Grace and Peace
Reformed Free Publishing Association
"Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ" Galatians 1:3.
This blessing is a profound wonder. So often the congregation, accustomed to the cadences of the liturgy, simply hears the blessing but pays almost no attention to it. Or if they are inclined to superstition in worship, they might find some magical power in the formula or in the upraised arms of the minister, as if special power flows from the minister’s fingertips. But this is abominable worship. If the saints assembled together in the name of Christ worship from the heart, they receive this word of God by faith and appropriate it as their own. They must respond by faith in their hearts to the benediction by saying, “We receive as our very own God’s word of grace and peace. We believe that we are the objects of his grace and the recipients of his peace.”
Grace has several meanings in Scripture. Its most frequently used meaning is “unmerited favor.” In this sense the apostle uses it in Romans 11:5–6: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Grace is God’s favor. God looks with favor on his church and people. He smiles when he sees them, is filled with delight when he contemplates them, and has pleasure in their company and fellowship.
Favor (grace) includes love, mercy, longsuffering, and compassion.
It is clear that God’s favor toward his people can only be unmerited. It is pride that makes man think he receives God’s favor because he deserves it because of works. Grace is always undeserved. God is favorable to undeserving sinners.
The reason is obvious. We are in ourselves totally unworthy of God’s favor and deserve only his raging fury against us, for we are sinful, enemies of him, blasphemers and despisers of all that is holy. God is a holy God who cannot abide sin, for to do so would foul his own infinite holiness. When he looks upon us in his favor, therefore, he looks upon us not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Christ. That is why grace is “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace is also the power God exercises in saving his people. This meaning is on the foreground in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” As the power that saves us, grace fills us and makes us strong in salvation. Grace makes it possible for us to walk as God’s people in the world. In a striking passage, God himself defines grace as the power that enabled Paul to continue his work as a missionary of the gospel in spite of the thorn in his flesh that he thought had to be removed. God assured him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Grace is God’s strength that will sustain Paul as he continues his work, even though the thorn remains in his flesh.
Peace is an equally treasured gift of God. No individual can establish peace and import into the fellowship of the saints this treasured gift. Peace can come only from God because the opposites of peace—strife, envy, warfare, bickering, hatred, selfishness, and quarreling—are all inescapable consequences of sin. Sin is opposition to God. Man is at war with God. He fights against God with every ounce of his strength. In his war with God, wicked man is proud and haughty, selfish and self-seeking. To advance himself he will resort to every cruelty as he climbs the ladder of success on the rungs of the people whom he has betrayed, crushed, thrown aside, and brutally used for his own selfish purposes. So life is characterized by war, and violence fills the whole earth. As long as man is a sinner, nation fights against nation, race against race, husband against wife, parents against children, children against parents, labor against management, and citizens against their government. In spite of man’s loud boasts, “there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Isa. 48:22).
What is worse, God fights against man. In all his raging against God, man can do no harm to God. He is infinitely beyond the reach of puny man. But when God fights against man, God in his fury destroys man for his sin and finally drives him forever into hell.
Peace comes only when sin is removed, and sin is removed through the cross of Christ: “And, having made peace through the blood of his [Christ’s] cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself [God]” (Col. 1:20). Thus peace is God’s gift to the church through the Lord Jesus Christ, given by means of the forgiveness and removal of sin. God says in the benediction, “I bring you peace in the power of the sacrifice of my Son.”
How great a blessing is peace in the church—peace between saint and saint, between husband and wife, between parents and children, between officebearers and members, between ministers and sheep—all flowing as a river of peace from the peace between God and his people. A church torn by controversy, characterized by bickering and jealousy, constantly plagued by division and sectarianism, is unable to perform the great task of manifesting in the world the cause of Christ. It is also the laughingstock of neighbors and the object of ridicule and scorn by those who know what goes on among the members. But a church where peace is a living reality is blessed with joy, happiness, love, and unity. When the minister pronounces this benediction of Paul in the worship services and the people of God appropriate that word of God by faith, that congregation is blessed! No wonder we are called to strive earnestly for the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1–3) and pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6–9).
This official and spiritually efficacious blessing pronounced upon the church is “from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” The same is true here as was true in verse 1: the apostle does not mean to define two sources of blessing independent from each other—God the Father and Jesus Christ. The point is rather that God is the author and divine source of the blessings of grace and peace, but that these blessings come to his people and can come to them only because of Jesus Christ. He performed the great work of paying for their sins and guilt, ascended into heaven, and reigns now as the head of the church. He sends his Spirit into the church to make her the heir of the blessings he merited for his people. God’s eternal Son in human flesh, now glorified, is the one through whom the blessings of grace and peace come to them.
In the apostolic blessing God is called “Father.” He is the Father of Christ. He is the eternal Father within the Trinity, for the first person of the holy Trinity is the Father of the second person. This intertrinitarian relationship is revealed in the relation between the triune God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The triune God is Christ’s Father. When Christ prayed to his Father, he prayed to the triune God.
The triune God is the Father of Christ in the incarnation, for the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the highest overshadowed her, and the holy thing born of her was the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Christ is also the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. Because of his total abandonment in hell when he suffered for the sins of his people, he is the Son of God through the resurrection. He is “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Paul tells the people in Antioch of Pisidia, “God hath fulfilled the same [promise] unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33).
God is also our Father, as Paul confidently affirms. God is our Father for Christ’s sake. He begets us and adopts us as his children. He cares for us in all the weary years of our pilgrimage. He holds us by our right hands. He prepares for us a house of many mansions. He brings us into the full enjoyment of his own covenantal family. What a marvelous blessing it is when the apostolic benediction is pronounced at the beginning of the worship service! It was also marvelous for the Galatians who heard it. Paul was angry with them, and his anger comes out in his letter. They deserved his anger, for they were foolishly following the wicked notions of some among them who wanted to lead them away from God and into death. But they were God’s church. Even in their sin and foolishness, they were still God’s beloved, upon whom he would send his grace. If the controversy with the Judaizers had sowed dissension among them, God still comes to his children with the blessings of grace and peace and assures them that they are his children for Christ’s sake. They must repent of their sins, put away the evil heresies that are contrary to the gospel, and receive this word of God by faith. Believers, with heads bowed in humble joy at God’s goodness, ready to join in worship of praise to him, receive this word of God at the lips of their minister: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This too must always be in the consciousness of the people of God as they join in worship under God’s blessing.