The next item in this list of the identifying marks of people being changed by the Spirit is peace. I’ve written on the topic more than once, but this time I’d like to view it from a tighter perspective, the perspective that this passage calls for.
If you study the use of this word in the New Testament (the Greek word, by the way, is the basis of the name “Irene”), you’ll realize that it’s a common wish in first-century culture. Many of the epistles begin or end, or both, with a benediction that includes peace. Paul in particular likes to combine the standard Greek greeting (chairein, “greeting,” slightly altered to charis, “grace,” to suit his theological frame of reference) with the standard Hebrew greeting (shalom, “peace”); he begins every one of his epistles with the wish “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or something remarkably similar.
Of course we wish one another peace. And, as Paul notes, the source of that peace is God—specifically God the Father and the Son in his epistolary benedictions, and the Spirit here in Galatians 5.22.
But we find that God’s relationship with peace is … complicated. The Bible characterizes God as both “the God of peace” (Ro 15.33; 16.20; Php 4.9; 1Th 5.23; Heb 13.20) and “the Lord of Hosts,” or “Commander of armies”—the latter nearly 250 times in the Former and Latter Prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, the “very God of peace” is the one who crushes his enemies (Ro 16.20). Similarly Jesus says, on the one hand, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you” (Jn 14.27), but also, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Mt 10.34). At the end of it all, “the wrath of the Lamb” is a huge concern (Re 6.15-17). It turns out that whether you find God to be a source of peace or of terror depends directly on how you stand with him.
But it’s even more complicated than that. Sometimes God wants his people to be at peace, to be free from disruption and persecution (Ac 9.31). But at other times he allows—no, he sends—persecution that kills many of them and scatters the rest (Ac 8.1-3; 9.1-2). He does that not to punish them for their sins, which are many—because Jesus himself has fully exhausted the punishment for those sins—but to work endurance in their character (Ro 5.3) and to display that character to those who have yet to join the family. In doing that he’s building directly on the work Christ has already done (1P 2.20-25); Christ is our example of suffering unjustly without defense or complaint, and he calls us by that example to do the same.
So in some ways we’re not experiencing peace, but in other ways—the most important ones—we are. Because we have peace with God (Ro 5.1), we can experience peace from God (Ro 1.7); and that indwelling peace changes our character and then our outlook in a way that enables his people, who used to be enemies with him (Ep 2.1-6) and with one another (Ep 2.14-17), to have peace with one another (Ro 14.19; Ep 4.3), and even with those spiritually opposed to them (1Co 7.15; Heb 12.14), and to endure trials with confidence in a positive outcome (Ro 15.13; Php 4.7).
Do your words communicate calm and confidence, or turmoil, frustration, and rage? Jesus said that what comes out of us communicates what’s on the inside.
Maybe it’s time to think about the basis for powerful and lasting peace, the kind of deep-seated assurance and confident expectation that will radiate out from you, even in difficult times, with a force that prompts those around you to ask, “How do you do it?”
In these days, peace attracts attention by its contrast with the chaotic and violent background noise of our world.