New Testament Christianity by J B Phillips
Despite the fire, energy,
daring, hope, and faith that distinguished the
Now, although essential human nature has not changed, outward circumstances have changed enormously since the early days of the Christian Faith. I do not think that we can claim that life is either more difficult or more dangerous, but modem living is certainly more complex and is certainly conducted at a higher speed. The natural factors which tend to destroy peace and tranquillity are greater than ever. All the more reason, then, for Christians to experience and, consciously or unconsciously, show living evidence of the divine gift ‑ of the unshakable inner core of peace.
"Peace with God" is sometimes rather carelessly used in religious circles, as though it had only one connotation, as though all the problems of a complex human personality were solved if only a man would accept the redemptive sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. Actually this is an over‑simplification, for although to accept the reconciliation which God has provided is an absolute essential, there are many other factors, especially among the more intelligent, which prevent the soul from being at peace. The divine peace, the steady centering of life upon God, is basically a gift from God, and must be accepted, like our forgiveness, as His gift and not something that we can achieve. Nevertheless, there are elements within our own personalities which must be frankly faced before we can expect to experience that gift. If we want to enjoy inward tranquillity amid this whirling, bewildering modem life, we must be prepared to do some honest self‑examination. In the last resort, we shall find that our only true peace is "peace with God", but it may not prove quite so simple to find it as we imagined. Let us consider some of the factors which prevent us from enjoying inner peace, and how we may cope with them.
1. The Problem of Self‑pleasing
In all of us to a greater or less degree, depending on heredity, upbringing, and temperament, there is a thrusting, self‑pleasing element which normally regards the world as centering around oneself. It is not a thing to be horrified at, for it is in us all; but the whole way of thinking and feeling which belongs to the self‑centred man must be abrogated or denied before there can be peace with God. What we call "sins" are simply expressions of this self‑pleasing, self‑regarding, and self‑indulgent inward attitude. The word which is translated in the New Testament as repentance really means a thorough change of heart and mind. It means realising that the real centre of everything is not my little self, but God, and that in order to serve the King Himself I must quit the throne of my own precious little kingdom. To some people this comes easily, almost naturally, as soon as they see the truth of it. To others it means a hard and even agonising struggle. Such people do not readily surrender, they do not easily co‑operate with somebody else's plan, even if that Somebody Else is God. Yet it is obvious that there can be no inward peace until the self-conscious inward kingdom willingly and whole‑heartedly concedes its rights to the Creator, the real King.
This is the essential of all Christian living, but in actual experience it does not happen all at once. A man may not realise how strong and deeply entrenched is his own self‑interest until he has followed Christ even for years. It is the willing co‑operation that God is seeking, the cheerful enlisting in His service. Certain types of people can be scared into being "saved" or "converted", but it does not necessarily follow that they willingly hand over the centre of their being to the service of Christ. As far as we can judge from the New Testament, people are not frightened into becoming Christians. Jesus required His followers to be "fishers of men", and the ability to instil fear is not a prime qualification for a fisherman! In the classic instance of sudden conversion ‑ that is, of Paul ‑ it is interesting to note that there is no threat of hell‑fire, not even of reproach in the words Jesus spoke to him in the vision on the Damascus road (Acts 9). We might well have thought that the man who had been responsible for the death, disgrace, misery, and imprisonment of so many of Christ's men and women would naturally have incurred the wrath of the Lord Himself. But what do we find? A penetrating question, asking in effect: "Why are you behaving like this towards Me?" And a highly significant comment: "It is not easy for you to go against your own conscience" (Acts 9:4‑5). Paul saw in a blinding moment of revelation how the whole structure of his righteous living, including his violent persecutions of the truth, had been utterly self‑centred. What is more, he saw the Lord personally, and the consequence of seeing himself as he was and Christ as He was resulted in a thorough‑going conversion. Such complete visions of the truth are rare. But it is as this same truth strikes home to men by the power of the Spirit that they realise the true position ‑ how off course they are, what harm their self-centred living has caused, and how they can be at peace only if they are reconciled with the Nature and Purpose of God.
2. The Resolving of Inner Conflicts
If we are quiet before God and allow His Spirit to shine upon our inward state, we shall probably discover more than one conflict which is robbing us of inner peace. The man who lives apart from God may be largely unconscious of his inward conflicts and only aware of their tension. Of course he may be driven by the sheer force of the tension to a psychiatrist who, if he is a wise one, will help the man to realise the sources of his disharmony. But he still will not be at peace with the nature of things, with his own conscience, and the Divine Purpose that is being worked out in this world unless the psychiatrist is able to lead him to faith in God. But except in unusual cases, the Christian need not turn to the psychiatrist. Either alone with God or with the help of a trusted friend, priest, or minister, he can, if he wishes, see for himself the fierce, hidden resentment, the carefully concealed self‑importance, the obstinate and unforgiving spirit, and all the other things which prevent inward relaxation. So long as his personality is a battleground, it is foolish to suggest to him that he accepts the peace of God. His hidden desires, ambitions, and prides must first be brought to the surface, not only to the surface of his own consciousness, but, as it were, to the light of God's love and understanding. God is not concerned to condemn; however ashamed and guilty the man himself may feel, God is concerned to heal and to harmonise.
3. The Sharing of Life With God
For sheer practical wisdom, Paul's famous words have never been surpassed. He wrote: "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 6‑7). It is when the love of God is allowed to penetrate every corner of a man's being that the peace of God comes as a positive gift, as a sturdy guardian of the soul's inward rest. The sharing of anxieties and fears, this intimate thankfulness for joys and beauties, brings the individual very close to the life of God. It must be habitual and it must be practised, but its fruit is a relaxed spirit.
4. Realisation of Adequate Resources
Much of our tension and anxiety can be traced directly to a fear of inadequacy. We should meet this fear in two ways. First, by learning to accept ourselves. We probably are not adequate for all our ambitious schemes, and only at the cost of enormous nervous energy can we succeed in becoming momentarily what we really are not. This is a self‑imposed tyranny which is very common. Suppose we accept ourselves good humouredly, realising our limitations and how much we have to learn with cheerfulness and without envy of those who are, or appear to be, more adequate than ourselves. It is simply no use at all claiming the gift of God's peace if we are ridden by an over‑mastering desire to appear bigger or cleverer or more important than we really are. We must first learn to practise acceptance. The second step is to learn to accept life, as Jesus Himself did, at the Father's hands day by day. It was not a cynic, but the Son of God Himself Who said, One day's trouble is enough for one day" (See Matthew 6:34). We are assured by many inspired promises that God will give us, as we require it, the ability to cope with life victoriously on this day‑by‑day basis. We must teach ourselves to get out of the habit of thinking too far ahead, of imagining ourselves tomorrow or next week as inadequate for a situation which exists only in our minds. The sooner we can get it into our feverish souls that we are meant to live a day at a time, the more we shall be able to enjoy that sense of adequacy which spells peace of mind.
5. Peace as a Positive Gift
I have mentioned above only a few of the psychological factors which may prevent us from enjoying the peace of God. To some simple natures it will appear as though I have over‑complicated the issue. But it is the fortunate few whose inward growth and life is so simple (and by that of course I do not mean stupid) that they can quite readily accept in unquestioning faith the peace of God within their hearts. To others it will naturally appear that I have done no more than touch upon their difficulties, which indeed is all that I have done. I can only recommend here that there must be a full, unashamed bringing to the surface of all the warring elements within the personality. In making such unravellings and adjustments as we can, we are not creating peace ‑ we are only creating conditions for the coming of peace. When our hearts are possessed by this gift of God, we know for certain how true it is that it "passeth man's understanding". Outward circumstances may be tempestuous, common sense may tell us that it is absurd to be at peace under such a load or such a threat. But the gift is supra‑natural, it goes far beyond earthly common sense. It is, like faith, hope, and love, rooted in the Purpose of God.
6. Alignment with the Purpose
Peace with God is not a static emotion. It is a positive gift which accompanies our living in harmony with God's Plan. Dante's oft‑quoted saying, 'And in His will is our peace", is not to be understood as surrender, resignation, and quiescence. The Christian will discover that he knows God's peace as he is aligned with God's Purpose. He may be called upon to be strenuous; but he is inwardly relaxed, because he knows he is doing the Will of God. This sense of knowing that he is co‑operating with the Purpose defies human analysis, and is always found singularly irritating by the opponent of Christianity. But Christians of all ages, not excepting our own, have found it to be true. However painful or difficult, or, on the other hand, however inconspicuous or humdrum the life may be, the Christian finds his peace in accepting and playing his part in the Master Plan. Here again we must ask ourselves, "Am I doing what God wants me to do?" It is not a question of what my friends or a particular Christian pressure‑group want me to do, but of what God Himself wishes. By sharing our life with God, by throwing open our personality to His love and wisdom, we can know beyond any doubting what is God's will for us. When we are at one with Him in spirit and at one with Him in purpose, we may know the deep satisfaction of the peace of God.
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