Today we’re hiking through an apparently simple (but actually deep) paragraph of directives: four pithy instructions for making it to heaven. We could skim these short verses, but let’s not. Let’s take a closer look.
Here are the first two: Make every effort to live in peace with all men, and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)
In our massively divided world—and I’m writing now in looming dread of the upcoming 2020 Presidential election—the command to (strive to) live in peace with everyone seems next to impossible. I’ve never been strongly political, and I’m not even American. But what’s going on south of our Canadian border stirs up so much antipathy and dread I can scarcely talk about it…unless the person I’m talking to see things from a similar perspective.
My husband and I are not seeing the same picture, as we’re not listening to the same news. We’ve never had political arguments before, but these days are different. I get so worked up I have to leave the room. We believe that God is in absolute control of who wins and what comes next. But it scares me to see the anger that flares when we land on this triggering topic.
If that’s how it is in my little household, I can only imagine what it’s like on a vaster scale, in a country at war with itself. I lean left and my husband leans right, but those differences have never divided us like they do today. So what is a Christian to do? In our case, we agree to disagree, but our feelings burble below the surface. We are powerless to do anything but pray, and yet prayer is the most powerful force on earth. I refrain from stirring the waters on Facebook, though I do make my opinions known from time to time. I’ve only unfriended one person for their deeply biased posts, but must confess I rarely read posts that support the current president.
As Christians, we belong to a greater kingdom, a kingdom governed by absolute truth, peace, righteousness, and love. We’re commanded to pray for our leaders, that we may live peaceful lives under whatever governments God is allowing to rule. We’re to obey and respect those in authority over us, unless their directives go against our faith and conscience. We’re to pay our taxes, and love our neighbors.
Even writing these words calms my spirit.
Perhaps the greatest command in these circumstances is to pray for peace. And to not let our minds be governed by fear or hatred. This calls for faith in a God who always knows what He’s doing, especially when we can’t see it.
Be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.
Are you holy, set apart? Are there secrets about your life that no one knows? Do you consciously strive to keep your thoughts pure, free from envy, lust, worldliness, and/or a critical spirit?
No one is perfectly holy, apart from God. If we’re in Christ, we’re covered with his holiness—hallelujah! But this verse tells us we must also strive for personal holiness, on an ongoing basis. If we’re careless about our inner life, our secret vices or attitudes, the consequences are dire: we will not see the Lord. We will not be saved.
Holiness is vital.
The next twos directives instruct us to look after one another:
See to it that no one misses the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12: 15)
The obvious premise here is that we need to know each other well enough to recognize a spiritual problem. And then be brave and loving enough to address it.
How can we “miss the grace of God”? I can think of two ways. One is to forget or diminish the fact that we are saved by grace, and thus resurrect the lie of self-reliance: that we can earn our way to heaven. A believer who is constantly anxious, self-castigating, and/or driven to perform—through serving, evangelism, church busy-ness, whatever—could be suffering from this trap. Even in our imperfection, we should be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, including love, peace, and joy. I spent many years of my earlier Christian life always feeling like I wasn’t good enough. Only later did I realize that my comprehension of grace was lacking—I knew the words and verses, but my heart hadn’t fully grasped it.
The other way to miss the grace of God is by taking it too much for granted, something Jude warns about: … godless men, who change the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into a license for immorality…(Jude 4). Grace is meant to call us into joyful, grateful obedience. It is NOT meant as a convenient cover for blatant, unrepented sin. Those who think they can live any old way, confident that God’s grace is stronger than their sin, are self-deluded. Sexual immorality—defined in the Bible as ANY sexual activity outside of marriage– is roundly condemned throughout the New Testament. Even if our entire world culture says otherwise.
Our final directives in this passage drive the point home:
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Heb.12: 16-17)
The link between sexual immorality and godlessness, as exemplified by Esau, is striking. Esau made a split-second decision, based on his earthly appetite, that had eternal repercussions. The entire bloodline leading to Christ was altered by his short-sighted foolishness. In the same way, the decision to allow sexual immorality into one’s life—whether it’s with someone we’re dating, lusting over, engaged to, or being enticed by (to say nothing of more unsavoury scenarios)—is a potentially fatal step. We may succumb or indulge, thinking we’ll back up later and repent. But as Esau shows us, once our heart is hardened by sin, repentance may be impossible. Tears and regret don’t substitute for genuine repentance, and God always knows the inner state of our hearts. He sees how we rationalize and flatter ourselves as being exceptions to His definition of morality.
My last question: Have you ever confronted a fellow believer over sexual immorality or godlessness? According to this and other passages, it’s part of our responsibility to each other. These conversations are never easy, but failure to do so can have dire consequences. In fact, every command in these four little verses has dire consequences if we ignore them. So let’s pay attention!
Categories: Hiking in Hebrews