The Pursuit of Holiness: Hebrews 12:14

The Pursuit of Holiness: Hebrews 12:14 August 28, 2023

What the church needs now is more holiness, not another license to sin in the name of love. It grieves my heart when I hear well-recognized ministers and televangelists speak about God’s love and grace while at the same time remaining silent about sin and the pursuit of holiness. The gospel should always have the inviting message, “come as you are,” but this does not mean that it should promote the message, “remain as you are”! I stand convicted by a passage I read this morning that sets the record straight:

The Pursuit of Holiness 

running the race of sanctification
The Pursuit of Holiness (“run beach ocean” via

In the letter to the Hebrews, the author gives five different warning messages to the believers, encouraging them not to fall away from faith. In the midst of the final warning, this author writes, “Pursue peace with everyone and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).* As we read on, the context is clear that this refers to believers entering into the heavenly kingdom at the end of our metaphorical footrace in this current life. In applicable terms, this means that if your life does not exemplify the pursuit of holiness, you will not see the Lord in his future kingdom.

G. L. Cockerill rightly articulates holiness here as “not merely a one-time gift, but instead a continual living in the cleansing from sin and resultant access to God provided by Christ for the community of the faithful” (Epistle to the Hebrews, 634). This is the gospel 2.0, which shows that it is not enough simply to hear the gospel about Christ and believe it, but that belief must be demonstrated by a change of lifestyle. It means that we pursue holiness, that is, sanctification, and be transformed by breaking free of sinful behaviors that hinder our spiritual journey, as the author of Hebrews confirms (Heb 12:1–2).

If we think we will make it to God’s kingdom but not turn away from our sins, Hebrews 12:14 forces us to think again. It has a way of unsettling our complacency with sin by shouting at us that “the sinner’s prayer” we confessed a long time ago was not enough. Our parroting of the words, “Jesus, come into my heart,” will not suffice. The confession we made before a priest last year will not do. This verse is a haunting reminder that obedience must exemplify our faith (Romans 1:5). The true believer must take seriously the saying,Let everyone who names the name of the Lord keep away from wrongdoing” (2 Timothy 2:19b).

Sin is More than Merely Social Inequity—It Includes the Daily Way We Live our Lives

Sin is sometimes redefined these days into all things pertaining to justice and equality, so that the minister’s voice has become virtually indistinguishable from Hollywood celebrities. To be sure, standing up against social injustices is a good thing (that is, real injustice and not media hype and manipulation). But let us not kid ourselves that this is the only sin on the block. There are numerous passages against personal sins that afflict people on a daily basis, and these sometimes have a tendency to be ignored and swept under the rug rather than preached over the pulpits.

I am not referring to Mosaic law either but the New Testament, which often warns against committing sin and being enslaved by vices. Those whose lifestyle is characterized by such things will not inherit God’s kingdom, including those who claim to be Christ’s followers. Such sins are too numerous to mention, but they include, for example: adultery, fornication, sexual perversions, envy, jealousy, greed, stealing, deceit, slander, arrogance, selfishness, dissensions, drunkenness, enmity, abusive behavior, and of course, idolatry, which in essence is worshipping and serving things created rather than the Creator (see, e.g., Romans 1:21–32; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 5:9–11; 6:9–11; 10:5–11; 2 Timothy 3:2–5; Mark 7:20–23; 2 Peter 2:12–15; Jude 4–8; Revelation 21:8).

Now of course, we cannot resist sin on our own; that is one reason why the Holy Spirit is gifted to us—to empower us to overcome sin and be holy.

Jesus and Sinners

Yes, Jesus was accepting of sinners, and his opponents criticized him for hanging out with them (Mark 2:15–16; Luke 7:34; 15:1–2). But we should not think for a moment that Jesus let them remain as they were without challenging them to be transformed—his purpose was to seek and save the lost (Mark 2:17; Luke 15:3ff; 19:10).

We learn an important lesson from Jesus here. We are to welcome and show love to those with sinful lifestyles. At the same time, we should care for them deeply enough to encourage and lovingly warn them not to remain in that lifestyle. As well, I must add that believers should love them enough to walk them through the process of being free from their addictions and sinful lifestyle.

The same Jesus who is attributed as saying, “You must be born again” (John 3:3) is also remembered to have given a sampling of sinful activities that his followers are to resist, akin with the vices already mentioned (see Mark 7:20–23). Jesus expected his followers to be holy. Again, this time in Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

To Whom It May Concern

This message, I hope, is relevant not only for seekers and laity but especially for ministers, pastors, priests, televangelists, teachers, and any other worker who has an influence on church members and prospective church members, especially those who work with the next generation of Christian leaders. Need I remind you that you will stand before God and give an account for what you teach and preach? “I say to you that every negligent word which people will speak, they will render an account for it on judgment day. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37; cf. James 3:1–2).


* My own translation. An alternative way to translate Heb 12:14 is: “Together with all pursue peace and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”: Gareth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Eerdmans, 2012), 633.

About B. J. Oropeza
B. J. Oropeza is Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Azusa Pacific University and Seminary. Among his many publications are Churches Under Siege of Persecution and Assimilation: The General Epistles and Revelation (Cascade), In the Footsteps of Judas and Other Defectors: The Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Writings (Cascade), and New Covenant Commentary on 1 Corinthians (Cascade). You can read more about the author here.

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