The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
As I was sitting down to write this article initially, there were at that very moment, unbeknownst to me, a hoard of rioters breaking into the Capitol of the United States. In the days that have followed, people living in the US have been at one another’s throats. Every word, every action, seemingly every secret thought by every single person, from the president himself all the way down to the lowliest person making a Facebook post, has been scrutinized, judged, and found offensive to at least someone. I can’t even begin to predict the continuing fallout in the days or weeks between the writing of this article and its publishing. The chickens of the growing national divide, a divide which started decades ago and has accelerated rapidly over the past 12 years, are coming home to roost. There is fear, anger, resentment, selfishness, distrust, and hatred. It’s highly unlikely that all-out civil war will break out, but it feels like that’s already happening in some ways. There are calls to unity from both sides of the political aisle, calls that fall on many deaf ears. There are some in the United States wo do not want unity but would rather prefer revolution. The fuel of Marxist ideology and Critical Theory simply serve to throw flames on an already-raging fire. Yet the vast majority of Americans want unity but have little understanding of how a national unity is built and maintained. The vast majority of Americans have little understanding at the deeper cause of national division: sin. And it seems that the vast majority of the church fails to understand that, although God, in His common grace, can use individuals to bring about betterments of society, true and lasting peace can only be brought about by the sovereign work of God in Christ. The Gospel is the one great key that unlocks the mystery of peace on earth; it’s the key that unlocks every true mystery in the biblical sense. A series on the fruits of the Spirit is timely, and the third fruit listed in Galatians 5 is peace, strikingly appropriate. But what is meant by peace as a fruit of the Spirit? What is its scope and purpose?
An interesting cultural phenomenon is the search for ‘inner peace.’ Life is challenging, and hard, and sometimes even downright depressing. People look for a solution to that inner turmoil caused by outward circumstances, so they turn to meditation and any number of other tactics to bring inner peace. So is this the kind of peace that Paul has in mind in Galatians 5? I don’t think so. Notice the contrasting list in Gal 5:19-21, the list of the fruit of the flesh. Inner turmoil is not one of the things listed here, but enmity, strife, jealousy, rivalry, dissension, division, and envy are. It seems that the fruits of the flesh are broken relationships, or attitudes that cause broken relationships, with other people. So then the list of opposites, the fruits of the Spirit, are attitudes or actions that bring restored and healthy relationships. The peace that Paul is talking about here is indeed that great pursuit of the world: peace between individuals. One who is controlled by the Spirit is one who is at peace with others, one who is peaceable, a peacemaker. The life of a believer should be characterized by being at peace with those around us, by avoiding conflict whenever possible, by seeking reconciliation whenever a tear has been made. A watching world should look in at the church and see not endless division and conflict, but one of peace, forgiveness, and love.
But finally, how does this peace come about in the life of a believer? Do we just try harder to not get angry at offense? Do we go through our old high school yearbooks and ask forgiveness from all those people we offended many years ago? Do we become monks and live away from everyone else where there is no possibility of interacting with anyone for years? The answer seems two-parted according to Paul in Galatians 5. First, there is the objective reality of a believer having this peace. As Paul says in verse 24: those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh. One who has placed their faith in the atoning work of Christ as their only source of reconciliation with God have been united to Christ. Christ has already become ours and the flesh has already been crucified. In giving a lecture in 1962 on John 17, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this about the unity and peace among believers, “Nowhere in this chapter is there an exhortation or an appeal to produce a unity. Our Lord is saying that the unity is already there, already in existence.”[i] His point is that peace and unity among believers is already an objective reality because by faith we have been united to Christ and thus united to one another.
Secondly, there is continual pursuit. Paul says in verse 25 of Galatians 5, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” His point here is that the objective reality, our life by the Spirit, should translate into action – we should keep in step with the Spirit. That objective reality should be lived out by a continual remembrance and active knowledge of that reality. We cling ever more to the cross of Christ. We actively remember that our peace with a holy God is only by grace, and thus like the parable of the unmerciful servant, it makes no sense for a sinner reconciled to God by Christ to go out and be unreconciled to other sinners. Peace with God should mean peace with others. A world that knows only conflict and war should look in at the church and see a body of people who show love to one another, forgive one another, and maintain peace with one another.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.
[i] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, “The Basis of Christian Unity”, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977. Banner of Truth, 2013, p.123