Home > Biblical Literacy, Discipleship, Holiness, Holiness Series, Mentoring, Spiritual Growth > Holiness – without it no one will see the Lord

Holiness – without it no one will see the Lord

I am writing this series on holiness because I believe the whole notion of the command in Scripture to pursue holiness and its critical importance to the Christian life is not preached, taught, or emphasized sufficiently, if at all, in our churches today.  The doctrine of holiness and all it entails is one of the most essential and practical in application to the daily life of the believer.  I pray God will use this series in the life of those it touches to enrich and deepen their walk with God.

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 

The writer of Hebrews gives a specific, pointed, and direct command.  Pursue holiness.  The thrust is strait forward – without being holy we will not see the Lord.  This short powerful compelling verse is one that communicates a clear warning while at the same time confidence and hope.   For the Christian it prompts two immediate questions, 1) who is holy? 2) who will see the Lord? Christians would do well to understand and heed this verse, its consequences, and live in obedience to its command. 

So what does this verse mean?  One question that obviously comes to mind is does my salvation depend on my attaining some level of personal holiness?  The short answer is no. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy garments in the light of God’s holy law.  Our best efforts are like filthy rages sowed together with the thread of sin.  Second, Scripture is clear that it is Christ’s righteousness on our behalf which gives us audience before God clothed in righteousness. 

Romans 5:19
19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

1 Peter 3:18
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring £us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Based on the above verses we see that our holiness before God depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for us, by God’s will.  Now we can ask the question, doesHebrews 12:14refer to this holiness which we have in Christ?  No for the writer of Hebrews says that the holiness referred to here is to be pursued, strived for and without this effort no one will see the Lord.

The Bible then speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God (our positional holiness), and a holiness which we are to strive after (progressive holiness).  These two aspects complement one another, for our salvation is a salvation unto holiness.

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Corinthians 1:2
2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (to be holy), Italics mine.

So we are made holy in Christ in our standing before God, and called to be holy in our daily lives.  When the Holy Spirit comes in our lives at salvation, He comes to make us holy in practice.  If there is not, then at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine.

This does not mean that when we are saved this desire is a blazing fire for God, but there should be a recognized spark.  But this spark will grow into a flame when God works in your life and places the desire to live a life wholly pleasing to Him in you (Phil 2:13).  We are saved not only from the penalty of sin, but its dominion (its hold on us in our Christian walk).

Bishop J. C. Ryle said, “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means” 

Holiness, then, is not necessary as a condition of salvation – that would be salvation by works – but a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ. As stated above, this does not mean the desire for holiness must be a conscious desire at the time a person comes to Christ, but rather it means that the Holy Spirit who creates within us saving faith also creates within us the desire for holiness. He simply does not create one without the other.

Titus 2:11-12
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 
12teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 

God’s nature demands holiness in the life of a Christian. (See prior post on Getting a Grip on God’s Chief Attribute – Holiness).  Holiness is required for fellowship with God.  David asked the question, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?” (Ps 15:1). Essentially this is saying who may live in fellowship with you?  The answer which is summarized in the next four verses is “he who leads a holy life.” 

Prayer is a vital part of our fellowship with God; yet the psalmist said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). To regard wickedness is to cherish some sin, to love it to the extent that I am not willing to part with it. I know it is there, yet I justify it in some way like the child who says,” Well, he hit me first:’ when we are holding on to some sin, we are not pursuing holiness and we cannot have fellowship with God.” Jerry Bridges

God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.

Holiness is also required for our own well-being. Scripture says, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). He disciplines us because we need discipline. To persist in disobedience is to increase our necessity for discipline. Some of the Corinthian Christians persisted in disobedience to the point where God had to take their lives (1 Corinthians 11:30).

When God speaks to us about some sin we need to listen and take action.  To fail to deal with that sin is to risk incurring His hand of discipline.  Peter said, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). God is serious about holiness in the lives of His people, and He will discipline us to attain it.

Holiness is also necessary for effective service to God. Paul wrote to Timothy, “If a man cleanses himself from [ignoble purposes], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness and usefulness are linked together. We cannot bring our service to God in an unclean vessel. The One who makes our service effective and who empowers us for service is the Holy Spirit. Note well that He is called the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Holiness. When we indulge our sinful natures and dwell in unholiness, the Spirit of God is grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and will not prosper our service. These are not times when we fall into temptation and immediately seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing, but lives that are characterized by unholy living.

Holiness also is necessary for our assurance of salvation -not at the moment of salvation, but over the course of our lives. True faith will always show itself by its fruits. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  James tells us that “for the body without the spirit is death, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26) Is there evidence in your life that you are a new creation – a changed life which is growing to become more like Christ? 

The only clear evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life.  John said everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1John 3:3). Paul said,”Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians but we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. J. C. Ryle helps us see the many false perceptions of what being holy means.

So what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy. A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge–Balaam had that: nor great profession–Judas Iscariot had that: nor doing many things–Herod had that: nor zeal for certain matters in religion–Jehu had that: nor morality and outward respectability of conduct–the young ruler had that: nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers–the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that: nor keeping company with godly people–Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these was holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord.  J.C. Ryle

Everyone, then, who professes to be a Christian should ask himself, “Is there evidence of practical holiness in my life? Do I desire and strive after holiness? Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?” It is not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy. Even those who do “great Christian works” will not enter heaven unless they also do the will of God.  Jesus said,

Matthew 7:21-23
21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 
22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 
23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

From the above we know what holiness isn’t and its consequences, but what might some of the characteristics be of someone who is earnestly pursing holiness?   How can we have confidence when we stand before Jesus that He says well done good and faithful servant?  In the end the key determinate is a genuinely changed life, a new creation, a life well lived in the pursuit of holiness.  The following is a short list of how you might know you are pursing holiness.

You know you are pursing holiness when you……

  • turn away from every known sin and endeavor to keep all God’s commands (Rom. 7:22;Ps 119:128)
  • have a willingness to submit and surrender all to the Lordship of  Jesus Christ (Luke 14:27, 33)
  • strive earnestly to be Christ-like (Rom. 8:29)
  • exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, manage your tongue and bear, forbear, overlook much (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • are of one mind with Christ loving and hating what He loves and hates (Phil 2:5)
  • follow after humility and desire to esteem others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4)
  • follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others continually trying to do good (Rom 8:8)
  • follow after purity of heart, self-denial, avoiding all things that draw away from God (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • have a Holy Spirit compelled desire to seek and know God (Ps 25:4, 27:11;Jer. 31:34)
  • endeavor to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Gal 5:16)
  • have a fear and reverence for God wishing to please Him in every aspect of your life (Eccl. 12:13;1 Peter 1:17)
  • crave time with God in prayer and Bible study (1 Peter 2:2;Joshua 1:9)

Life is a continual warfare with sin, the world and the devil.  It is a relentless battle that only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we progress from faith to faith (Romans 1:17), glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18), and strength to strength (Ps 84:7) in our pursuit of holiness.  This is a never ending journey.  We don’t arrive.  We progress to deeper and deeper levels of experiencing God and living a life increasingly consecrated to Him until He receives us into glory where we are then fully perfected. 

God is forever shaping our character as we live a life in pursuit of holiness.    There will be times of trial, temptation, chastisement, and troubles, but a lifetime of blessings and hope as God gives us the privilege of experiencing His grace and mercy, and allows our unworthy lives to be used to bring honor and glory to Him.

In summary, why is the pursuit of holiness so important?  

First the pursuit of holiness is commanded. 

Scripture is clear it is God’s will our sanctification and we are to be holy for He is holy. 

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Peter 1:15-16
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 
16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 

These are commands to be obeyed, they are not optional.  Obedience to pursue holiness and all commands in Scripture is based on our love relationship with Christ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14).  Yes, it would be difficult to find any words more clear on our motivation to obey than those spoken by Christ – “if you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).  Our pursuit of holiness is God’s will, we are called to be holy, and we are compelled to obey these commands by our love for Christ. 

Second, it is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are exhorted to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith.  God was gracious to give us through John the Apostle the First Epistle of John which was written that Christians might know they have eternal life.  Throughout this epistle a life of holiness is exemplified by obedience to God’s commands.  Take some time and review again these pages of affirmation as you pursue a life of holiness.

 2 Corinthians 13:5
5Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 

1 John 5:13
13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

We also must show in our lives the family we belong; that we are members of the family of God, children of the Holy One.  The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are His children.  In the end true saving faith will always show itself by its fruits; it will sanctify, it will work by love, it will purify the heart and give life. 

Romans 8:14
14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 

Romans 8:16
16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

James 2:17
17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Romans 8:10
10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

Third Christ gave Himself that we might be a church and people presented holy.

Ephesians 5:25-26
25Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 

Titus 2:14
14who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

The notion talking of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!–it is “through sanctification of the Spirit.” Are they predestinated?–it is “to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.” Are they chosen?–it is “that they may be holy.” Are they called?–is it “with a holy calling.” Are they afflicted?–it is that they may be “partakers of holiness.” Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more–He breaks its power and its dominion.

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 

Hebrews 12:10
10For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 

As believers we must ask ourselves if we are living our lives in obedience to the command to pursue holiness.   Am I obeying God’s will to give my life fully over to sanctification, being set apart to holiness?  Do I have a yearning to grow deeper in my relationship with God?  If I compared my life today with my life the day I was saved, is there a discernible difference – is my life truly changed – more holy?

You cannot be justified and not be sanctified and you cannot be sanctified without being justified.  They are inseparable, one is never found without the other.  

Just as Jesus’ half brother James proclaimed – “faith without works is dead”. We should not look to tell others of our salvation unless we have also some marks of sanctification. We should not boast of Christ’s work for us, unless we can show others the Spirit’s work in us.  May we keep the key verse of this article continually before us: ” Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  (Heb 12:14)

May your walk with God be ever growing in holiness for His honor and glory Amen.

Author Note:  This series draws heavily on the devotional writings of many great men of God including:  Holy in Christ, Andrew Murray; Bible Holiness, E.P. Ellyson; Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots J. C. Ryle; The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges; The Way of Holiness, S. Olford; Holiness, H. Blackaby.    I have learned much and feel a great debt of gratitude to these devoted men of God.

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  1. David Yarberry Jr
    November 27, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Thank you God for the work you are doing in and through David Tanner. Great blog post. I pray each of us asks God to search our hearts and get rid of that which separates us from him, to empty us of us and fill us with him. I hope every believer spends time in Gods word and prayer. To allow the holy spirit to confirm us to Christ. Christ is the word in the flesh,the truth and life. The truth is Gods word and we are to be sanctified by His word. Peace!

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