READ : Hebrews 12:14
The most desirable thing in all the world is to see God someday in heaven, and the Bible says that all those who will do that, though they will differ in many ways, will be alike in one crucial respect.
Holiness gives the impression of being dull, unappealing, even boring. People generally don’t lie awake at night thinking up ways to become more holy. If asked the question, “What is your greatest desire in life?” I doubt that very many would respond, “I want to be the holiest person on earth!” We spend a great deal of time, energy and effort to make ourselves more educated, more attractive, and certainly more wealthy. But how many of us are striving to make ourselves more holy?
An Image Problem
Behind the negative popular image of holiness lies a collection of false stereotypes. We think, for example, that holiness means a rigid and mindless conformity to a set of behavioral rules, or that it demands following a tiresome list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts!) Or we picture a holy person as a kill-joy, someone who can’t ever laugh. Holiness is thought to be incompatible with pleasure, happiness and even joy.
Holiness is also equated with hypocrisy and arrogance. We speak of people having a “holier-than-thou” attitude, by which we mean the sort of sickening assumption of moral superiority that looks down its nose at all lesser mortals and is probably phony to boot. Or we think of holiness as the specialized pursuit of a tiny minority of super-religious people. Holy men and women – gurus, saints, mystics, and such – we see them as the spiritual equivalent of elite athletes, with whom ordinary folks like you and me have no more in common than we do with the competitors at the Olympic Games.
But none of those stereotypes about holiness is accurate. People who are genuinely holy are not lifeless hypocrites or sullen spoil-sports. On the contrary, the truly holy are the most attractive, appealing people in the whole world, full of goodness and kindness, bubbling over with delight, a pure pleasure to know and be with. Nor is holiness a hobby for a few religious professionals. It is, rather, the main business of every Christian’s life.
If holiness is so important, perhaps it would be good to ask what it is. The best way I know to answer that question is to say that holiness is what God is like. Holiness refers first of all to God’s goodness, his absolute moral beauty, his utter purity and perfection. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” cry the angels who are closest to his throne. Those angels don’t sing that way just to make the text of their song fit the music, the way we sometimes repeat a phrase from a chorus to fill out all the notes. No, their thrice-thundered “holy” is for emphasis, to draw attention to the primary element in God’s nature. God is holy. For us, to be holy means to be like God.
But that still leaves us just a bit short of full understanding. We can say, “God is holy.” We can speak of his purity and majesty and the splendor of his perfection. We can sing about his goodness, his grace and his love. But those terms are all abstract. It’s difficult for us to know what they might mean in real life, let alone to try to live them out ourselves.
There is, however, someone who does show us just what holiness looks like. There once lived a man who made such an impression upon his fellows that the accounts of his life are still read avidly now some twenty centuries later. His character still attracts admirers and wins praise even from those who do not choose to become his followers. That man, of course, is Jesus Christ. And he remains today, some two thousand years after his death, the ideal of the human race, the supreme model of what it means to be a good person, to be, in fact, holy. But Jesus is much more than just the ultimate human being. He is also the living embodiment of the character and person of God himself.
So if holiness is what God is like, and if God is what Jesus is like, then Jesus is what we will be like when we, too, have become holy. Put most simply, holiness is to live life as Jesus lived. To be holy is to be like Jesus Christ in every way.
Why We must Be Holy
Such holiness, such Christlikeness in character, speech and behavior is an indispensable for salvation. It’s the last of the four indispensables, in fact, the things we absolutely must have in order to be saved. The writer to the Hebrews tells us why this is so in chapter 12, verse 14: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
Holiness is indispensable because holiness, according to the Bible, is the condition for getting to heaven. No one can ever hope to see God without it. One of the greatest things about heaven will be its amazing variety. Every imaginable kind of person is going to be there, people from every tribe and language and race and nation, says the Bible, from every culture, from every economic condition, from every sort of background. What a scene that will be! Rich and poor will be there, brilliant and ignorant, gifted and untalented, old and young, male and female, ancient and modern, but all will be alike in one respect – every single person in heaven will be holy. Holiness is a condition for seeing God. “Nothing impure will ever enter it,” says the apostle John of heaven at the end of the book of Revelation (Rev. 21:27).
It’s not that our holiness saves us, but rather that we cannot be saved without it – an important distinction. God’s grace is what saves us, his pure, unmerited favor toward us for the sake of Jesus Christ. The only way to get to heaven is by faith in Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. I hope you know that, and that you are indeed trusting in Christ for your salvation. But holiness is a necessary condition of salvation for two reasons. First, because our personal holiness is the one thing that proves the reality of our faith. You can’t really have saving faith in Christ without loving him, and you can’t really love him without following him in holy living. And the second reason holiness is indispensable is because God himself is holy. You must be holy if you ever hope to see God, because nothing unholy could ever abide his awe-inspiring presence; as Hebrews reminds us, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
A Crucial Command
Now perhaps we’re ready to listen with sufficient attention again to the command which the writer to the Hebrews addresses to every follower of Jesus Christ, for you notice it is a command: “Pursue peace and holiness, the holiness without which no one will see God.” If you are a Christian, then this command is for you. It’s in the present tense. It could be translated, “Keep on pursuing peace and holiness,” which indicates that holiness is a life-long quest. There’s no sign or evidence anywhere in the Bible that we’ll ever be able to retire from the pursuit, no hint that we’ll actually arrive at the goal in this life. No, we must go on pursuing holiness always, even if we fail to fully reach it. Holiness doesn’t just sort of happen to us if we hang around churches or associate with other Christians. It doesn’t come through a special technique, or by reciting a formula, or by waiting for some kind of spiritual experience, or a blessing to happen to us. Holiness is something we have to work at. It’s true that God’s Spirit is the One who gives us the strength and the power to do the work. It’s also true that whatever advances we make will be due more to his help than to our own efforts. But still, we are the ones who must do the striving, who must continue the pursuit.
What it Takes
How do you do that? It’s no big secret – holiness comes by practicing all the old-fashioned spiritual disciplines, and by making use of what past generations of Christians called “the means of grace.”
Here are some practical, holiness-promoting questions you might want to ask yourself: Do I give myself time for God, time for studying his Word, time to spend in his presence? How can I ever expect to grow more like God if I don’t know what he’s like in the first place? God has promised to give his Spirit to those who ask him. Am I doing that? Do I pray regularly, not just for things from God, but for growth in Christ-likeness, and above all, for more and more for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God? Do I make an effort to associate with the people of God? Holiness grows best when it’s cultivated in the company of like-minded believers. Finally, am I consciously making this the goal of my life each day? Is the focus of my life as I go on with the Lord Jesus “To see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day”?
Personal holiness is the single most precious possession we can have. You’ll lose everything else. But holiness endures. It’s the one thing you can take with you. Greatness will one day be forgotten. Kings and princes, presidents and generals, they and all their works will turn to dust. But those who are holy will shine like the stars. They will live forever in the sight of God.
Few of us will ever be great as the world counts greatness, but we can all be good. And I’d rather be good than great any day, wouldn’t you? You may be happy, you may be well off, you may be healthy, or not. But are you holy? All around, you can watch people striving for pleasure, fame and fortune. But are you striving for holiness? I would remind you of just one simple truth. Without it no one will see God.