Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
Holiness today seems to be a lost concept among Christians. We are so afraid of legalism or judging one another that we emphasize grace to the point of misrepresenting the biblical concept of it.
For some the concept of grace has led them to throw away every standard of righteousness, even dismissing the need for repentance and faith. “No one is perfect” is commonly said to the point that it seems to be the only thing we hold in common, and all that it takes to be included in the family of God is to be another imperfect person. In a vague “God forgives” type of message all standards of righteousness and even decency are dismissed. Sincerity, openness, and acceptance of others – as admirable as these traits are when held in their proper balance – are touted as all that matters.
In living a Christian life, for many, all that they think matters is that they claim to be Christians – they do not think that they are called now to act like Christ. The command, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), though it came from the lips of Christ, is passed over as something unattainable and unnecessary.
In this passage above it says plainly that without holiness we cannot see the Lord. Seeing the Lord is the highest experience imaginable for a human life. Christ said only the pure in heart shall see God (Matt 5:8). So what does it mean to be holy or to be pure in heart?
Holiness means not just to become a better person, or to seek to act nicer. Purity of heart means not just to be less dirtied than others, but to be completely free from unholy thoughts. Holiness in the scripture means absolute sinlessness, just as God is absolutely sinless. In the heavenly vision of Isaiah, the Seraphs flew around the throne of God crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). God loves, but he does so in his holiness. In his holiness he must condemn sinful humanity, but in his love he took the payment of our sins upon himself and died on the cross as our substitute. The only remedy for sin is the substitutionary death of Christ for us.
When we are saved, it is not as if God just ignored our sins and made us part of his family. God went to the extraordinary length of paying for our sins himself through the cross. There and there only is our past atoned for. All that we may do is to repent and believe in Christ.
With our past forgiven, he now commands us to follow him, to be pure and holy in our lives. We read in 1 Peter:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
Well, none of us is perfect, so what happens when we fail? When we sin we should confess that sin to God and trust that he forgives and cleanses us, as his Word says (1 John 1:9-10). Then we should seek to continue to follow him in obedience, growing in our faith and maturing as Christians (2 Peter 1:3-8). It is in the failing, confessing, and rededicating process that we become more mature, that we see more clearly our weaknesses and where we need to mature and grow. But the goal must remain perfection, for that is the only standard that God has given us.
Our growth really is in God’s hands, and he will deal with us as he chooses. In my own life I have noticed how God has brought certain weaknesses to my attention through the years at different stages of my life. For years I may have acted in some unholy way and never thought much about it. Then suddenly God brought the matter to my attention as his Spirit convicted me. This seems to be the way God deals with all of us. So in his graciousness and patience he confronts us of our weaknesses one step at a time.
This is why it is important to stay daily in the Word of God, giving God the opportunity to show us areas of weaknesses. And I believe as long as we are on this earth, this will be God’s method of dealing with us.