How can Christians experience the peace of God? This question was posed to me by a friend once. I explained to him that I usually have to start by preaching to myself, especially on days when my dad’s dementia affects me the most. Here's what I preach to my own heart:
Romans 5:1 states that the Christian has peace with God through our Lord Jesus. It is Christ alone who enables the Christian to have a new identity in Him— this the very basis for implementing the peace of God. Grounding his statement in Romans 5:1 with the word “therefore” the Apostle Paul connects what he has previously spoken in Romans 1-4 to what he will say in Romans 5:1-11. In Romans 5:1 he lays out what Christ did in His death, burial and resurrection resulting in the sinner—formerly at enmity with God—being given a new heart, with new affections and desires for God. This is what theologians call the “indicatives” of the gospel. In Philippians 4:5-7, the same Apostle Paul gives the “imperatives,” that is, the instructions about we are to do as a response to the grace we’ve received through what Christ has by dying and rising again for us.
Philippians 4:2-9 brings a close to Paul's teaching on joy in gospel unity with a two-fold call to rejoice (Phil. 4:4; 3:1). The reason you and I can rejoice is because of Jesus. The best way to deal with anxiety is to understand how God wants us to deal with it in our own lives—through petition and thanksgiving, which invites God’s all-surpassing peace (4:7). Philippians 4:8-9 is a reminder to mediate on all that is true, but particularly on what is honorable, pure, and lovely in the gospel.
Paul’s over-arching point in Philippians 4 is that the Christian church be marked out by unity and joy in Him. A thankful, praying, and peaceful heart is a reflection of meditating on what is good, noble, and lovely in the gospel.
So, how can we personally experience the peace of God and increase our joy in Him?
First, we need to be born again spiritually. Peace is only possible because of what Jesus has done in His death, burial, and resurrection. Practical or experiential peace is available only to God’s people through the new birth, in which our hard, unbelieving heart is replaced with a new heart filled with new desires and a new identity in Christ.
Second, we need to be in community with God’s people. Our growth in Christ is a community project. Individually, we are to grow in reading, studying, and the practicing of spiritual disciplines. Corporately, we gather together to hear the Word preached, participate in the sacraments. Daily, we are to do life together, to be in fellowship with one another, and to encourage one another so that no one is hardened by sin's deceitfulness (Heb. 3:12-13).
Finally, we need to heed the counsel of John Owen who said that Christians should be, “killing sin or sin will be killing you”. The death of Jesus was in our place, for our sin, that we might put sin to death. This is why the Christian life is one of ongoing repentance. When we sin, we go to the Lord Jesus turning away from our sin and to Him who promises He is “faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
As we grow in the grace of God, we will increasingly hate our sin and hunger and thirst after righteousness. The result of this hunger and thirst is greater confidence in the gospel, which will increase our joy in the Lord. The fruit of that will be increased peace in God’s presence and assurance of salvation. These produce a certain gladness and readiness to share the good news with others and make disciples to the glory of God. The manifest peace of God in us also draws those lacking peace to want to know what it is we have.
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, Book Promotions Specialist at Cross Focused Reviews, and the Executive Editor of Theology for Life. He and his wife, Sarah, are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho, where he and his wife serve in a variety of ministries. Dave received his MAR and M.DIV through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.