“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness — without it no one will see the Lord.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in mid-thought only to say something that triggers another thought, but this new thought is so overwhelming that you have to stop and address it? As we get into the last major teaching section of Hebrews before the author’s lightning round big finish, that’s exactly what seems to happen. This thought of his is something that’s gotten into my own head and heart and I can’t stop thinking about it. Let’s talk this morning about his thought and why it matters so much.
This verse marks a transition to a next section. The author has covered the matter of enduring hard times as discipline, and now he’s leading us to consider one last time how surpassingly greater is the new covenant versus the old. Before he does this, though, he has one more warning to offer. We’ll get to that next week, Lord willing. But first, he calls us to pursue peace with everyone. And holiness. Then he adds one more thing.
“Without it no one will see the Lord.”
This little comment is an aside. It’s one of those throwaway lines that is often meant to supplement the main point, but not steal any thunder from it. Except, for me, this one does. This may be one of the more important ideas in this entire letter. And between you and me, that’s saying something.
Without it no one will see the Lord. This, of course, begs an important question: What is “it” here? We can answer that question by looking back to the previous word. Holiness. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Let that idea sit on you for just a second. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. The author says we should pursue peace with everything, and holiness. Then he explains why the pursuit of holiness matters. Without it, no one will see the Lord.
This observation is made to a group of believers in the context of a church. He was saying to them—and us—that unless we get holiness right, no one is going to see the Lord through us. Holiness is the vehicle to entering the Lord’s presence for anyone. No holiness, no seeing the Lord.
If as a follower of Jesus your life is not reflecting the holiness of Christ, no one is going to see the Lord through you. Instead of providing a window, you’ll only be a wall. The trouble with this is that Jesus called His followers to make disciples of everyone they can. A disciple of Jesus needs to have a clear view of the Lord. Unless you get holiness right, as far as your life is concerned, no disciples are getting made. And if no disciples are getting made, you aren’t doing one of the most fundamental things Jesus told you to be doing.
This idea is bigger than that too. He was talking to these individual followers of Jesus in the context of the church. Without holiness from the church no one will see the Lord. Yet the church is God’s primary kingdom-advancing, image-bearing institution in the world. If the church isn’t giving people a picture of the Lord, they’re not going to find one anywhere else. They won’t see the Lord. And if the church isn’t helping people see the Lord can it even accurately be called a church? If we fail so profoundly at our most basic task, do we even understand our identity?
Yet what does it mean to pursue holiness? Holiness is defined by two ideas above all else: being different and being morally pure. Both of those things have to be in place, or you don’t have holiness. The church as a whole and its individual members must get holiness right. We must be different from the world around us. Nothing about us can be the same. We think differently. We live differently. We talk differently. We value different things. We are different. Our lives are rooted in a different kingdom. At the same time, we must be pursuing a path of moral perfection. This cannot be something that comes by legalism. This isn’t about rule-keeping as a means of righteousness. It’s not about being holier than anyone else either. It is about living our lives gratefully in light of who God is. We are striving to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect with the abiding help of Jesus by way of the Spirit.
If we don’t do this, no one will see the Lord. Rather than showing them what is true, we will only point them toward a lie. As it turns out, this whole holiness thing we often hear about is a much bigger deal than we previously understood it to be. This isn’t just some personal convenience we strive for so we can make or keep God happy. This is about living in such a way that we are allowing people to actually see who God is and be drawn to Him because of it. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
So, today, strive for holiness. God made you to help others see Him. Don’t block their view. Be a window, not a wall. But you can only do this with Jesus’ help. Holiness doesn’t come from you. So, rely more on Jesus. Be who you were made to be.