Online Bible Commentary
Make Every Effort to be Holy
Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 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. 16 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. 17 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. (NIV)
The Book of Hebrews contains five warnings concerning missing out or neglecting our salvation. Hebrews 12:15-29 is the last of these warnings. Previous warnings were found in 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:20; and 10:26-39. The fifth warning begins in this passage, with the words “See to it” (v. 15a). The warning is not to miss “the grace of God” (v. 15b).
This letter is written to Hebrews who claim to be Christians. The writer, likely Paul, knows better than to believe all these claims. He knows that there are wheat and tares among those who claim to be Christians (Mt. 13:24-43). There are true Christians, the wheat, and there are those who may look like Christians, the tares. In the wheat field there are tares, darnell weeds, that grow up among the wheat and look like wheat. Only God knows the true Christians from the look-alikes. So, in writing this passage, Paul is acknowledging that there are some tares in the church. He is warning them to not miss out on their salvation, and the true Christians to not to be influenced by them.
He is warning to not let these tares, these “bitter roots” (v. 15c) “cause trouble and defile many” (v. 15d) inside, and outside, the church. He is warning against the tares turning others away from Christ, because of their testimony. Their testimony, both verbal and lifestyle, may turn others away from Christ because that testimony is not Christlike. It is lacking in “peace” and “holiness” (v. 14a). The literal translation of the Greek of verse 14a is “Follow peace with all, and holiness.
”Holiness is evidence of the Holy Spirit living in a Christian and peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). “Without holiness” (v. 14b), the presence of the Holy Spirit, one is not a Christian.
When a person becomes a Christian he is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. He is set apart for God. The process of being set apart, or growing in holiness, is called sanctification. The Christian goes through three stages of sanctification.
The first stage of sanctification occurs when the believer receives positional sanctification upon becoming a Christian. This means that in the eyes of God he is now sanctified forever. Once God begins this good work, He will be sure to finish it.
The second stage of sanctification is practical sanctification. This is the stage of progressively becoming more holy as we live a life in obedience to God by allowing the Holy Spirit to live through us.
The third stage of sanctification is perfect sanctification. This is realized by the Christian when he gets to Heaven and is free from the presence of sin forever. He is then perfectly holy.
The stage of holiness that the writer is referring to in this passage is that of practical sanctification. He is warning the Christians to endure in becoming progressively holy. He is warning them to resist the influence of the look-alikes. In verse 16, he brings up examples of disobedience to avoid, such as being “sexually immoral”, or “godless” like Esau.
Esau was godless, not Christlike, when he allowed his hunger, his physical gratification, to cause him to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. His younger twin, Jacob, instead received the birthright, and the blessing of becoming a great nation, Israel. Esau was “rejected” (v. 17a), left in a jealous rage, and founded the Arab nation. Israelites and Arabs have been fighting ever since.
Once Esau was rejected “he could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (v. 17b). Once one dies in rejection of God, one "can bring about no change of mind". It is too late at that time. He will miss out on salvation.
So the warning is to not miss out on our salvation, and to not let those who do influence us to follow their ways. Christians should be progressively holy. We should be more Christ like every day. We should be allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us, becoming more holy as we do. We should be living a life of obedience to God. We should make every effort to be holy.