Sometimes when we read the letters of Paul, we almost skip over the opening Salutation. Paul typically greets the church to which he writes using some theological language of welcoming those saints gathered who would have originally listened to Paul’s letter being read.
But like his letters themselves, Paul’s salutations are also very rich in theological meanings. This is especially so with the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul begins by acknowledging he is an apostle not by “human commission nor by human authorities” but “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). Then he addresses “the churches of Galatia” (1:2). Paul writes: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). “Grace and Peace.” These are two precious words with which Paul begins his letter. These are common words to our ears. They roll of our tongues. But their meanings are rich and deep!
The great English theologian, William Perkins (1558-1602), who was a theological leader for English Puritans wrote a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians (1604; page citations here from the 1617 printing). In it, Perkins writes about the meaning and importance of these two terms: “Grace and peace.”
Grace is from God. Perkins notes the “grace here mentioned is not any gift in man, but grace is God’s, and in God” (9). Grace is from God. It signifies God’s “gracious favor and good will, whereby he is well pleased with his elect, in, and for Christ.” God acts toward us with “favor and good will”—rather than judgment or condemnation. God’s grace makes us well-pleasing to God in Jesus Christ. This can be the very most important reality in our lives!
Peace is in us. God gives peace to us. Peace is God’s gift. God’s peace has three parts. First, we have peace of conscience which gives us “quietness and tranquility of mind” since we are reconciled with God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). This is the great gift to us. Our lives rest in our reconciliation with God in Christ, so we can have peace.
Second, we have peace with the creatures. We have peace with angels, with the godly, with ourselves, with our enemies, and peace with the beasts of the field—all creation. We are literally at peace with “all”—since this peace comes from God’s work in us; and extends to all our relationships.
Third, we have peace that brings “prosperity and good success.” Perkins is here referring to what benefits come to us when we love God and serve God—this is our greatest “prosperity”!
What usefulness is there for us in there in knowing what Paul has to say about “grace and peace”? Perkins lists three uses.
Grace is the beginning of all good things. Realizing God is the cause of all grace shows us how God is the “first cause and beginning of all good things in us” (10) as the Scriptures say. Perkins lists these: Election is of grace (Rom. 11:5). Vocation to salvation is of grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Faith is of grace (Phil. 1:29). Justification is freely by grace (Rom. 3:24). Love is by grace (1 John 4:10). Every good inclination is of grace (Phil. 2:13). Every good work is of grace (Ezek. 36:27; Eph. 2:10). Life everlasting is of grace (Rom. 6:23). For what more could we ask? All the great dimensions and “moments” of our Christian life—from election to life everlasting—come to us by God’s grace! We do not “create” grace ourselves. We receive the grace of God, freely given to us! Perkins wrote that “grace in God is properly the first, middle, and last cause of grace in us, and of every good act” (10). We do no “works” by ourselves to prepare us for God’s grace. We receive the grace God gives. It is God who is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28)! Paul is calling the Galatians—and us—to recognize that this doctrine is “the foundation of humility: for it teaches us to ascribe all to grace and nothing to our selves” (10).
We should seek God’s favor in Christ and a good conscience. What we need most in life is God’s favor (grace) and the peace of a good conscience. As Paul put it to the Philippians: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). This is our highest good in life: receiving God’s grace and experiencing the peace of God to “keep our hearts and minds in Christ,” as Perkins noted. The “fault” of most people, Perkins said, is that “they spend their days and their strength in seeking riches, honors, pleasures: and they think not on grace and peace” (10). They use the blessings of God, but they do not look at “the cause; namely, the grace of God.” Our duty, Perkins said, is “above all things to seek for grace and peace.” The reason is that “true happiness”—which all people desire—“consists in peace, and is founded in grace.” Even when followers of Christ mourn, or are persecuted for doing right, they can be “happy and blessed” because “in the midst of their sorrows and miseries, they have the favor of God, and the peace of good conscience” (Matt. 5:10).
Grace and Peace are Joined. “Peace without grace is no peace,” wrote Perkins. The prophet Isaiah said, “there is no peace, says my God, for the wicked” (Isa. 57:21). Apart from God’s grace, there can be no peace. We can never know the true peace we need apart from the grace of God. True peace comes from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3), said Paul. All blessings flow from God’s grace. Perkins put it this way: “The Father is the fountain of grace, and gives it from none but from himself. Christ again is (as it were) a conduit or pipe, to convey grace from the Father to us” (11) From Christ’s “fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
The great benefit (or “use”) of realizing grace and peace come from God through Jesus Christ is, says Perkins, that those who are burdened by “a bad conscience, and a bad life,” can “come to Christ by turning from their sins, and by believing in him, and they shall obtain grace, and find rest to their souls” (11). In our miseries and sorrows, “if we believe in Christ, we shall always have grace and peace” (John 14:27). For “if we trusting in Christ, have grace and peace, we shall want nothing” (Ps. 4:6-7).
Finally: Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ, who gives grace and peace, is our Lord and our Savior. He is “a Priest to procure life, a prophet to teach the way of life, a Lord to command them to walk in the way of life,” said Perkins (11). The fault of Perkins’ times—and our times, today, is that people profess a Christ of their own devising. Namely, they profess a Christ “that must be a Savior to deliver them from hell, but not a Lord to command them.” They can accept a Savior; but not a Lord. It is in those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in whom God’s grace and peace reside. They “acknowledge Christ for their Lord, and yield subjection to him in heart and life.” They are those who “find rest to their souls, that take up the yoke of Christ in new obedience, and the patient bearing of the cross (Matt. 11:29).”
May God’s grace and peace be with us!
Dr. Donald K. McKim currently lives in Germantown, TN and is an Honorably Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Some of his publications include: (with Jim West), Heinrich Bullinger: An Introduction to His Life and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2022); Everyday Prayer with the Puritans (P&R, 2021); Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (P&R, 2020); Living into Lent, new edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2020); Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (P&R, 2019). Several of his other articles can also be found at The Presbyterian Outlook https://pres-outlook.org/