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One of the sweetest words in the Hebrew language is shalom—“peace.” It conveys a very specific sense of peace. As a dear Jewish friend of mine loved to define it: “Nothing out of place; everything as it ought to be.” Such a state has only ever existed in the created order at its very beginning. God surveyed the finished product of His work of creation and not only pronounced it in its entirety to be “very good,” but He also consummated it with the prototypical Sabbath rest. The secret to this peace and perfection was that God was at the center of everything and was acknowledged as such by Adam and Eve.

The entrance of sin through Adam’s disobedience brought discord and disruption. Friction resulted, not just between him and his Maker but also with Eve—with whom he had so recently been joined together as “one flesh.” It led also to his being at odds with the very creation over which God had placed him as His earthly image bearer and vice-regent. From that moment on, earth became the center of the cosmic conflict that has been raging ever since.

Mercifully, God did not wait for Adam to find the antidote to his failure. He Himself provided what was needed to satisfy His own justice and spare Adam and Eve from what they deserved for their sin. He provided two sacrificial animals whose skins would provide a covering for their moral and physical nakedness before God and would do so because the deaths of the animals pointed to the unique sacrificial death by which God would one day deal finally and fully with sin.

God made it clear from the outset that His intention for the world and for the human race was shalom of the highest order—a restored relationship with Him that would be reflected in restored relationships between His redeemed people with one another. One of the most eloquent and encouraging expressions of what this means and how it becomes ours is heard in the words of the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).

If we are the blood-bought children of God through Christ, then not only are we joined to Jesus in saving union, but we are simultaneously united to all His children. We are all one in Him.

As has often been pointed out, the key to this shalom is not merely the absence of conflict but the presence and favor of God. The theater in which God has chosen to display this blessing is His redeemed community, the church. That is, as men and women, boys and girls find pardon and peace with God through His redeeming grace, their relationships with one another are transformed by that same grace. The church, in both its old covenant and new covenant expressions, is marked by peace and reconciliation.

It is important to realize that the roots of this restoration are found in the new standing that we have with God in terms of our legal status. It is, as theologians point out, “forensic”—relating to God’s law. By nature, and by virtue of our sin, we are under His righteous wrath and condemnation, but by grace and through justification, we are pardoned and reckoned righteous and “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We are no longer estranged from God and at odds with His will; we are reconciled to Him and He to us. This is the most glorious thing a sinner can know. Through Christ, those who are aliens and outcasts are brought near to God and know Him as their God and Father. Isaiah rightly identifies Jesus as the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). All that He is by virtue of His unique person and all that He has accomplished through His saving work underwrite and guarantee our peace with God and underpin the newfound peace that we enjoy as His redeemed children.

How does this translate into our relationships with one another as members of His church? Once again, there is a forensic or legal dimension to it. Just as our family ties—both genetic and legal—underpin our relationship with our parents and siblings, the same is true in God’s family. If we are the blood-bought children of God through Christ, then not only are we joined to Jesus in saving union, but we are simultaneously united to all His children. We are all one in Him (Gal. 3:28). All the ethnic, social, and other barriers that divide our fallen race are demolished in God’s family. We are enabled to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed [us]” (Rom. 15:7). However difficult we may find it to get along with our fellow Christians, we share the same spiritual DNA in Christ. As we are bound to Him in salvation, we are bound to each other for eternity in the communion of saints. This is the foundation for peace in the church. Just as the forensic righteousness of our justification is to be manifest in the practical righteousness of new obedience, so too the peace we have with God in justification must suffuse our relationships in His family.

Nowhere in Scripture do the practical implications of this aspect of our salvation stand out more clearly than in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. His key emphasis in this epistle is the nature of the church as God’s new humanity displayed in renewed community. Paul homes in on this aspect of redemption because of the impact of the so-called Jew-gentile controversy that was one of the most damaging issues affecting the New Testament church.

Having spent the first chapter of Ephesians mapping out the roots of redemption in eternity and its foundations in the finished work of Christ in history, Paul goes on in the second chapter to remind his readers of the outworking of salvation in their experience. He focuses on this major issue that often disrupted the fellowship of the saints in the first century. Pointing to the very different ethnic and religious backgrounds of the two major groupings in the church—Jews and gentiles—he reminds them of the one route by which they had entered the church: the cross of Christ. Alluding to both sides of this ethnic divide, he says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one” (Eph. 2:13–14). Christ not only secured reconciliation between God and man on the cross; His reconciling work would span the great divides within our race.

Paul speaks of Christ’s having

broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . , that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:14–16)

Paul’s reference to “the dividing wall” may well be an allusion to the actual wall in the temple that separated the court of the gentiles from the inner courts reserved for Jews. By His death, Jesus ushered in a whole new epoch in worship history, one with no barriers of race, culture, or background. It marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This is a blessing made visible in the God-imparted peace of restored relationships between God and sinful human beings and within His redeemed community.

Peace in the Family

Peace outside the Church

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From the January 2023 Issue
Jan 2023 Issue