“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
There are so many warnings given to Christians in the Bible! This one is perhaps the clearest and yet the most violated and misunderstood. Of course, the striving for peace is offered as the real impact of Christianity. After all Christians are supposed to be peace loving people, aren’t they? Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
The Nobel Foundation awards a Peace Prize to one who seeks to establish peace. Although in recent years, it appears to have lost a degree of objectivity by focusing on words regardless of actions. Nevertheless, the prize is still highly esteemed. Our culture values the virtue of striving for peace.
Christians are called to be people of peace, putting their words into action. Rather than simply talking about peace, they are to actually demonstrate it in their lives by striving for it. The word translated “strive” also means to pursue, run after or chase. Christians are to be known as people who live peaceably with others, as much as it is possible, or as much as peace depends upon us. (Romans 12:18)
King David in Psalm 34, verse 14 wrote, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Those who have been declared right with God, justified, are at peace with Him. It is “the justified” to whom the author of Hebrews declared the command to strive for peace. I believe that it is intuitively obvious even to non-Christians that the Bible teaches God’s people to live in peace. The striving for peace is an outward sign that Christians possess the inward knowledge that we are at peace with God.
But looking at the referenced quote at the top from Hebrews, the hard part of the command is the second part - to strive for holiness! Christians are sinners who have been changed by God. We have been made new creatures. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We who are Christians have been given new desires. These new desires compel us to run after Jesus, to seek to obey Him.
We know that God’s declaration that a sinner is right with Him is called justification. That is just the beginning. God’s will for His people is our sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) In other words God’s will for us is to be holy. This is a work of God in the life of every sinner whom He justifies. No one can get to heaven by justification alone. Justification is not all of salvation. God continues to change us from the inside. He causes us to die more and more to sin and live more and more unto righteousness (doing what is right).
I recently heard a man say that the Christian Life is not about being changed. He went on to say it’s about Jesus. True, the Christian Life is about Jesus as He is revealed in the gospel. Jesus’ name means God saves. God saves us from His wrath. We are saved by God from God. Looking to Jesus alone is the means that God has chosen to save us for eternity. No unholy or unclean person can be in the presence of the Living God. Before we can enter the gates of heaven and be in the presence of God, we must be made holy. God has promised to make those who trust in Jesus holy.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, Chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Revelation 22:14 makes this declaration, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Only those who continually repent of their sins and trust in Jesus will be allowed entrance to heaven.
The writer made it clear by the exclusive statement, “… without which no one will see the Lord.” Without striving for peace and holiness it will be impossible to see Jesus in heaven!
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is the pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church.