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1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,1 Corinthians 1:1-3
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s gifts of grace and peace
We are living in a very challenging time, with a disease which has brought a large part of the world to a standstill, world leaders very perplexed about the best policies to pursue to deal with this crisis and many people facing an extremely uncertain future. Who could have imagined even a short time ago that we would be living through such days?
As Christians, however, we have resources from the Lord that enable us to face such challenges. Today we are thinking about God’s provision for us as we consider the words Paul uses to greet believers in 1 Corinthians 1:3 ‘God’s gifts of grace and peace’.
The first element in Paul’s greeting is ‘Grace…to you’. He carefully specifies the source of that grace: ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. The greeting is set in a clearly and powerfully theological context. This is not something that the world experiences. God is immediately at the heart of how Paul addresses believers. The apostle is not simply expressing conventional good wishes as any letter writer would do – he is speaking about spiritual realities that relate to the people of God and go to the heart of who we are.
Paul begins with the fundamental fact of our Christian identity – we are those who have received grace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. Notice here:
What do we mean by the word ‘grace’? Fundamentally grace is the love and favour of God shown to sinners contrary to what they deserve. It is undeserved, unmerited favour is shown to those who deserved judgment and condemnation because of their sins.
Without compromising his perfect holiness, God shows throughout Scripture that he is a God of grace. In Exodus 34:6 he says that he is ‘the compassionate and gracious God’. We find the same truth in the New Testament, where Christ is described as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). God is characterised by grace to the unworthy.
Whilst there is a grace shown to all men, providing this-worldly blessings, (what we call ‘common grace’), grace chiefly relates to sin and salvation. It is bound up with the love of God, since ‘God is love’ according to 1 John 4:8. Grace is the attitude of God to his people in the face of their sin, and so if we do not understand the nature of sin as an offence against a holy God, we will not understand the nature of grace and we will not appreciate how wonderful it is. It was in grace that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and provided all we need for salvation.
All of Paul’s discussion of grace is centred on Christ. Already we have touched on this. Grace leads to divine action – saving action since sinners need salvation. Note Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’. It is in Christ that this grace has appeared, it has taken visible form in the Son of God coming into this world for our salvation.
The supreme expression of grace is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is his work that provides full salvation for the objects of God’s grace. Hence ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8). Apart from God’s grace we would be lost eternally. The very centre of the gospel is God’s grace to sinners in Christ.
It is vital to remember that not only does salvation begin in grace – it also must continue by the same grace. God’s grace enables spiritual growth in Christ’s likeness and also enables spiritual service. Grace cleanses us from sin when we fail and come to God in repentance. It is God’s grace that keeps us connected to Christ. That is why Paul wishes believers ‘grace’ – we need it daily and we always will.
God’s grace provides a multitude of blessings for the Lord’s people. One of the greatest is ‘peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. This is a profoundly spiritual peace. Peace in biblical language is far more than the absence of strife – it is the fulness of blessing that we enjoy in the family of God. Note 2 things here:
A permanent possession.
We have a wonderful statement in Romans 5:1 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Through the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ, our relationship to God has changed fundamentally and forever. As sinners ‘we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), but the sacrifice of Christ has satisfied the righteous requirements of a holy God and turned aside his wrath. Thus Christ is, as John puts it in 1 John 2:2, ‘the propitiation for our sins’. God’s enmity towards us is ended and we are at peace with him.
This is a truth we need to hold on to. Satan will try to shake our confidence in it, reminding us of our sins and asking how such a person could be a real Christian. We must remember that in Christ we have and always will have peace with God. That is Christ’s accomplishment and so cannot be lost even by our repeated sins. We remain ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1). God will not and cannot reverse his verdict on his people.
A present provision.
Peace with God is always a fact, but our experience of it varies. It can come and go. Sometimes we do not feel at peace with God:
perhaps because of our sins we lose our peace and it is replaced by fear
perhaps because of our circumstances – in hard and testing times we may lose our sense of peace with God. We may even wonder if he has turned against us.
That is when we need to recapture the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – that is why Paul includes it as a wish for believers in his greeting here. It is a very precious blessing.
How may we recapture our sense of peace? One obvious requirement is avoidance of sin, which robs us of our peace. On the positive side, we must use the means of grace God provides so that we grow closer to the Lord. Notice how Philippians 4:6 puts peace in the context of ‘prayer and petition with thanksgiving’. Worship, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fellowship with believers – we need all of these sources of strength.
Peace is a precious blessing that we seek for ourselves and for all God’s people. In the midst of difficult and trying times, may we know that peace which the world cannot give or take from us.