent, sensual, and self-indulgent, Augustine struggled long with the weaknesses and paradoxes of his own character. He became a teacher while wrestling with the claims of the Christian faith in which he had been reared and the teachings of other competing philosophies.

For years he wavered, unable to make up his mind what to believe, unwilling to change his life, not wanting to commit himself wholly to faith in Jesus Christ. Then one day, restless, filled with this inward conflict, he wandered out to the garden of the house in Milan where he was staying. As he sat relaxing in the shade, Augustine heard from the other side of the garden wall the voice of a child crying, “Tolle, lege; tolle, lege,” “Pick up and read! Pick up and read!”—a sing-song phrase from a children’s game. He glanced down at the book which lay open beside him on the bench, took it up in his hands, and read these words, the first words his eyes fell upon:

The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

That book in Augustine’s hands was the book of Romans (the passage he read was from chapter 13), and Augustine believed to the end of his life that God spoke to him directly that day. So he obeyed what he read. He stopped waffling and committed his life to Christ, and Augustine became the greatest theologian in Christian history. Many years later he summed up his own experience—and everyone else’s too—in these famous words from his autobiographical Confessions: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”

Justified by Faith

At the beginning of Romans 5, Paul has reached a sort of summing up point in his explanation of the Christian faith.

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. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

“Therefore,” Paul writes, “since we have been justified by faith . . .” That phrase “justified by faith” is Paul’s shorthand version of the whole Christian gospel. It also neatly summarizes the detailed explanation of the way of salvation that Paul has written in the two previous chapters, Romans 3 and 4.

The apostle began his letter to the Christians in Rome with a full account and description of the human predicament apart from God and the good news of the gospel. All human beings are hopelessly lost in sin. Because of humanity’s rejection of God, sinful people live under the wrath of God, that is, God’s righteous judgment on all that is evil.

There is no way out through our own efforts, but God has provided a way for us to be forgiven by making a sacrifice of atonement in Jesus Christ and crediting that sacrifice, together with the perfect righteousness of Christ to all who put their faith in him. Because Christ offered his own life on the cross, paying the penalty of sin, God can justly forgive anyone who believes in him.

A great exchange takes place for those who have faith in Christ. He takes their sin upon himself, and they receive his righteousness instead. Out of his sheer goodness God credits or counts as righteous for Christ’s sake those who aren’t righteous in themselves, but who have been united with Christ through faith. That is what it means to be “justified by faith,” and that’s why this little phrase is a shorthand expression that stands for the whole gospel message.

What We Have

Now if you read Romans 5:1 as I just did and read it carefully, you will notice that Paul is drawing a conclusion here. “Therefore,” he begins — that is to say, based on everything I’ve said so far in these previous chapters — “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God,” present tense! Not “we hope to find peace,” not “there’s a chance we might have peace someday,” not “well, we can feel peaceful if we think the right thoughts,” but rather a simple statement of fact: “we have peace with God.”

Paul’s not talking primarily about our emotional state or our subjective feelings. Having peace is not the same as feeling at peace because feelings vary widely, and depend on all sorts of things. When the Bible says we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is stating an objective truth. It means we’ve been reconciled to God—the hostility, the enmity between God and us has been dealt with and put aside. It’s like the end of a war. The moment the peace treaty is signed, the state of hostilities is ended and the state of peace is restored. Not all the combatants may get the word immediately. The shooting may continue for a while in some places. Some may even refuse to give up and surrender, but nevertheless peace has been established.

And this is now how it is for all who have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. We have peace with God. And as we learn to live by faith, to know God and trust God and obey God and serve God, we will come to experience peace more and more in the subjective sense.

No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace

There’s a good reason why St. Augustine’s statement about our restless hearts is true. It’s because we were made for God, to know him, to experience his peace, to be his friends, his children. We were made for nothing short of this. Our creation in God’s own image has indelibly fixed within us a hunger for God, and until we are reconciled to him by faith in Christ and enter into a personal relationship with him in fellowship with his Son, nothing else can satisfy us. That hunger will go unfilled.

And really, it’s part of God’s mercy toward us that this is so. God does not allow us to rest content with any lesser good until we come to know him, lest we should stop short of the goal of our existence and miss out entirely on the only lasting good. I don’t know anything that makes this point better than George Herbert’s poem, “The Pulley.”

When God at first made Man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by—
Let us (said He) pour on him all we can;
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way,
Then beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

George Herbert (1593-1632)

Maybe you’ve seen the little saying that goes, “No God, no peace; know God, know peace. That’s no — spelled “n-o” — God, no — “n-o” — peace. But if you “k-n-o-w” know God, you will also know true peace, peace with God and peace from God — the peace that passes understanding, the peace of God that will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Believe it! Know it!