We learn from the opening verses of Romans that this letter is all about the gospel of God, which centers in his Son. It is the good news of God’s saving grace in Jesus for sinners like me and you. And that good news is all about God’s peace. Paul closes his introduction with this promise and blessing: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7).
These words come to us as more than mere formalities. They declare life-giving hope to seize and believe. The apostle announces God’s stance—his posture of grace and peace toward us in Christ. Just as the words “loved” and “saints” point back to the designation of God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures, so this promise of peace calls to mind the great Hebrew word shalom and the Old Testament vision of peace, fulfilled in Romans in the person and work of Jesus. It is no wonder that the formal worship liturgy in some Reformed churches frequently begins with an opening salutation, a word of greeting from God through the minister, often taken from texts like Romans 1:7.
Probably the most famous shalom prayer-promise comes from Numbers 6:24-26, the benediction assigned for Aaron and his sons to proclaim to God’s people.
This peace is more than the absence of war and strife. It is the positive presence of harmony, salvation, joy, blessing, and reconciliation—“the state of perfect well-being created by God’s eschatological intervention and enjoyed by the righteous.” [Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 139.] In the context of Romans, it is the reconciliation of believing Jews and believing Gentiles both with God and with each other—both vertical and horizontal. We taste it now whenever we enjoy the fruits of repentance, confession, and forgiveness with each other. One day we will experience it fully.
Who will experience this final peace? Only those who belong to God. The apostle both promises and warns, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 1:9-11). Whether Jew or Gentile, the one who knows and follows the Redeemer God will treasure God’s saving gift of shalom. On the other hand, the unbeliever who rejects God’s “way of peace” (Romans 3:17) will only reap God’s judgment.
How does someone gain God’s peace? Romans 5:1-2 replies, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” In this compact summary of gospel blessing, Paul tells us (1) that we now have peace with God; (2) that this peace is built on our justification through faith, God’s grace-work of declaring us righteous in Christ; and (3) that this peace produces deep joy. As hymn writer Francis J. Van Alstyne (1820–1915) exclaimed,
Similar themes emerge in Ephesians 2:11-18, where Christ and his cross form the centerpiece of our peace.
What does this gospel assurance have to do with pursuing peace in our relationships? Everything. It fills us with joy, power, and confidence as we gratefully obey God in our relationships. It provides a model of grace to convey to others. And it reassures us that, even if the other people don’t respond in kind, our relationship with the most important and ultimate Person in the universe remains secure. Thanks be to God for Jesus our Lord!
The saving work of God in the Christian, however, does not merely consist of a right standing with God. In salvation God has done something not only for us, but also in us. Our Christian growth—sanctification in its past, present, and future aspects—began with a decisive act by God of severing the spinal cord of sin and making us new people who are now inclined to love and obey him. The apostle Paul describes this internal transformation: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). The sinful mind is hostile to God, but the saved mind—the mind captured and controlled by the Holy Spirit—reflects the very life and peace of God’s Spirit, albeit imperfectly.
Isaiah pictures a similar reality with a vivid metaphor in Isaiah 57:18-21 concerning God’s own promise to restore his people.
In other words—to join Isaiah and Paul—death marks the unbeliever; life and peace mark the believer.
Relational Peace with Others
The twin gifts of God’s reconciling peace through Christ’s cross and God’s inner peace through his Spirit lead to the third peace blessing, namely, relational peace with others. In one of the Bible’s most realistic texts concerning human relationships, Romans 12:18 exhorts us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” In many ways, our entire book will address these themes.
We find a fourfold call in this passage and its context. First, we must pursue peace as our Christian duty. The apostle commands us to live at peace. To fail to seek peace with people is to disobey God. We have no option.
Second, we must pursue peace with everyone. The peacemaking charge in this text is comprehensive; we must address all of our relationships. Our Lord does not permit us to ignore even one relationship or dismiss any individual. As the apostle declares in Acts 24:16, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” While this “with everyone” standard is admittedly high, God’s power makes his commands less daunting.
Third, as we actively pursue peace, the apostle urges us to leave the results to God. “If it is possible,” Paul reminds us, we should live at peace. He acknowledges that a peaceful result may not be possible; we have no guarantee that the other person will follow God’s peacemaking plan. As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango.”
Fourth, keeping in mind the larger context, we must pursue peace in light of God’s mercy toward us in Christ. The entire twelfth chapter of Romans flows from God’s saving grace expounded in detail in Romans 1–11. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). In other words, we must apply Romans 12:18 against the backdrop of Romans 12:1-2 and the preceding eleven chapters. Peacemaking is but one way we offer ourselves to God in sacrificial worship, and that obedience, like every other command in Romans 12, arises from the gospel of God’s mercy in Christ.