There is a remarkable point of contact between the Lord’s disciples and those who do not believe the Gospel. That point is the need for “peace.” This is one of those terms has a variety of nuanced meanings but that is to be expected as there is a corresponding depth of human need for peace. And it is to God’s glory that human needs correspond perfectly to God’s generous provision of true peace (shalom). Yet this peace is only given to those who enter the door of the Church. And the door of the Church is the Lord himself, who “is our peace.” The harmony and genuine love and respect that people long to have amongst themselves can only be achieved through Christ, for “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14, NRSV)
Many people are seeking for “peace” but are not brokenhearted nor recognize the need for their Creator to deliver them from themselves (that is, forgive sin and heal them). Thus they wander about searching to find comfort for a troubled conscience—a comfort that will let them escape from the internal strife and gnawing need for spiritual fulfillment. I would suggest that the rampant use and abuse of substances (alcohol, drugs of all sorts, sex) is evidence that many do not find any “peace” and turn to find a way to stop feeling the inner pain and anguish.
True peace and comfort only come to those who are “brokenhearted” and it is only to those individuals that God the Spirit can communicate true peace. William Gurnall insightfully elaborates on this in addressing those who do not believe the Gospel or have gone astray from the faith.
“I hope you do not think I limit the Holy One of Israel in working to the same degree and measure in everyone. But in all cases the humbling work of the Spirit must convince a person before peace and comfort can come to empty the soul of false confidence which she has stored up. Then the heart becomes like a vessel whose bottom has been beaten out until all the water spills out. It hates sins it once loved. The hopes which pleased and sustained her are gone and the person is left in a desolate and solitary condition. The soul realizes that nothing stands between it and hell except Christ; and rather than die she cries out to Him, willing to follow His direction. The soul is like a patient who is thoroughly convinced of her doctor’s personal skill and care. This is what I call ‘the broken heart’.” (William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol 2 [Banner of Truth Trust:1988], p.324)
There are some things that God will not do. Indeed, by designing and gifting humans with genuine choice, he has decreed that there are some things he cannot do. He will unequivocally never force a person to believe (and thus trust) in him. This is why the demons can so effectively interfere with human lives and all too frequently coax people to turn away from the living God. They simply utilize human choices and the consequences of those choices to their advantage.
There is a price to gaining peace—that is, true peace. The price is to confront oneself and name one’s utterly desperate internal condition—not merely the behavior symptoms of that condition. The Lord delights in those do this because they are brokenhearted and honest enough to own that fact. How tender and merciful he is to those who will turn to him and come out of denial; that is, to become humble before God and other people. This is an essential characteristic of a disciple of the Lord and thus required to enter the door of the church (see Luke 18:16-17).
People can frequent buildings, be around Christian people and verbally give the “right” answers to theological questions but these actions do not mean that they have true peace. The evidence of the peace of God in a person’s life is humility and a demonstrated willingness to love others in the concrete circumstances of life. This means taking the risk of being transparent about oneself and speaking the truth in love to others. The Lord spoke of this attitude and willingness to act on faith in God through him when he declared that his disciple will deny him/herself and take up his/her cross. That is, to take all of oneself and put one’s cross beam up on the cross of Christ so that the “blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20, NRSV) can effect God’s reconciling work in one’s whole person and then one can join God’s work of reconciliation.
Christ is the door of the Church. Those who belong to him relate to God and to each other through him. His Presence is what makes it possible for people to keep God’s commandments and to be forbearing to one another without excusing sin and all kinds of evil acts.
I recall over the years reading Paul’s letters and his admonitions to the believers in the ancient churches. I thought to myself how beautiful the descriptive passages of healthy community life were and I wondered what this would be like to put into action. I did not know how to do that myself and I had not seen this demonstrated. Yet I see now that I had yet to receive the Lord’s peace; thus relationships in the community of the Lord’s disciples (as I was reading about in Paul’s letters) seemed unreal—like an otherworldly dream.
The Church is God’s people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They are representatives of the King of the universe who, while residing on earth, are positioned to represent the Lord to their fellow human beings. I have often wondered about why God set up this arrangement. For obviously so many believers (myself included) have not reached maturity in faith, understanding or wisdom. Every one of us is on a journey through faith toward the full maturity of the Son of God (see Ephesians 4:13-16).
Each believer (saint or “holy one”) came into the door in the same way and belongs to God through Christ; and for that reason they belong to each other. This is a miracle that is evidenced by the presence of shalom as they relate to each other. To make this personal: I am bonded together with other believers in the Lord Jesus whether I consciously know this or even want it to be true. When I entered the door of the Church by faith in the Lord Jesus I was set in together with others who had also been drawn in by the Father to him. There was an invisible spiritual thread woven between, around and through us.
I used to think that I was my own man and I could do basically what I wanted and my decisions would not effect others. Now I know that I am bound together spiritually with my brothers and sisters and all that I do impacts them—whether it be sin or acts of righteousness. Thanks be to God he has opened my eyes to know this truth so I can live according to it. That is, to be intentionally accountable to by brothers and sisters, be genuinely open to welcome people and take risks necessary to developing intimacy with those God has given me to love.
People in the world do not have the ability to perceive the Presence of the Lord in his people. What they observe in the Church, the people of God, is the people themselves. And so it makes sense then they would make judgments about the validity and truthfulness of Christian faith based on what Christians actually do and say—and particularly how they treat each other. We can plead that we are “not perfect, just forgiven” in the face of moral and ethical failures and relational betrayals; there is some truth in this statement. However, this cannot be a valid excuse for willful disregard of what we know to be God’s will for us individually and for neglecting to treat one another with love and respect. Nor can we justify the willful choice to compromise on God’s standards of righteousness and to encourage others to do the same.
We represent the Lord Jesus on earth (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). People will come to recognize the character and love of Jesus the Messiah through the love of the community of believers. They will also be repelled by our perversions of the truth of the Gospel—taking our presentation of God and rejecting God because of that. This is why the demons work so hard to lead God’s people into error doctrinally and to compromise morally. For the impact on people’s perceptions of God and of the Lord becomes spectacularly useful for them—particularly when God’s people have hidden their sins with a pretense of sanctity.
What makes the Lord’s disciples distinct is their likeness to their Master. God’s holy ones can bear witness to God because they can embrace the whole truth about themselves and reality. Worldings cannot (or will not) do this. For to do that they would have to turn and acknowledge that God is right, that they deserve his just wrath and that God also loves them and will receive them. Only a true disciple of the Lord can own his or her own choices to seek the way of rebellion and destruction and embrace the grace of God. It is this confession of faith that makes the witness of the Church strong before demonic attack and gives credibility to speak to people who are in flight from the living God. “But they have conquered him [Satan and his unclean spirits] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Revelation 12:11, NRSV)