This may come as a surprise to you, but you are reading the words of a former criminal.
When I was twelve years old, before I knew Jesus, I committed a crime. At the urging of some negative influences in my life, I stole something, was caught, arrested, suspended from school, and charged with theft.
In the United States, when a person is arrested and charged with a crime, at some point he or she must go to court and stand before a judge. Justice needs to be served for the crime that was committed. My theft needed punishment to absolve the crime—a wrong had to be made right. Peace needed to be restored.
A Fully Stocked Pantry
As part of the fruit of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians 5, peace is accessible to every believer. But just as with love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we must take responsibility for crucifying the flesh and walking in the Spirit so that we yield and bear fruit in our lives. In other words, God has given us a stocked pantry of food to supply us, but we must walk to the pantry, take out the food, and eat. He is the provider and producer, but we have a responsibility to bear much fruit.
In Galatians 5:22, the original Greek word eirene is translated peace, which can mean “harmonious relations and freedom from disputes”1 or perhaps freedom from worry. Specifically here, peace is referring to a condition of wholeness and well-being that includes both a right relationship with God and loving harmony with others.2
When I stood before the judge, he prescribed me a sentence to restore eirene with the community. My sentence included three consequences: I had to attend group sessions with other youth who had committed crimes, I was placed on probation and had monthly check-ins with police officers, and at twelve years old, I had to take part in community service to pay back the value of what I stole. After a long time—and believe me, the community service part took a long time—I had restored eirene, or peace, with the community and those I offended.
Like the consequences for my crime, the biblical concept of peace is multi-pronged, and Galatians isn’t the only place in the Bible that addresses it. In many of Paul’s letters, he discusses peace, gives peace, and greets others with peace. Let’s dive a little deeper into three specific examples of the fruit of peace.
Peace with God
Genesis 3 indicates that because of the fall of Adam and Eve, we are born sinners—unholy, wicked, and unjust before God. Before we come to know Christ, we are enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). All of us—every single one of us—have committed crimes for which we are guilty. We are sinners.
Because we’re sinners, we are alienated from God, cut off from Him, and our natural bent is to hate Him. God cannot tolerate us and all that we are guilty of. In fact, Scripture says God shows his wrath every day (Psalm 7:11).
In Ephesians 6:15, Paul refers to the gospel as “the gospel of peace” because it brings peace between God and the sinner. When you put your faith in Christ, God declares you just.He assigns the righteousness of Christ to you, and you are declared righteous. You are now in a right relationship with God. You have a clean slate. You are justified by faith in Christ and by the work that He did on the cross.
Imagine standing before a judge ready to face the penalty for a crime of which you are undoubtedly guilty, and a completely innocent person who knows the crimes you have committed enters the courtroom, moves you aside, and says, “I will accept the penalty and bear the consequences on her behalf.” You’d be stunned, wouldn’t you? Why would someone do such a thing?
This is what Christ has done for us. Love compelled Him to pay the penalty on my behalf . . . and I did nothing to deserve it.
For God was pleased to have
all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile
everything to himself,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace
through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds as expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him. (Col. 1:19–22)
In order to stand before God as clean, righteous, and justified, I needed an advocate to die in my place: Jesus Christ. He perfectly justified my crime of wickedness. It is paid in full. And what was the result? “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
By grace alone, through Christ alone, every Christian has peace with God. There is no other way. “For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).
Because of Christ and His death, the wall that separated us from God no longer exists. We are reconciled; we are at peace.
Peace within Our Hearts
The night before Jesus was crucified, He spoke about peace. Jesus knew He was about to face torture and death, yet He desired to instill the message of joy and peace in His followers. If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you spend your time talking about? Jesus chose peace. He said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful” (John 14:27).
What sort of peace does the world offer? The world’s peace of mind is based on circumstances, offering a variety of peacekeeping solutions for differing circumstances. And many of these things are good! We have the police force, doctors to care for our medical needs, medicine and vaccines, banks to secure our money, shelter over our heads, locks on our doors, security systems, life insurance, retirement accounts, storm shelters . . . the list could go on. These “safeguards” are designed to offer peace of mind.
But Jesus said in the middle of verse 27, “I do not give to you as the world gives,” which means that His peace is not defined by good circumstances. It is given despite bad circumstances.
When the locks are broken off, when the church shuts down, when the mob comes, when the safety of our children is uncertain, when the medicinal treatment isn’t successful, when we don’t get the approval we think we deserve, when security systems fail—Jesus says, “I give you a peace that doesn’t sway.”
When I committed theft, I couldn’t have cared less about the property I stole. I didn’t even keep it—I gave it to my friends who pressured me to steal it. But what I did care about was approval. Approval was my peace. I was running with the wrong crowd, and I deeply desired friends who accepted me. If I just had approval, I thought, I would find peace. My heart was looking for security and peace in worldly, shifting places instead of in something that is eternally secure.
When I trust in God, His character, and how He’s working in my life, I receive the supernatural peace of Christ. Perfect peace is found when my eyes are fixed on Jesus, not the storm or the waves around me.
Peace with Others
Because we have received the ministry and gift of reconciliation, we are called to reconcile and make peace with others:
- “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).
- “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
- “Let us pursue what promotes peace” (Rom. 14:19).
- “The one who wants to love life and to see good days . . .let him seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:10–11).
Three times in the verses above we are called to seek peace and pursue it. The word pursue is actually translated from the same word as persecute. When someone is being persecuted, they are intentionally singled out, sought after. There is an intense effort to track down this person or group of people. This is how we are to pursue peace. With every effort, we are to make peace with all men. Not just some effort, nor a little, but with every effort.
Of course, “every effort” may not resolve every issue. There have been situations in my life where I can confidently stand before the Lord and say, “I did everything I could,” but the person on the receiving end didn’t want to reconcile or make peace. That happens. Even still, I have done what the Lord has asked of me. I pray for them and do not harbor bitterness in my heart.
Bearing the Fruit of Peace
You may not have a criminal record in need of restoration, but every one of us must bear the fruit of peace because we are called to share Christ—the Prince of Peace—to a lost and broken world. It should come as a relief that we cannot produce the fruit of peace on our own: we need to depend on the Holy Spirit to produce it in us. We need to abide in the vine.
I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. (John 15:5)
My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8)
1 “Peace - Definition, Meaning & Synonyms,” Vocabulary.com, accessed April 12, 2022, https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/peace.
2 Timothy George, New American Commentary: Vol. 30: Galatians (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 402.