Mark G. Johnston

Peace in the Church

Written by Mark G. Johnston |
Friday, January 13, 2023
However difficult we may find it to get along with our fellow Christians, we share the same spiritual DNA in Christ. As we are bound to Him in salvation, we are bound to each other for eternity in the communion of saints. This is the foundation for peace in the church. Just as the forensic righteousness of our justification is to be manifest in the practical righteousness of new obedience, so too the peace we have with God in justification must suffuse our relationships in His family.

One of the sweetest words in the Hebrew language is shalom—“peace.” It conveys a very specific sense of peace. As a dear Jewish friend of mine loved to define it: “Nothing out of place; everything as it ought to be.” Such a state has only ever existed in the created order at its very beginning. God surveyed the finished product of His work of creation and not only pronounced it in its entirety to be “very good,” but He also consummated it with the prototypical Sabbath rest. The secret to this peace and perfection was that God was at the center of everything and was acknowledged as such by Adam and Eve.

The entrance of sin through Adam’s disobedience brought discord and disruption. Friction resulted, not just between him and his Maker but also with Eve—with whom he had so recently been joined together as “one flesh.” It led also to his being at odds with the very creation over which God had placed him as His earthly image bearer and vice-regent. From that moment on, earth became the center of the cosmic conflict that has been raging ever since.
Mercifully, God did not wait for Adam to find the antidote to his failure. He Himself provided what was needed to satisfy His own justice and spare Adam and Eve from what they deserved for their sin. He provided two sacrificial animals whose skins would provide a covering for their moral and physical nakedness before God and would do so because the deaths of the animals pointed to the unique sacrificial death by which God would one day deal finally and fully with sin.
God made it clear from the outset that His intention for the world and for the human race was shalom of the highest order—a restored relationship with Him that would be reflected in restored relationships between His redeemed people with one another. One of the most eloquent and encouraging expressions of what this means and how it becomes ours is heard in the words of the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).

As has often been pointed out, the key to this shalom is not merely the absence of conflict but the presence and favor of God. The theater in which God has chosen to display this blessing is His redeemed community, the church. That is, as men and women, boys and girls find pardon and peace with God through His redeeming grace, their relationships with one another are transformed by that same grace. The church, in both its old covenant and new covenant expressions, is marked by peace and reconciliation.

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A Method for Self-Examination

John Calvin brings up self-examination in the opening words of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. True and sound wisdom begins with not only with “the knowledge of God,” but also “of ourselves.” The Puritans wove the practice of self-examination into the core of their teaching and piety. But the question is, How do we pursue it?
There is no shortage of ways to pursue this discipline badly. Not least because, if done in isolation, it degenerates into the kind of morbid introspection that leads to spiritual self-harm, not benefit. How, then, are we to understand what it means to “examine ourselves” in profitable ways?
The Bible provides us with a very helpful paradigm for profitable self-examination in one of David’s best-loved psalms: Psalm 139, which according to some commentators is an example of “wisdom piety intended for theological instruction.” Whatever its background, this psalm provides a balanced approach to cultivating true self-understanding that flows out of a deep understanding of God. In that sense, it shows in the most practical of ways that there is an inseparable bond between doctrine, piety, and praise in the experience of God’s people.
It is very instructive to tease out the way the psalmist engages in this exercise before God in at least three areas—all of which crystallize in the prayer he offers in the closing verses of the psalm.
First, he invites God to inspect his life: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (v. 23). This request is an echo of the words of praise and acknowledgement of God with which the psalm begins: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). David’s perspective on his own life arises directly out of his perspective on God.
David’s understanding of God—gained through God’s own self-revelation in the Scriptures—makes him profoundly conscious of God’s glorious attributes. God looms so large on his horizon that he is overwhelmed by Him in every way. As he reflects on what God knows (vv. 1–6), he confesses there is nothing God doesn’t know. He is the omniscient God. He goes on to reflect on where God is located (vv. 7–12) and concludes that He is everywhere—He cannot escape from His presence. The same is true when it comes to the extent of God’s control (vv. 13–18). The psalmist ponders the mystery of conception and human development in the womb and confesses that this is more than “nature”; it is the personal, wise, and loving activity of the sovereign God of heaven.
The more we know God through His Word, the more we truly know ourselves. We begin to realize that we cannot trust our own judgement about the state of our life—nor even the compliments our families or friends may extend to us.
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