Make Every Effort To Be Holy
Key Verse 12:14
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
We are still talking about the race the apostle told us about at the start. We’re still talking about the Christian life we are called to live and experience suffering in the process. But if we suffer for living the Christian life, the apostle reminds us that our sufferings are neither a punishment, nor a mistake nor a misfortune, but rather they are the love of God for us expressed in holy discipline of those he considers sons and daughters. He told us: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” And his advice was: “Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (7, 11-13) Many of them had become paralyzed with fears and doubts, with discouragement and despair because they were suffering for their Christian lives. So he bluntly tells them: “Pull yourself together. Even if you should suffer for your faith, it’s all meant to help you be a well trained and healthy runner.” This is the same counsel we need to hear today as well. After this the apostle goes on to tell us how we ought to live our lives in this world.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” How beautiful are these words, as if they were part of a glorious heavenly symphony. I can assure you that nothing like them has ever been written by the people of this world. But you can find something like them in the Sermon on the Mount. They are like the beatitudes intended to shape our lives on earth and to make us fit as citizens of God’s kingdom. But I can also assure you that those of you who choose to live by them will not likely achieve fame or fortune, praise or glory in this world. I can assure you that if you live by these words, you will bring upon yourself the contempt and scorn of the world. The world would hate you because you reject its ambitions and schemes and desires, and instead, you choose to live a meek life hidden with Christ in God, content to be an unknown nobody, and eager only to know the Lord and to be known by him, keeping your heart safely fixed upon him. But while the world hates you, you will certainly win for yourself something far better that than any worthless scrap the world can give you. You will gain for yourself the Lord of glory himself. How wonderful it is to understand the beautiful meaning and worth of these words.
Read verses 14-17. In the words of this passage, we can find two things that are vital to our Christian life, to the race we are called to run as the children of God.
First, Your Attitude Towards God. The apostle says: “Make every effort … to be holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” To better understand this beatitude, here is what the KJV says: “Follow … holiness” it says, “without which no man shall see the Lord.” Make every effort to be holy! Follow holiness! But you will first need to understand the meaning of “holy” or holiness”. It means consecrated or “set apart” for the Lord; like Mount Sinai is set apart among the mountains; like the Sabbath is set apart among the days of the week; like the Levites were set apart from among the Israelites; and like the nation Israel was set apart from among all nations. What does it mean that all these things were set apart? Why were people, places or things set apart? Because God was there! Because of the presence of God in their midst! He came down in glory on Sinai and boundaries were set because God was there and so the place became holy. God rested on the Sabbath day and set it apart for himself, and so it was made holy. He chose to dwell among the Israelites, and so they were set apart from all other people as a holy nation. He appeared to Moses in a bush, and Moses had to remove his shoes because that spot became holy ground because God was there. In other words, it is the presence of God that makes something holy. There is only one person in the whole universe who is Holy. Holiness is his nature. And therefore, only he can make someone or something holy by his very presence. No one can ever be holy apart from God. And so when God enters a heart or soul, he brings holiness to that person with him. Therefore, God’s presence in us is holy; God himself is our holiness.
Le me explain it in another way. A room may be bursting with sunlight. But the sunlight doesn’t belong to it. When evening comes, the room goes dark again. It is filled with sunlight as long as the sunlight dwells in it. It is the same with the human heart and soul. The human heart and spirit has no holiness apart from God and his presence. No one can lay any claim to holiness. It is rather the indwelling of God’s light and glory within us. You either have the presence of God in your heart and soul, or you don’t; you are either holy or you’re not depending on the presence or absence of God from your heart. The holy person is that person in whom God dwells. The holier person is that person in whom God dwells more fully. And so is the holiest person; regardless of how poor his intellect is, or how meager his means, the holiest person is the one who is most filled by the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. That’s why the apostle tells us elsewhere: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
Why then does the apostle tell us to make every effort to be holy, or to follow holiness, as if it were something we can have and be? First of all, we are holy and set apart because God himself has claimed us for himself; he has set us apart and consecrated us in Christ Jesus for his own possession. Jesus’ holy blood and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon each and every Christian makes them holy. But the continuous infilling and overflowing of God’s presence in our heart and soul through the Holy Spirit is something that we should be careful to always observe if we want this blessing to mark our lives all the time. There are conditions if the Spirit of holiness is to indwell our hearts and souls.
Firstly, Deny yourself. In other words, deny the self of you. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to the self, that self which was crucified with Christ and put away so that the new you might live by the power of God and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in you. That self was crucified with the Lord the moment you made your confession of sin, and turned your heart to Christ in faith. That self had then lost its power and place in your life, to no longer rule you through sin’s desire. But although crucified, the self of you is still always on the lookout to be acknowledged and to be satisfied even with crumbs of the world’s delights. So make every effort to be holy, tells you to not let your guard down when it comes to the self of you. It will not miss a chance to entice you to enjoy the world a little, to bend your will to it’s a ways a little, to enjoy some comfort, and to receive some praise, even if it praise for the wonderful Christian things you’ve done and for the Christian life you’ve managed to live. The self is very tricky, always trying to pull you out of God’s presence and his grace, always trying to pull you out of the place of humility and love and perseverance and into it’s own corrupt shadows, where you might shine a little brighter than the grace of God in your life. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to the self of you— the yourself. Be always on a vigil to deny it. How can we read the Bible without being deeply touched and convicted at the countless times the Lord calls us to be on our guard, to be watchful, to be diligent, to have self restraint, self discipline, and to embrace self denial as a way of Christian life! How much more then should we be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to guard our hearts and lives, and to have a clear conscience. It’s the way of holiness, and to God’s blessed presence in our lives.
Secondly, submit yourself to God. That too is the way of holiness as well. Submit yourself to God. God is always looking for that part of your hearts where you least resist him. There, he wants to impress his holy presence where your hearts is most open to him. So help the Lord find that place in your heart where you will not resist him too much, where your heart is willing to have him come in and have his way in your life. Work out what the Lord is trying to work in your life. If the Lord is urging you to forgive and won’t give you peace about it because your conscience also is nagging you about it, don’t ignore it— don’t ignore or resist the Lord’s urging in your heart. Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about! The Lord is always urging, pushing us to do the right thing— the holy thing— to forgive— to love— to reconcile with someone we feel has wronged us. The Lord is especially urging us to repent of this sin and that sin; Our hearts know this, even though we resist for one reason or other. Don’t wait to let God into that part of your heart and soul that you know needs washing— cleansing— recovering— growing. Let him in. There is always holiness in humbly opening yourself up to the Lord’s work and his urgency in your heart. Every reason you sense not to submit to the Lord doesn’t come from God. It comes from your enemy who wants to keep you in chains of darkness with secret sins and unbearable burdens and who rejoices at your resistance to God’s grace and love that are ever trying to come into your soul. God wants to make you holy with his presence. Because without holiness you cannot possibly see nor have fellowship with the Lord. So submit yourself to God.
Thirdly, take time to do it. He says “make every effort to be holy”, “Follow holiness”. Make every effort or follow doesn’t mean once or twice according to how you feel or according to your mood swings. It doesn’t mean once or twice if you’re feeling up to it. It isn’t based on your physical condition, if your feeling strong or weak. It means Make Every Effort to be holy. It means follow holiness all the way, to the very end. It also means that you know the way to holiness, so follow that road regardless of how long it will take you to get there. And it will certainly take time if you’re determined to walk in it, if you are committed to the way of holiness and to be holy. Make every effort to walk in it until holiness becomes like second nature to you to walk in. So you and I need to take as much time as needed— and more— in walking in the way of holiness, is vital for the soul. And why is that? So that our heart and soul can learn to turn to God at all times and in everything. There is no more beautiful soul than the soul that in self denial and submission to God, has learned how to turn to God in all things and at all times. Those who are leisurely and relaxed in following the way of holiness, who hardly make every effort to be holy cannot enjoy the blessing of God’s holy presence in their lives. But blessed is the soul that denies itself the world to pursue the way of holiness. And it will see God.
Look at verse 14 again. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” How can we also forget Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) If you had stood next to Moses during his 40 days on Mount Sinai when he saw God face to face, you would not have seen him if you had not been holy. If you had stood next to Stephen when he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the mighty God, your eyes wouldn’t have see anything if you are not holy. And if it were possible for you to enter heaven itself, you would see nothing but darkness round about you, if you were not holy. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Now do you perceive how vital it is for you to make every effort to be holy, to follow the way of holiness in your life! As your head has eyes to see what is all around you, so also your heart has eyes to see what is hidden from the world. And the one condition for seeing God whether in his word, or in nature, or in daily life and especially in prayer, is holiness, brought about by God’s own presence in one’s heart and soul. You and I can certainly see God if we pursue the way of holiness as an Olympic runner runs for the Gold. And we can see him even in the most unlikely and desperate of places and situations.
Second, Your Attitude Towards Others. The apostle begins his words like this: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men”, or “Follow after peace” as the KJV translates it. Once again these words are like the heavenly symphony echoing how we should live as children of the Kingdom. The effect of the Lord’s righteousness in our lives is always peace. (Romans 5:1) If you are holy, you will be at peace with God and you will be at peace with all men as well. What can break such peace in our lives? Peace is broken by sin. But the holy soul knows what to do— the holy soul has learned to take sin to the blood of Jesus for the cleansing and remains at peace. Temptation also breaks the peace that we have. But the holy soul has also learned what to do— the holy soul has learned to put Christ between itself and the first whispers, knocks and site of temptation. Peace is often broken by worries and fears, by frustration, disappointments and displeasure that rage all around us. Many things rise up to disturb the peace we have in Christ Jesus. But for the child of God, the Spirit of Christ in him or her shelters them from the raging storms all around. No human being can possibly be safe from the raging storms of life— the sins, the temptations and the demons— that rage within and without to break the peace. No wonder the world and its people are defeated and experience no peace. But the holy soul that has the Spirit of Christ cannot be touched by the raging storm because Christ himself shelters us.
When you are full of the peace of God, you will naturally become a son or daughter of peace. You will also follow after peace, and make every effort to live in peace with those who call on the name of the Lord. You will make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. You will strive to sow seeds of peace so that you may harvest peace. You will also be like the apostles who gave the blessing of peace wherever they went to serve the Lord and his gospel. Peace a blessing and a blessed thing to have in our lives. We have peace with God and we ought to always be at peace and to be peacemakers like our Lord Jesus. But the apostle tells us to make every effort to live in peace with all men— to follow peace! There are those who are easily angered or offended, who easily lose their peace. There are those who are likely to fall into misunderstanding, and others who make mountains out of anthills. These need all the more to make every effort to live in peace. Don’t engage in quarrels. It always takes two to quarrel, so never be one to start one. Yield to one another in God’s love and holy peace. If you are accused by the evil of others, let God himself do the avenging, and never avenge yourself. Do your best not to offend anyone, nor to be easily offended by others. Let the Lord Reign peace in your heart. Know that the Lord has forgiven you, so that you might be more forgiving and loving. How often we lose peace on account of such things. Listen to the Spirit’s voice who always reigns in peace in the hearts of God’s holy people.
Here’s the best way to maintain the holiness and peace that we ought so diligently to pursue. Read verse 15. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” What an attitude to have especially towards one another as Christians belonging to the same heavenly community! It is a beautiful thing that our common love for the Lord Jesus calls us together and bonds us together into fellowship in Christ and with one another. We are bonded and sealed by his love for us and for one another. That is the essence of a healthy fellowship of Christian men and women. A Christian isn’t healthy if he or she isolates himself or herself from the communion of the saints. When they do, they become desiccated and spiritless. But our fellowship with one another in the Lord is neither for personal benefit nor for selfish reasons. God bonds us in him and to one another in a holy loving fellowship so that we might look after each another; that we might serve one another; that we might help each other and to nurture and grow one another in his grace. We shouldn’t leave each other to each take care of himself or herself, nor should we leave each other for others to do. God calls this fellowship of love so that each one might sacrifice for the good of all. And there are three dangers that would cause such a fellowship of saints to suffer rather than to keep the peace and holiness of the Lord’s presence.
The first danger to a fellowship of believers are the idlers, or foot draggers— those who fall behind. Look at verse 15 again. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God” or as another translations puts it, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” The meaning of the words falls short has the idea of a group of travelers where some in the group lag behind and end up being left behind, never catching up with the whole group. The apostle still has the race on his mind when he says this. We are all together in this, together running the race marked out for us by the Lord. We are all together in this, making our journey in this world towards the end, where our life of faith will finally be rewarded. But let me once again emphasize the togetherness of our journey. As such we greatly influence each other. Those who do not run the race the way the race should be run, that is in the Lord’s way, affect and influence others in many ways. Those who are in the habit of falling behind, stopping here and there to enjoy the world, may cause distractions that hinder others who are running well, but who also begin to fall behind. We must be careful about that. The best way is to fix your eyes on the Lord Jesus.
Of course, each person must answer for his or her own faith. Each Christian must live the life of faith regardless of how difficult or discouraging or seemingly impossible this Christian journey may be. And each and every Christian must fix our own eyes on Jesus, so that our faith may not weaken nor give way to the distractions of this world. So no one must fall short of the grace of God— that is, be distracted from the course of faith and left behind. We are personally responsible for running the race. But we cannot ignore the fact that we are a fellowship of believers and we journey together, and so we have a responsibility to see that no one misses the grace of God either. As mentioned before, it is one of the three terrible dangers that affect the health of a church. Not only when there are some who fall behind, but also when there are those who don’t so much as notice or even care when someone falls behind. When we are selfish and we only care about our own race, thinking only of ourselves and our own walk with the Lord and our own progress, there’s a danger that some might lag behind and we either do not see them or we don’t seem to care! Many Christians communities have suffered ill health because the bond of love grew weak, and they never noticed those who were left behind, until they were long dead and gone. The apostle clearly warns us and encourages us at the same time: “See to it that no one [misses or] falls short of the grace of God”. I really pray that we might mindful of those who fall behind and help them get back in the race.
The second terrible danger to a fellowship of the saints is the bitter root. Look at verse 15 again. “See to it that no … bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” If there is any root of bitterness in someone’s heart, hidden for now, there is no doubt that it will sooner or later raise its ugly face and cause a lot of trouble and great misery to many in the fellowship. Let me give you an example from the Bible. This man Achan, upon the defeat of Jericho, contrary to God’s instructions to keep nothing for themselves but to destroy everything, he secretly desired some items for himself and hid them. It wasn’t the Israelite community that did this, but only Achan himself. But listen to what the Bible tells us about this: “But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things… Achan… took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.” (Joshua 7:1) Achan acted of his own greed and displeasure with what Joshua had asked them to do in regards to the spoils of war. He was bitter at the fact that such beautiful things were devoted to the Lord and should be destroyed. Why would God waste this much needed treasure? Why can’t I keep a little to myself? I did my part in the invasion of Jericho. Don’t I deserve to keep something for myself and my family? So Achan was bitter. And that bitter root in his heart caused not only the destruction of him and his family, but also untold anguish and defeat to the whole Israelite community. When you belong to God’s church family, never think that your words or actions are your own business and no one else’s! What you say and do; what sin you commit; and what bitterness you hold in your heart about the way things are done in the church, will always affect you and your whole Christian family as well. There is no room for bitterness where grace resides. So ask yourself: What are you regretting? What hostility do you have towards someone? What complaints do you carry in your heart? What bitterness do you have buried deep? Don’t wait until it raises itself to cause trouble and to defile you and those you love. Be humble, be prayerful, find that bitter root and root it out. Bring it now to the cross and soak it in the Lord’s abundant grace.
The third danger to the fellowship of God’s people is sexual immorality and godlessness, of which Esau was a type. Look at verses 16-17. “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. Afterward, 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.” Esau, “who for a single meal sold his inheritance.” Aren’t there many such Esaus who do the same thing? For one moment of satisfying the desires of their flesh, they not only put an indefinite hold on their spiritual progress but they jeopardize their own spiritual life as well as everything the Lord has in mind for them to do. We don’t know if Esau lost more than his inheritance rights. But we know that those who walk in his footsteps, who care more for this world and its desires than for God’s blessing in their lives, when they sell God’s blessing and defile themselves in a sexual or godless way, like Esau, they also lose their power to lead, to teach, and to receive and to hand out God’s blessings in the church. Be careful of the choices you make in your life. Some choices are irrevocable. They can’t be changed, as it was with Esau. He wept for it, but nothing could be done to restore what he lost. We have a gracious Christ who loves us and has given us the blessing of his grace. Let’s not sell our birthright but humbly and joyfully embrace it. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Amen.