Almost every letter in the New Testament begins something like, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Rev. 1:4).
A few years ago, I was studying one of these passages – and the word grace in particular. One commentary called grace "the gospel in one word" (Hoehner, 149). Another called it "The Heart of the gospel message."
Today, we are going to look at grace and peace – the heart of the gospel, the two words that teach us the gospel better than any others. After all, there is nothing more important for us than to understand and believe the gospel. The next most important thing would be to be able to explain and proclaim the gospel. In fact, whenever I begin pastoral care, one of the first questions I ask is, "What is the gospel?" How would you explain the gospel to an unbeliever? What Scriptures would you use?
Of course, the word gospel means "good news." In large part, our mission as a church is to reach the world with the good news. This is the good news about salvation in Jesus Christ. It's the message about how we can be saved, and why we even need to be saved. It's the message about what we need to be saved from and what we are saved to.
Knowing the gospel is so important because in order to be saved, we need to understand the gospel and to believe that message. If we don't know what the gospel message is, we cannot be saved. "What is the gospel?" then, is an extremely important question. Indeed, it's a matter of heaven or hell, life or death.
We are going to focus in on the gospel today. If you're here and you haven't yet understood or believed the gospel – if you're not saved or not sure if you're saved – there's nothing more important for you than to be able to answer the question, "What is the gospel?" And if you are a believer – if you are saved – this question is important for you as well.
After all, the gospel is more than Christianity 101. It's more than a ticket to heaven. Indeed, the gospel is central to everything it means to be a Christian. The gospel is not the starting line that we run away from as we grow older; it's more like the hub of the wheel. The gospel is central; it's the core of the Christian life.
The gospel grows us in our assurance of salvation. It prepares us for eternity. It empowers us to live like Christ. It equips us for good works. It protects us from the schemes of the devil. It shows us the glory of God our Saviour.
So, over a series of five articles, we're going to focus on the gospel and answer the question, "What is the gospel?" by looking at these two words of greeting: grace and peace. What is it about grace and peace that we can call them the gospel in seed form? How do they summarize the good news of the gospel? I'm going to ask five questions about grace and peace that will help us to understand the gospel better – five simple questions that will answer that all-important question, "What is the gospel?"
Doesn't the question itself show just how often we merely skim over our Bibles? I wonder how many of us could define the words grace and peace without a dictionary. We often glaze over these first few verses when we read our Bibles. Sometimes it's good for us to slow down and dig into the details. We will do that in this series.
The first word is grace. Most often, the NT writers begin their letters, "grace to you." Harold Hoehner called grace, "the gospel in one word." Clint Arnold said, "Paul could choose no better word than 'grace' to characterize the heart of the gospel message and, in fact, the heart of his theology. For Paul, God's grace was the defining characteristic of the new covenant" (Ephesians, 69).
What is grace, then?
Grace is God's unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor. It is favor from God that you do not deserve and cannot earn. For God to be gracious to you means that he acts on your behalf, that he blesses you, that he looks on you with an attitude of approval.
Keep in mind, we're talking about God's grace. Just about anyone can be gracious and show favor, but we're talking about "grace...from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace is God Almighty looking down on you with an attitude of approval.
Grace is favor from the one who, according to Isaiah 40:12, "...has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust on the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?"
Grace is favor from the one of whom it declares, "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness" (Isaiah 40:15-17).
Grace is the favor from him of whom it says, "It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness" (Isaiah 49:22-23).
When God extends grace we are receiving it from, "The Lord [who] is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isaiah 40:28).
And when this all-powerful God extends his grace to the undeserving, he does so in one of two ways. The primary way that God extends grace is in what we call saving grace. Saving grace includes everything that God has done, and continues to do, to save dead sinners including:
All of this and more comes under saving grace. We read about saving grace in Ephesians 2:5, "...by grace you have been saved..."; and in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God..."
The second way that God extends grace is in what we call enabling grace. This is grace that enables and empowers believers to glorify God. It is God's undeserved favor in empowering Christians, by the Holy Spirit, to live the Christian life:
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
God's grace empowered Paul to labour for the gospel.
So, putting it all together, grace is God's unmerited, undeserved, or unearned favor in saving sinners and in empowering believers.
Furthermore, because of God's grace, we can also have peace:
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
Justification is part of salvation (we'll look at it more later; for now, just note that salvation results in peace with God); so, if salvation is the result of God's grace, and if peace is the result of salvation, then peace is the result of God's grace.
What is peace? We tend to have a better idea of what peace is than grace. Peace is the absence of hostility and the presence of good relations. Another closely related word is harmony.
There are a few ways that peace is used in the NT. The first is what we call relational peace. Relational peace is what we see in Romans 5:1, peace with God. If you have peace with God, you and God are on good terms. Peace with God means that all of your sins are forgiven through Christ. Peace with God means that you are justified, which means that God looks at you as righteous in Christ. God counts you as having Jesus' righteousness. Peace means no more hostility between you and God.
Another type of peace – and we're just dealing with divine peace here – is circumstantial peace. This is peace in the midst of hostilities. There is an internal peace in the midst of our day to day lives that comes from trusting God. This peace is something that no one can take away from us. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27). Circumstantial peace is a result of peace with God.
We must have peace with God before we can know the peace of God. In Philippians 4:7, Paul says, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
So, when Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," he is saying so much more than merely, "Greetings." He wants the believers to enjoy a deeper, richer understanding and experience of God's blessing in their lives as well as their peace with him and from him. Paul wants them to be more fully aware of God's undeserved favor in their salvation as well as his favor in empowering them to live for him. Paul wants them to know what it means to be at peace with God and to have the peace of God.