Peacemaking does not pacify. Peacemaking requires confrontation.
When we look at Christ’s example of peacemaking, we see our Lord in action, stepping toward our brokenness and addressing it. Christ’s approach serves as the chief example for how his disciples should strive for peace with one another. Let’s consider the following implications from Scripture together.
Peacemaking is not optional. The Word of God commands Christians to live at peace with everyone. Jesus famously says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9, ESV). Likewise, Paul describes life in God’s kingdom, saying, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:17, 19, ESV).
Hebrews instructs believers to “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, ESV). James claims that the wise Christian life is “a harvest of righteousness [that] is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18, ESV). Lastly, Peter encourages those who are suffering to not “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, [to] bless” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV).
These samplings from the New Testament demonstrate that pursuing peace, a fruit of the Spirit, is not optional but a requirement. The most charismatic and gifted individual who claims Christ and yet has no desire to reconcile fractured relationships or would rather dominate others than be willing to be confronted for the sake of restoration demonstrates a counterfeit faith.
Conversely, a believer who pursues reconciliation even when he is the offended party or who is willing to humbly consider a rebuke that may only be partially accurate demonstrates a genuine faith. Faith without peacemaking is dead, but faith demonstrated through peacemaking is alive.
If we ourselves will be peacemakers in the image of this Christ, we too must confront that which is broken in ourselves, each other and in our world.
Nevertheless, in order for Christians to be capable of genuine peace with one another, God must make the first move. This move has its origin in the gospel message itself.
The gospel by nature is confrontational. The Christian can seek peace and reconciliation with a neighbor because Christ has first sought peace and reconciliation through the cross.
Notice the order here: theology comes before ethics. What Christ accomplishes for the sinner on the cross precedes, models and gives power for how redeemed believers must approach peaceful reconciliation with each other.
This method stands in contrast to some who allow a distorted pacifistic ethic to become all-consuming for their belief system. Specifically, while it would be incorrect to say all pacifists are guilty of this, there are those who allow their ethics to flow upstream and twist the very nature of the God of the Bible. We must refuse to read our personal ethics back onto Scripture. Rather, we must let our ethics flow out of the theology that comes from Scripture.
Here is the caution. If one reads the entire Bible through a particular lens that redefines biblical peace according to his or her prior viewpoint, that constructed picture of a peaceful God may not have room for biblical passages that speak about God’s anger toward sin or how God utilizes the violence of man for his purposes in redemption history. God’s wrath may be too offensive. His just verdicts against wickedness too harsh. Christ’s cross too horrifying. And unfortunately, humanity’s sin may be downplayed as a result.
Go down this road and here’s what can happen: We may accuse those who believe Christ died on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God in our place as really advocating a picture of “divine child abuse”—that the Father unjustly lashes out at the Son. Yet, such a distortion of what is referred to as the penal substitutionary aspect of the atonement fails to consider the divine Son’s freedom to go to the cross. More precisely, it also fails to consider that the triune Lord joyfully acts with one united will for our salvation through each person of the godhead’s divine appropriation.
Go down this road even further and after distorting the atonement, we may find ourselves redefining what God can be at peace with according to worldly standards. We may even call what is good, evil, and what is evil, good.
In contrast, the true gospel of peace offers sinful humanity restored communion with our Lord through the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross for sin. If we are honest, we are rebels who offend a just God. Nevertheless, our Father, motivated out of love for us, sends his Son to accomplish victory on the cross by taking the death we deserve. This is victory through self-sacrifice. Jesus placates the just wrath of God by absorbing it in his own crucifixion: God satisfies himself by substituting himself for us. In one act, Christ deals with our sin, death, and the devil as Christ cries out “It is finished!”
This gospel description is exactly what Isaiah refers to in describing what happens to the suffering servant. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV).
Now, because of this suffering servant’s sacrifice, we are in right standing (justified) before God by his grace, according to Paul, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24, ESV).
The vertical rupture between us and God has been redeemed so that we can be in right standing before him.
Thank goodness Christ has confronted our broken relationship with God by dying in our place so that we might have peace with him today. The vertical rupture between us and God has been redeemed so that we can be in right standing before him. And yet, there is more: If he has healed our vertical relationship with God, he also gives us the blueprint to heal our horizontal relationships with each other.
Let Christ’s example guide us. So, see the depths Christ has gone to restore peace with us. He did not ignore the offensiveness of our sin. He did not sweep it under the rug. He did not feign a counterfeit unity with us when there was none. He did not cower. Christ did what none other could do: he loved us by necessarily confronting us with all that is broken and wicked within us.
Then, if we ourselves will be peacemakers in the image of this Christ, we too must confront that which is broken in ourselves, each other and in our world. Let us not merely pacify! Pacifying avoids truly addressing relational divisions, theological disputes and wickedness done in darkness. When we pacify instead of dealing with our problems, it is like refusing to go under the knife in surgery when there is an internal bleed that risks the life of the patient. The longer the open wound is left unaddressed, the worse it becomes.
Instead, the true peacemaker moves beyond seeking to merely keep the status quo where there is an unresolved conflict with a brother. As Tim Keller notes in his book, Forgive, Christians should take the message of both Matthew 5:23-25 that says, If your brother has something against you, go to him, and Matthew 18:15 which says, If your brother has sinned against you, go to him, and put them together. Regardless of how the relationship broke down, it is the Christian’s sacrificial duty to make the first move to restore it peacefully. The same principle applies not only for relational conflict, but also in handling disputes and confronting sin we see in others: we graciously, humbly and lovingly make the first move regardless of the cost.
So let us forget about self-preservation or holding onto our reputations. Rather, let us be strong and courageous. Let us step into conflict when we must with humility, not as those who thrive off conflict but for the goal of healing, restoration and a unity grounded on a shared understanding of God’s Word. Let the finished work on the cross which confronts our sin be our guide. And when we’ve considered all of this, let us go out and be salt and light as people of peace together in front of a watching world.
Aaron Garza is the senior pastor at Bethesda Church in Huron, South Dakota. He is a graduate of Tabor College and received a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral candidate. His research interest is the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation. He and his wife, Justine, have two sons.