When the Holiness “Gotcha Verse” Bites Back.

Folks in my tribe quote the last part of Hebrews 12:14: Without holiness no one will see the Lord. “Ah-ha,” we say, “you better be ‘holiness people’ or else!”

But too often we fail to cite the first part of that verse, which says: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. (Hebrews 12:14. The proof of holiness that will see the Lord is how we get along with one another. If our “holiness” is not demonstrated by our efforts to “live in peace with everyone,” then even self-proclaimed, “holiness people,” won’t see the Lord. If we are not living up to the holy criteria of Hebrews 12:14, the “ah-ha gotcha” surprise moment will be on us. 

The whole verse (not just the last phrase) is a game-changer. True holiness people make every effort live in peace and be holy (duh!). True holiness people don’t refuse to talk with other followers of Jesus. True holiness people don’t use hot-button trigger words, name calling or derogatory/foul language that contributes to division. True holiness people might not agree on every point, but we look for ways in which we can sit down at a table and seek the Lord together. True holiness people understand that a “holiness” that doesn’t make every effort to get along with others is no holiness at all

That’s not to say disagreements don’t arise. They do. Acts 15 begins with a disagreement among believers and the chapter ends when Paul and Barnabas agree to disagree regarding John Mark. Church work and getting along with people isn’t always easy. Sometimes folks turn their backs on the church altogether and leave or cause trouble (i.e. Demas and Alexander in 2 Timothy 4). We can’t control anyone’s unholy behavior, but true holiness people had better let the Spirit control our behavior. “Make every effort.”

If the evidence of being filled with the Spirit is the Fruit of the Spirit (See Galatians 5), then the demonstration of being filled with the Spirit is making an effort to live in peace with those with whom we disagree. This is true with in-person and on-line relationships. Hebrews 12:14 applies to social media bullies who claim Christ. It applies to pastors tempted to “like” volatile social media posts directed toward believers with whom we disagree. It applies to church leaders who simmer in anger rather than working out issues. It applies to all relationships for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord. No exceptions because without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Our tribe is right in concluding that Hebrews 12:14 is a dangerous verse. When a verse’s outcome indicates that some individuals will not “see the Lord,” it’s serious. No one wants to be the recipient of such judgment, nor should they want their worst enemy to receive that verdict. Jesus said we are to “Love our enemies”? As such, we need to be read Hebrews 12:14 with fear and trembling while holding a mirror and not binoculars. Rather than thinking this verse applies to others, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I making every effort to abide by the holy standard of living in peace with everyone?” If not, then the “gotcha” is going to bite us.