“Grace to You, and Peace”
The familiar apostolic greeting, “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (or some close variation), marks all of Paul’s epistles (Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:3; 2Cor.1:2, 13:14; Gal.1:3; Eph.1:2; Phil.1:2; Col.1:2; 1Thes.1:1; 2Thes.1:2; 1Tim.1:2; 2Tim.1:2; Titus 1:4; Phm.3; cf. 1Pet.1:2; 2Pet.1:2; 2Jn.3; Rev.1:4), and it brims with theological implications.
Commentators routinely observe that this is a “Christianization” of the ancient greeting commonly found in Greco-Roman letters (χάρις “grace,” instead of χαίρειν “greetings”), and they regularly expound the significance (OT & NT) of the terminology “grace” and “peace.” And in a brilliant 1917 essay by B.B. Warfield that every Christian interpreter ought to read, the famous Princetonian patiently discloses the trinitarian implications of the phrase “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” – observations you will probably not find elsewhere.
But just what is the significance of “to you”? When Paul prays for “Grace to you and peace” from God, what does he mean? Both “grace” and “peace” carry soteriological implications, but writing as he is to believers the apostle is obviously not praying that they would come to be saved; he is praying that they in some way would experience grace and peace anew.
This notion of “experienced” grace and peace is perhaps more prominent in Paul’s famous “benediction” in 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” But the thought is the same here – when Paul prays “grace to you and peace” he expresses hope that God’s grace and peace will be with his readers in some recognizable way. So, assuming that God grants the request, just what does it look like in the experience of Paul’s recipients?
To answer this question we need only think through the biblical concepts of grace and peace and their implications.
Grace to You
Grace is unmerited favor, favor from God that comes to us apart from and in fact contrary to considerations of what we deserve. He gave us in Christ all that he required of us, and instead of condemnation he gave us acceptance and life. He did not require so much performance on our part in order to earn his favor – he favored us freely, for Christ’s sake. All the cost he paid; all the benefit is ours. His salvation is free. We are “justified by grace” (Rom.3:24; Titus 3:7).
Grace is not just a favorable disposition on God’s part; it is power, enablement. Grace is God at work for us and in us. Click To Tweet Moreover, grace is not just a favorable disposition on God’s part; it is power, enablement. Grace is God at work for us and in us. On that first day when God called us to himself, he opened our eyes, enabling us to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He enabled us to believe, to flee to Christ and embrace him as Savior. He broke the enslaving grip of sin and freed us to live unto him with joy – to serve him in firm realization of his acceptance and without fear of condemnation. All of this is God’s gracious working in us.
More to our point, every moment of every day of our life since he first called us to himself we have needed that same grace – grace to keep us, to kindle faith, to enable us to live unto him, to put it in our hearts to serve him and persevere to the end. And this is why Paul prays, “Grace to you.”
And Peace from God
Peace characterizes our new standing and relationship with God in Christ. The Lord Jesus has reconciled us to God by his blood. He has removed every obstacle and broken down every hostility by bearing our curse and satisfying God’s wrath in our place. We who are his have renounced every self-effort to trust in Jesus Christ alone to be for us all that God requires, and thus being “justified by faith we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). The enmity is removed, and God has freely accepted us as his own. Genuine peace with God has been established and secured in Christ. Every moment of every day since we were first reconciled to God, we have needed this sense of peace to guard and keep our hearts. Click To Tweet
Further, this peace marks not our standing with God only but our experience in relationship with him also. That first day when he called us to himself, he received us freely in Christ and overwhelmed our hearts with a wonderful realization of our acceptance in him. There was a new sense of freedom, safety, and love – a genuine sense that all is well between us and God, that he loves us and has made us his own. And this sense of peace came then to garrison our hearts against all fear.
Again, more to our point, every moment of every day since we were first reconciled to God, we have needed this sense of peace to guard and keep our hearts. When legalistic teachings and tendencies would draw us away to think that so much performance on our part is needed to appease God, we need from the depth of our souls to recognize that peace with God has already been established in Christ. When we have stumbled into sin, we need the assurance that we have peace with God in his Son. To continue in our service for Christ we need to sense deeply that we are, in fact, safe in him. When we bow our heads to pray, we must know that “things are good” between us and God, that he accepts us freely, in grace through Christ, and that he will hear us.
We need both grace and peace from the first day of our Christian experience unto eternity. And this is why Paul prays, “Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We would do well to greet and pray the same!