What does it take to see the Lord? Were I to suggest that essential for seeing the Lord is holiness, the reaction might be, “that sounds like basing salvation on works.” We very properly recoil from the suggestion that our works have any meritorious role in our salvation – that was something learned afresh at the time of the Protestant Reformation. And yet Heb. 12:14 tells you: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Parallel to repentance, sanctification is never the ground or basis for your justification, but it is something that is an essential part of belonging to Christ. The author of Hebrews is no less clear than Paul that our salvation rests on nothing that we do or are, but only on Christ himself. John Calvin comments on this verse: “Sanctification has especial regard to God. Even though the whole world blazes with war, we must not let go of sanctification because it is the chain which binds us in union with God. . . . No one can see God without sanctification since we shall only see God with eyes that have been renewed according to his image.”
Pursue holiness as you pursue peace. The harvest of righteousness and peace flows from the Lord’s discipline. You are responsible for making every effort to live at peace. This is not peace at any price. Your first commitment is to the Lord.
See the Lord, who is working in you. Certainly your sanctification, your holiness, is motivated by gratitude. Hebrews has just pointed you to the perfect Redeemer, Hebrews 12:2. But if you see justification as God’s work and sanctification simply as your inadequate response, you have missed the point that Hebrews is making. Yes, you are active in sanctification, you pursue holiness. But you do so because God is working in you. Neither works nor even faith are the basis of salvation – the basis is always the perfect obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer. Because holiness is essential to seeing the Lord, Hebrews summons you to strive for it, admonishing you to seek something that God is working in you. Perhaps we fail to delight as readily as we should when we see in the lives of God’s people the growth in holiness which flows out of union with Christ. We have a Scriptural imperative to stir one another (and ourselves) up to good works (Heb. 10:24). “Those who are called to be partakers of God’s holiness must be holy themselves; this is the recurring theme of the Pentateuchal law of holiness, echoed again in the New Testament: ‘Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy’ (Lev. 11:45, etc.; cf. 1 Pet. 1:15d.). To see the Lord is the highest and most glorious blessing that morals can enjoy, but the beatific vision is reserved for those who are holy in heart and life.” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT, pp. 364-365).
See Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. In the glorious scene of the assembly in the Jerusalem above, central is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Hebrews has focused on Jesus throughout his book. Now he calls you to be united with him by faith. Where that faith is found, God not only justifies, he also sanctifies his people. All of your salvation is his work. Where that kind of changed life takes place, people notice. When an automatic response of anger is replaced with self-control, not only is Christ honored, but your neighbors see something of his peace-making work in your life.
Holiness characterizes the Christian both now (in a true and wonderful way) and in eternity (perfectly) – because Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior. To him be the glory forever!