The path of peace is a precious one. There you hear the promise of God’s presence, you find hope and assurance that there is still more peace to be had in Jesus, and you receive a benediction. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thess. 3:16). This is worth working for.
We have heard the message of forgiveness, but the signal becomes weak with certain sins. For example, do you have regrets? Persistent regrets often carry a message that says to the Lord, “What I did was really bad, and I feel really bad about it”—a message that can quickly drift toward legalism that acts as though deeper contrition will find more grace. You will not find peace on that path. We can be prone to categorizing sins into our own eclectic version of venial and mortal sins. Common sins such as speeding and a brief loss of temper are easily forgiven; uncommon and public sins are not. Look for old sins to which you privately say, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Regrets might be a result of the continued consequences of those sins. For example, if your negligence left you or other people with enduring struggles, those reminders are persistent and weighty. Yet regrets can never be left unattended. They are evidence that all things have not yet been made fully new, though they will be. Meanwhile, God forgives fully from all iniquities (Ps. 130:8), for “with him is plentiful redemption” (Ps. 130:7). He forgives completely because He is the forgiver, not because you are forgivable. He washes you clean; He Himself does not see you according to your sins, but you share in how the Father sees the Son as, by faith, you have been joined to the Son. Also notice how the Apostle Peter writes that spiritual malaise can be a result of forgetting that we have been cleansed from “former sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Regrets from past sins are not to be trifled with. Best to give them fully to God as a way to honor the work of Jesus Christ.
Look, too, for sins done against you, especially by those who were responsible to love you. As a general rule, if you have been treated disgracefully, you believe you are a disgrace, and you are left on high alert for when your disgrace will be fully exposed. Peace cannot abide with such shame. That path toward peace is possible only when shame is met by hope that “those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34:5).
Things future. Even without resonant guilt and shame, we all have our fears and anxieties, and these likewise compete against peace. Many of those fears are well founded. A very hard event may, indeed, be at hand. And these fears appear against a backdrop of fears and anxieties that are present no matter what the forecast. In my own life, if I simply turn my attention to my children and grandchildren, I find that there might be a passing moment in which everything seems fine, and then I suddenly remember one trouble, then another; one future danger, then another.
All this is to say two things. First, if you feel burdened and anxious, Jesus’ words of peace are directed to you. Second, peace will encounter more resistance than you might expect.
Now the work continues. We all desire peace, but we don’t all pursue it. We might seek peace as an occasional hobby rather than a need that borders on desperation. So we proceed by remembering that this is a promise of God to us, and we can insist that His Spirit lead us on the path of peace.