When the New Testament tells us to be loving, joyful, peaceful, kind and so on, it is not giving us a new set of behaviors that we are to strive to accomplish. Striving to attain them means nothing if they are sought as ethical ideals or to meet a set of religious rules. They have meaning only insofar as they manifest the new life that is found in Christ. They are descriptions of what real life looks like, not prescriptions for how to get life.
These descriptions Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23) and they are manifested in our lives as we cease trying to produce them on our own and yield to the Spirit’s loving influence in our lives. They are the fruit of the Spirit, not fruit of our trying harder.
Peace is one of the fruit of the Spirit listed by Paul. However, it is an incontestable fact that believers are frequently plagued with anxiety. Sometimes were are overcome with worry, anxiety, and stress, just as much as unbelievers in some cases.
One way to deal with this is to challenge ourselves to trust God more, to have more faith, and to take God at his Word. The way to peace according to this solution is to try harder to do the right things. If you want peace, you have to work at it. But does this approach actually succeed in replacing a person’s anxiety with peace? Not usually!
It does not get to the root of the problem.
The most fundamental reason why believers do not experience the peace they can have in Christ is that their experienced self-identity is rooted in the flesh and therefore not in line with their true identity in Christ. The way they see and experience themselves, God and the world is not in conformity with the way things actually are. They may intellectually believe the truth, but they do not experience the truth as real and thus do not consistently live according to truth.
To the extent that our fundamental orientation is fleshly, destructive works of the flesh will characterize our lives. Anxiety, worry, and stress are but one set of symptoms of this flesh orientation. And as long as our minds are rooted in the flesh, no amount of self-effort is going to free us from the destructive attitudes and behaviors that arise from the flesh.
Life and peace come when our orientation is according to the Spirit, and thus our minds are set on the Spirit. As our rooting in the flesh is confronted by the Spirit of God, we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2). When the Spirit of truth frees us from deception at the core of our being, we begin to experience in our own lives what is true about us in Christ. The peace that characterizes our relationship with God by faith becomes experienced as the peace that transcends all understanding.
The key to experiencing the peace of God as an ongoing reality in our lives, then, is not in trying hard to achieve it. This can only make us more anxious! The key, rather, is to cease from our own striving and let the Holy Spirit do his work in pointing us to Jesus. The key is in allowing the Holy Spirit to make Christ real to us and to rest, just as we are, in this reality. In doing this we allow the Holy Spirit to overcome deception in our lives with truth, performance in our lives with grace, hiddenness in our lives with openness, and thus destruction in our lives with wholeness. As we through the power of the Spirit experience the peace Jesus offers us as we are, in the midst of all our anxiety, the peace that characterizes his life becomes ours by grace.
—Adapted from Seeing Is Believing, pages 53, 177-180
Image by Joshua Earle