Biblically, the term “peace” can have a wide range of meanings. The Greek term translated “peace” in the NT is eirēnē, which is the cognate of the Hebrew OT term shalom, which carries the meaning of safety, completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, etc. In the OT Greek Septuagint (LXX)[i], shalom is translated as eirēnē. Specifically, the term eirēnē is from the verb eirō meaning, “To join/to harmonize together.” As with all biblical terms, eirēnē (“peace”) is defined by the particular context in which it appears.
For example, note the various meanings the term can have: Hebrews 12:14 speaks of pursuing “peace with all men”; In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says that the peacemakers are blessed. In Isaiah 26:3, we read that the one who is “steadfast in mind” and puts his trust in the Lord, God will keep “in perfect peace [shalom].” In Philippians 4:6-7, we know the peace of God will guard our hearts if we are “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (also cf. Col. 3:15).
However, there is the “peace” that specifically relates to the atonement of Jesus Christ and our justification. Peace in this sense is what Scripture frequently and synonymously refers to as “reconciliation” with God (cf. Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Col. 1:20). The verb “to reconcile” is from the Greek word katallassō—from the preposition kata, “down to a point”/“according to” and allassō, “to make different, change.” Thus, katallassō carries the meaning of “to change,” “to alter” (BDAG, cf., Acts 6:14); “to exchange one thing for another” (cf. Rom. 1:23); “to receive one into favour” (Thayer); “to bring into agreement or harmony”; or even, “to make compatible or consistent.” Hence, through the cross-work of the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, we now have peace, that is, harmony or favor with God. That is why Paul calls the Gospel, “the Gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).
Scripture presents the unregenerate man as an enemy of God (cf. Rom. 5:10); spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-4); always in active rebellion and hostility against Him in every sense (cf. Rom. 8:7-8[ii]; Col. 1:21-29); he can never please God by any meritorious work that he does (cf. Isa. 64:6; esp. Rom. 8:7-8[iii])—for this behavior and mentality is natural to him, for his will is in bondage to sin (cf. John 8:39-47). The fact is when two parties (i.e., God and man) are at war, there can be no peace.
Hence, the motivating reason for the substitutionary atonement was God’s love for sinners in that He sovereignly and causatively redeems all of the ones that the Father gave Him[iv]—grace being the cause and faith being the instrument. The atonement of Jesus Christ accomplished unfailingly the reconciliation of God with man (Godward) and in a secondary sense, man with God (manward)—thus, reconciliation is indeed “peace with God.”
Now this kind of peace, which believers have is the absolute shalom with God—not a temporary “cease fire” in which war can start up at any time! Rather, it is a permanent ongoing peace with God. As Denny rightly observes: “The justified have peace with God . . . His wrath no longer threatens them; they are accepted in Christ. It is not a change in their feelings which is indicated, but a change in God’s relationship to them.”[vi]
This peace is not a mere gladness of the heart or a subjective feeling of happiness that comes and goes, but rather an objective peace, a reconciliation between God and man. “While we were enemies, Paul declares, “we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). In Colossians 1:20, we read that Jesus reconciled all things to Himself “having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Man will never have real peace without believing in the only source of peace, Christ Jesus, “Mighty God.” “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). As with Romans 5:1, in Ephesians 2:14-16, Paul again explains the objective nature of peace/reconciliation, which is the result of justification through faith in Christ Jesus alone:
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
There are many passages that show that the divine reconciliation is primarily Godward, and only in a secondary sense, manward.
In other words, it was God’s alienation towards man that was removed by Jesus’ full payment for sin, on behalf of God’s people, in that their sin is taken away being declared perfectly righteous (justified) producing peace, thus, reconciliation with God (cf. Mark 10:45; John 10:15; 2 Thess. 2:13).
Romans 5:10: "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” This verse is parallel to the preceding verse (v. 9): “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Hence, being reconciled is the same as being justified; both actions are of God alone. God’s work in justification removes "the wrath of God" in which God’s enemies are reconciled to Him. Thus, here Paul is saying in essence that “At the very time when God was alienated from us, that is, felt a holy hostility toward us, we were reconciled to God (which passive verb, when rendered actively means, God reconciled us to Himself).”[vii] Consider the following points:
1) The very ground of our having peace with God and the removal of God’s alienation towards us is the sacrificial cross-work of Jesus Christ, not ourselves trying to remove hostility and rebellion against God or our faith” (or any other work we can do).
2) As many theologians properly indicate (e.g., Luther, Calvin, Hofmann, Meyer, Reymond et al) the term translated “enemies” (exthroi) should be taken in a passive sense (“hated by God”), rather than an active sense (“hating God).” In other words, “enemies” does not indicate our hatred and hostility toward God, but rather, His holy hatred and enmity toward us. In Romans 11:28, Paul uses the same term, exthroi (“they are enemies”) where he parallels it with “beloved” in the passive sense (“they are beloved” [by God]) indicating that God’s enmity (here toward Israel to which Paul is referring) implies that the “enemies” in 5:10 is also in the passive sense—namely, in the same holy and divine enmity towards all the unregenerate. This really emphasizes Paul’s great declaration in 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
3) Both verbs (“we were reconciled” and “having been reconciled”) are in the aorist tense indicating that the specific removal of enmity or alienation occurred in punctiliar way, that is, a onetime action (not a process) with the “death of the Son.” Only God can accomplish this kind of reconciliation with reference to His elect, giving them “freely all things” (Rom. 8:32)—namely, salvation (ordo salutis).
4) Note the parallelism between 5:9 (“having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him”) and verse 10 (“having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”). This indicates emphatically that the justification and reconciliation was objective, thus, not a subjective change wrought in man—as taught in Roman Catholicism and other non-Christian religions.
Further, there is another striking parallel in 5:9: “having been justified” with, “we shall be saved through Him from the wrath [orgē] of God.” Clearly, the atoning sacrifice of Christ (the death of the Son) is propitiatory—namely, His sacrifice and perfect life fulfilled all the requirements of the law whereby He satisfied or placated the Father averting the divine wrath due our account because of sin (cf. 1 John 2:2). Therefore, the reconciliation was Godward—so in verse 10, Paul can say: “having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
Other passages teach the same, such as 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 where we find in verse 18, Paul again uses aorist tenses: “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ,” which, as stated, implies that the removal of enmity and alienation occurred as a single onetime action (punctiliar) with the death of Christ and now is an accomplished fact (as in Rom. 5:10). Specifically, Paul in verses 19-21 speaks of God in Christ reconciling the world (i.e., both Jews and Gentiles) to Himself, not imputing their sin against them, but imputing their sin to Christ (i.e., He became a “sin offering” on their behalf in which they now possess the righteousness of God). This shows that Paul was viewing reconciliation, as with justification, a work of God alone, an objective and legal event—not a “subjective” continuous process in men’s heart. While reconciliation (like justification) is a onetime event, sanctification (i.e., being set apart, Christ-like, holy, etc.) is progressive and ongoing.
In Ephesians 2:14-16, as cited above, again Paul uses the aorist tense (viz. “might reconcile,” v. 16) to show that reconciliation was a non-progressive single onetime action accomplished by the infallible work of Christ: “For He Himself is our peace.”
In conclusion, because we have been declared righteous (justified) by God, through faith, we have everlasting peace with God. Reconciliation is an accomplished fact because of the sacrificial work of the Alpha and Omega, the risen Lord of glory, both by His perfect life and through His atoning sacrifice on the cross. Before God saved us, we were not seeking for God or “trying to get our life right” (see Rom. 3:10-18). Rather, we were God haters, enemies of the cross. We were unable to submit to His law or please Him (cf. Rom. 8:7-8). God was alienated from us and us from Him. But God who is rich in mercy, “demonstrates His own love toward us” that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:8, 10).
[i] The LXX was the Greek translation of OT (between 300-200 B.C.) that Jesus and the NT authors utilized.
[ii] “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
[iv] Cf. John 6:37-39.
[v] The present active indicative verb, echomen (from echō, “to hold/possess”) translated “have,” as in, “we have peace with God.” Here, it denotes a present active reality in that the “peace” that results from being “declared righteous” (justified), “through faith,” which is something that the believer possesses now—namely, “we now have peace”! So Paul can say in Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
[vi] James Denney as cited in Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT (Romans), p. 76.
[vii] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 608.