Grace to You and Peace
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." -Romans 1:7
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." -Galatians 1:3
"To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace." -1 Thessalonians 1:1
"Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." -1 Timothy 1:2
"May grace and peace be multiplied to you." -1 Peter 1:2
"Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love." -2 John 1:3
"May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you." -Jude 1:2
Guys, I think I might be on to something here...
I think God wants us to have grace and peace. Or does he want us to experience grace and peace? I think the answer is both, and yes I do think there is good reason to suggest there's a difference between having and experiencing these gifts. If you haven't noticed, these are greetings from most of the New Testament epistles to the church. They're quite repetitive. If you're like me then you've probably skimmed through these a number of times, after all this part of the letter is just a formality; something you do before getting to what you actually want to say. This is usually true when we write letters (if you still write letters) but with an inspired text like this it's all the more important to consider the words God has preserved for us. Some usually give subtle hints as to what the tone or message is going to be in the body of the letter. The majority have those two words, grace and peace, and often have "to you" added. So the audience is a recipient of this grace and peace. If there's a recipient then there's a giver. Is it Paul? Unless he's just sending positive vibes, a human can't exactly dispense the grace and peace we're talking about here. The context shows that this grace and peace is "from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ". We can see God is the giver of grace and peace to those who are in Christ.
Judicial & Experiential
So what is this grace and mercy? I think there are two aspects that we can focus on for each gift. I'll call these aspects judicial and experiential. One is obtained, the other is experienced. One is objective, the other is subjective. Let's start with grace.
The Greek term used in these intros is charis. In this context it is referring to God's merciful kindness toward us in regards to handling our sin. If we're looking at the judicial aspect of this grace, it is the legal act of pardoning sin. It's as if we are found guilty in court but someone has paid the fine in our place. Here we are not getting what we deserve, as David says in Psalm 103, "He does not deal with us according to our sins!" This is good news, yet there is more packed into this word grace when Paul is using it. Strong's Concordance supports an experiential aspect by further stating that this grace "keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues". By the Spirit, grace administered to us becomes the driving force behind our faith, our affections, and our actions. Grace is our pardon and compels us to act in faith.
The second of these gifts is peace, or eirēnē. One of the main uses of this word is for a national state of peace, "exemption from the rage and havoc of war". It can also be applied individually, and in a sense we are at war with God until we are born again, repent, and place our faith in Jesus. Romans 5:1 says, "Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". Since the security of our salvation obtained by grace is through faith (both being the irrevocable gifts of God (Rom. 11:29, Eph. 2:8)), the objective reality of our standing with Him is peace. Nothing changes that standing. Once again, we have a second shade of meaning when it comes to this peace. Romans 5:1 is not just stating a reality but is also a kind of exhortation. Some manuscripts replace "we" with "let us". It's essentially saying if we are justified, then let us have peace with God. But if this peace is an objective reality why are we being called to have peace as if we don't already have it? This is where the experiential aspect is. Apart from the absence of conflict, peace is known more as a feeling. We've all had the sensation of peace, whether there was actual peace or not. Maybe you've felt peace after typing a long research paper only to have that calm be shattered with the realization that it's 11:58pm and you haven't submitted it online. You experienced peace for a while yet the objective reality was not peace but danger of failing. It's a silly example but the point is that we are being called to have the subjective experience of an objective reality. You have peace, so be at peace!
The Experiential Does Not Determine the Judicial
Grace and Peace are profound concepts. They can be a reality in your life yet sometimes feel out of reach. Maybe you're lacking the tangible fruit of grace in your life and your affections toward God are dried up. It's possible that "you're anxious and troubled about a great many things" and the peace you once had eludes you (Luke 10:41). I know when I look at my heart for too long I begin to lose my peace and the graces I've experienced seem to disappear. It can be because of sin, limited perception of how God is working in you, or even psychological. Maybe it's a combination of those things, but for Christians the key to overcoming this is to realize that the judicial-objective realities of grace and peace in our lives are not negated in any way by the experiential-subjective feelings of them. Just because you don't seem to be feeling at peace or can't recall the graces you've received doesn't mean you're devoid of those gifts. When you next read the greetings in the New Testament epistles, take some time to look over them, and remember that these are realities in the Christian life, and at the same time you are invited to experience them as well.
"My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."— Psalm 73:26