Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14
This verse has been often quoted, but what is this holiness that is being discussed here? Other versions will sometimes render this word differently than holiness, and use instead the word separation or sanctification:
Young’s Literal Translation
peace pursue with all, and the separation, apart from which no one shall see the Lord,
Literal Standard Version
pursue peace with all, and the separation, apart from which no one will see the LORD,
World English Bible
Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord,
English Revised Version
Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord:
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
The context of this verse is tucked in amidst many admonitions alluding to passages from Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Proverbs and Genesis to do what’s right even if being disciplined by God. The believers were encouraged to:
12 …strengthen your limp hands and weak knees. (Isaiah 35:3)
13 Make straight paths for your feet, (Proverbs 4:26) so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and that no root of bitterness (Deuteronomy 29:18) springs up to cause trouble and defile many.
16 See to it that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his birthright (Genesis 25:34).
To seek peace with all men and pursue holiness is what these things are all about. Pursuing holiness involves a separation or sanctification from the things of this world (sexual immorality, godlessness) and being a peacemaker (ensuring there is no root of bitterness, strengthening the weak).
Sometimes we can gain additional insight by finding where else the same form of a word in the text is used in other places in the Bible. In this case, this specific form of this word for holiness is used twice, but in only one other passage.
Romans 6:15-23 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Reviewing all of these admonitions from the letters to Rome and the Hebrews, we see a picture emerging of a holiness that is the fruit or result of conscious and intentional effort at removing sinful practices. Holiness is not some mystical status that is conferred upon believers, but is the result of the believer choosing to become a slave to righteousness, eliminating everything that is unrighteous in their lives. The writer of Hebrews says without this effort, without this separation or sanctification, no one will see the Lord.
As we consider ways in which we can build others up and eliminate unrighteous behavior in our own lives, we then have the promise of being separated out from the rest of the world. Only then can we truly begin to see, understand, and know the Lord.
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