Paul explained to early Christians that sinners can be restored to genuine peace with God: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace [emphasis supplied] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 5:1, RSV. According to this translation, peace is a present and ongoing reality for those who have been set right by God. But other versions translate the key phrase, “Let us have peace,” or something similar. According to that reading, we have justification first and then seek for peace afterwards as an additional blessing. Is that how things work or does justification in and of itself bring peace?
I like it when translators combine the best of both options, as in “let us go on having peace.” Justification brings us peace. So let’s go on having it. Such a reading is supported by Moffatt: “Let us enjoy the peace we have.” And Montgomery renders it, “Let us continue to enjoy the peace we have.” And Phillips translates it, “Let us grasp the fact that we have peace.” That really combines the two, doesn’t it? Justification does indeed bring peace, which indicates that it must be more than mere pardon or the adjustment of our legal standing.
Have you ever wronged someone, been very generously forgiven, and then been embarrassed to meet that person again? Would God want us to avoid Him in the hereafter because He has been so forgiving? Would we be uncomfortable in His presence, fearing that He might bring up the subject of our sinful past? Mere pardon is no guarantee that He won’t do that. But God not only forgives, He treats us as if we had never sinned. He treats us as if we had always been His loyal children.
How do we know that to be true? Because of God’s promise (Jer 31:34)? But a promise is only a claim. Is there direct evidence in Scripture that God not only forgives us, but treats us as if we had always been His loyal children? Look how God spoke to Solomon about his father David: “. . . walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did” (1 Kings 9:3-4, NIV). Integrity of heart? Uprightness? Think of all the things that David did! And yet, because David had been set right with God, and had been won back to trust, and had received a new heart and a right spirit, God describes sinful David as if he had always been His loyal son! He did it for David, and He is willing to do it for every one of us. Now that is the experience of justification!
Since that Latin term, justification, has come to have such a narrow, legal connotation in theological circles, I suggest we use different English terms such as “set right” or “put right” with God. Jesus came to bring peace with God. Not by paying some legal penalty so God would not have to kill us. Jesus brought peace with God by showing us the truth about God; that there is no need to be afraid. God will indeed give up those who refuse to trust Him, who turn down the truth, who are unwilling to listen and unwilling to let Him heal them. And they will die, not as a penalty, but as a consequence. God will not torture His dying children to death.