Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pursuing Holiness

“Pursue holiness…without [holiness] no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV).

This passage of Scripture could very easily cause many Christians to despair of ever making heaven his home because we know intuitively that no person is absolutely holy. The Christian life is fraught with dangers, which trip up even the best believers. In light of this verse, how can one have any assurance of his eternal destiny?

The first clause in this verse is the command to pursue holiness, and the second clause gives the reason one should follow the command. Consequently, the function of the passage is not to suggest that one must earn his right to eternal life by pursuing a life of holiness; rather, it functions as a warning to believers not to give up the pursuit of holiness. The pursuit of holiness becomes an indicator of one’s spiritual life. If one gives up the pursuit of holiness he is revealing his lack of faith in Christ. But, the person who continues this pursuit in spite of the difficulty shows that he does have faith in Christ.

However, understanding this does not necessarily solve the dilemma because believers are often blind to their progress in holiness. John Calvin encourages those who do not see much progress in holiness though they pursue it: “But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due [eagerness], while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the slender measure of success. How little soever the success may correspond with our wish, our labour is not lost when to-day is better than yesterday, provided with true singleness of mind we keep our aim, and aspire to the goal, not speaking flattering things to ourselves, nor indulging our vices, but making it our constant endeavour to become better, until we attain to goodness itself. If during the whole course of our life we seek and follow, we shall at length attain it, when relieved from the infirmity of flesh we are admitted to full fellowship with God.”[1]

Let us not forget, as well, that while believers must pursue holiness, attaining it is not ultimately dependent on human effort but on Jesus Christ. Paul informs believers that “[Jesus Christ] became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification [or holiness] and redemption.”[2] Believers become holy through faith in Christ through the use of the means of grace (prayer, Bible, and worship); therefore, pursuing holiness is actually pursuing Christ. This is the reason the author of Hebrews charges believers to “fix… [their] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”[3]

A believer should not despair of making heaven his home if he is not perfectly holy. One may rest assured of his heavenly destiny if he is pursuing holiness through faith in Christ even if his progress is minimal. However, beware that assurance does not turn into complacency and so turn one from the pursuit of holiness without which he will not see the Lord.

Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church

[1] Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Hendrickson 2005) 3.6.5 A special thanks to John Botkin for pointing this passage from Calvin out to me and inspiring this post. See his article @
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:30 NKJV

[3] Hebrews 12:2 NASB

1 comment:

Ken Clouse said...

In my early Christian life while attending the Assemblies of God Church this was the standard message, "Be ye holy for I am Holy". Drilled into the heads and hearts of the congregation by preachers of the Word of God every week. This preaching is long, long gone in most churches including the one time bastion of holiness preaching denominations like the Assemblies of God, the Pilgrim Holiness, the Free Methodist, the Wesleyan and the Nazarene churches. Why has the message of holiness become irrelevant ? Jeremy, it's good to see some emphasis on this subject.