There are some parts of Scripture that most of us consider to be “throw away.” I don’t mean we think they’re unimportant; it’s just that we tend to skip passed these sections of the Bible, you know, to get to the good stuff.
Take the Old Testament genealogies for example. Though we might give our approval to the statement that all the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we tend to look at these listings of fathers and sons and fathers and sons as skim-worthy.
Or take the dividing of the land among the Israelite tribe. Surely more than one of us has stumbled over these sections of the Bible in our attempt to read the whole thing in one year.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find mostly a collection of letters written to churches. Many of these were written by Paul. And because these are letters, there is a certain formula to them. They begin with an identification of the author, an acknowledgement of who the letter is to, and then some kind of salutation. This opening stuff in the letters fits, for most of us, in the same category as the genealogies and land divisions – just a few lines to get through quickly until we get to the real meat of what’s there.
But there’s more here. So much more.
Consider then how Paul begins most of his letters to these churches of Christians:
“Grace and peace.” That two-word salutation is how Paul began much of the correspondence that’s recorded in the New Testament. Much in the same way that we might write “Dear . . .” or “To Whom It May Concern”, “grace and peace” is Paul’s greeting to his audience. Why is that? Were they just convenient and poetic words, a way to say “Hey there!” with a little more class? Or is there something more?
I would suggest that these two words—grace and peace—are a two-word summation of the gospel. If that’s true, with his very first sentence Paul is conjuring up a vivid reminder for his audience of what it is that they all, as hopelessly lost sinners and subsequently found children of God, have in common. Grace and peace.
The Greek word for grace is charis, and if you wondered about its importance in biblical theology, it’s pretty revelatory to see it appearing 116 times in the New Testament. Lots about grace in there because the message of Jesus is about grace.
Grace is favor. It’s acceptance. It’s giving. Grace is free in the sense that something done or given in grace is done so truly without expecting to receive anything in return. That means the origin of grace isn’t the object receiving it; the origin is entirely found in the giver’s goodness, love, and care. And this is our experience in Christ.
We didn’t earn this. We don’t deserve this. Nothing in our sinful and rebellious selves warrants this. Grace finds its root in the generosity of God who gives freely to us.
J.I. Packer wrote, “God is good to all in some ways but good to some in all ways.” We’re the “some.” Every other religion in the world boils down to a sort of cosmic barter system. People bring their good stuff to their god, whether it’s good actions, good money, or good sacrifices, and in exchange their god gives them some of His good stuff. Christianity stands apart from this system as a grace-based belief system that is built squarely on the extravagant goodness of God. Nothing in us is motivational, and nothing we can do can pay Him back. The only part we have in grace is the receiving of it: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
And what does that grace lead to for the Christian? It leads to peace.
Now we tend to think of peace not in terms of what it is, but in terms of what it is not. Peace, to us, means the lack of conflict. And that’s certainly true for the Christian. For whether we know it or not, we once all were enemies of God, at war with Him. But because of what Christ has done, that conflict has been dissolved into glorious adoption: “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
Not only that, but because of the sacrifice of Jesus we have peace with our fellow man, for through His death Jesus has brought reconciliation in our horizontal relationships as well as our vertical ones. So while it is true that the peace we have because of God’s grace means a lack of conflict, it means much more. In the Bible sense of the word, peace is not merely this lack of conflict; it means wholeness. Completeness. Lacking nothing. And this is what we have in Christ.
For in Christ, God has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavens (Eph. 1:3). We lack nothing when we have Christ. He has made us whole humans again, right with Him and right with our fellows.
In two words, this is the gospel: Grace and peace. And these two words are a good reminder for my soul today. In a turbulent world, in an unsure future, with questions of life and death and everything else hanging around us at all times, here are two words that can lift our eyes, and then our souls, to that great hill at Calvary from where our help comes.
Grace and peace.