“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”- Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 3
“These two words, grace and peace, comprehend in them whatsoever belongeth to Christianity. Grace releaseth sin, and peace maketh the conscience quiet. The two fiends that torment us, are sin and conscience. But Christ hath vanquished these two monsters, and trodden them underfoot, both in this world, and that which is to come.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 5-6.
In every one of his letters, Paul opens with either this very sentence or a variation of it. In eight of his epistles he uses the exact same sentence, and he varies it only in five. I have often glanced quickly over these opening words, thinking them fluff or introduction. “I want the meat!” I would cry, eagerly skipping and jumping to bigger and better, more practical items. This is ironic, though. This sentence and its variants constitute Paul’s meat, foundation, and very essence of his doctrine. It is highly practical. It is, however, not only Paul’s essential, it is God’s essential. It was not until I really began to see my actual poverty without Jesus, my absolute dependence upon Him daily for sustenance, hope, and salvation that this greeting became life to me. This sentence is God’s way of reminding us, at the start of any epistle and at the beginning of every day, of the unshakeable and certain truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace. We often define it as “unmerited favor.” This is good. The life of a Christian is built on nothing more than God’s unmerited, unwarranted, free and sufficient favor towards His people. His grace is free, not because it did not cost anything, for it required the life of His Son, but because it is given to His people free of charge. We have only to trust in Jesus. It is because of God’s grace that we are saved. We are predestined by God’s grace. We are regenerated according to God’s grace. We are justified by God’s grace. We are sanctified by God’s grace. We are glorified by God’s grace. We cannot work hard enough for salvation, and we cannot hope to earn it. So we are dependent upon His favor. It is this unlimited and boundless grace that warms, strengthens, and empowers the believer towards daily repentance, daily fighting, and daily hope. Our sins have been taken away by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. We are free, we are adopted, we are changed, and our future is unbelievably (but truthfully) hopeful and redemptive. It is all due to God’s grace.
Peace. Because of God’s grace, there exists between God and His people, individually as well as corporately, calm, still waters. And this should, as Luther proclaims to us, ease our consciences. If there is peace between God and man, then truly no situation, sin, or circumstance can hinder that ultimate and final reality. This peace tells us that whatever His people do or fail to do, that whatever comes upon His people, whatever threatens His people, cannot dispel and disturb the serenity that God shares with them. He is not angry with them anymore. He is not wrathful towards them anymore. There is only love, only good will, only perfect, prosperous plans. Because of Christ, grace and peace are made certain for believers.
We would do well, I would do well, to remember this at the start of my day, at the middle of my day, and at the end. God certainly desires us to know this at the beginning of any Pauline epistle, and certainly if God desires for us to know it, we should make a priority of preaching it to ourselves daily. Are there other things we need to know as well? Yes. None of the epistles stop with this greeting. We need to be corrected, instructed, pressed and pushed. But all of Paul’s epistles start with this declaration, this indicative, this foundation and essential. Is it necessary that we always begin here, or make this the foundation for all things? Paul thinks so. God thinks so. For it is not possible for us to have the drive, energy, or passion we need to fight sin, make disciples, wage war on injustice, or continue in this life if we are not certain and sure that there is grace and peace unlimited between God and man because of the person of Jesus Christ. It is this declaration that becomes the true catalyst for change in the believer’s life. It is this declaration that fuels the church to be what she is and to do what she has been commanded to do. It is this one, essential sentence that forms the core of the Christian life, corporately and individually, and brings us all back to wonder, marvel, and worship the God who loves us and gave Himself for us.