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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Without Holiness, No One Will See the Lord
Text:Hebrews 12:14-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

318 - Holy, Holy, Holy

451 - Take Time to Be Holy

324 - God Himself Is with Us                

379 - Lord Jesus, I Long to Be Perfectly Whole

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
Without Holiness, No One Will See the Lord”
Hebrews 12:14-17
The word “holy” is one of the most frequently repeated words in the pages of the Bible. It is a characteristic ascribed to God – that he is holy – and it is also a characteristic we are to have in our lives. The Lord himself repeatedly tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
But there is a great problem separating us from the holiness of our God. The problem is that none of us can attain holiness on our own.  To be holy is to be separate, separate specifically from sin. Yet how does the Psalmist describe our plight? How does the Psalmist describe our true condition?  In the well-known Psalm of David, he writes, Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5). That presents a great dilemma. From the time of our conception we are already unholy.
To be holy means not just to be separate from sin, however, but also it means to be separated to God – to be consecrated to God. Here again, who can meet those criteria? Who among us genuinely seeks first the kingdom of God in all things? Who among us truly loves the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Who among us truly loves their neighbor as they love themselves?
Yet we see the pinnacle of God's grace in that since none of us can attain holiness on our own God provides holiness for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus fully met the requirements for a human being to be holy. Although he lived among sinners, he himself was, and is eternally, separate from sin, being tempted in all ways as we are tempted yet without sin. And it is only through faith in him that we are credited with his holiness. It is through faith in him that we are saved, as we trust the truth of God's word that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
There are some who would end the gospel message there. “We are saved by his righteousness and by his holiness, not ours,” say some. Therefore, they reason, “The way we live doesn't matter. We can take Christ as our Savior, but we don't need to take him as our Lord.”
Yet the Bible speaks of a twofold holiness. There is the one aspect which we have looked at, that the holiness and righteousness of Christ is credited to the account of everyone who by God's grace believes in Jesus Christ. The other aspect of holiness is that which describes a believer's lifestyle. We are to be holy, not only by imputation through faith in Jesus Christ, which is our justification. But we must also be holy by our conduct, by the way we live our lives, which is our sanctification.
If you are no different in what you do and how you act from your neighbor who is an unbeliever, if you say, “I'm saved by grace through faith in the righteousness of Christ so I will live anyway I want,” you are deceiving yourself. In the words of verse 15 you are missing the grace of God. But if you have experienced God's grace through the gift of true saving faith, then you will strive to be holy which includes, in the context of these verses, making every effort to live in peace with others while making holiness your priority.
The Priority of Holiness Over Peace
One of the many great blessings of being a Christian is that we know true peace. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have peace with God, having been reconciled to him through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.
We also have peace with our circumstances, even when they are incredibly hard, and even when we cannot understand why God allows them in our lives. Even at those times of great trial, the true Christian has an inner peace. The true Christian, in all the sorrows of life, can yet take to heart the words of Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And then also we are to have peace with one another. In fact, verse 14 says, make every effort to live in peace with all men.. But did you notice that it also adds, “and be holy”? We are to make every effort to live in peace with all types of people. Certainly, those in our church family. We are to make every effort to live in peace with our neighbors, whether they are Christian or not. The same goes for our associations at work or at school. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). If we have experienced that vertical peace with God, having been reconciled to him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, then we must make every effort to live in peace with others.
But that little statement at the end of the first phrase in verse 14 puts a qualifier on our peace. It says, make every effort to live in peace with all men - and be holy. It is telling us that in our relationship with others we have to exercise priorities. And the first priority, even before peace, is holiness. Holiness is so crucial that the last part of verse 14 tells us without holiness no one will see the Lord.
­Consequently, this verse is reminding us that we are not to have peace at all costs. Although we are to make every effort to have peace with others, we are also to recognize that when we live a holy life there are people who will refuse to allow us to have peace with them.
As we see the rapid decline in our culture, we see clearly where a litmus test for peace with all men – with all people – is whether or not you will accept and then advocate a lifestyle that is directly contrary to the word of God.
Just last month the United States Civil Rights Commission, which advises the president and Congress on civil rights matters, came out with this statement:
“Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
The Commission’s chairman, Martin Castro, a Chicago Democrat, wrote: “The phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”
Can you live in peace with that statement and with those who hold that statement? Will those people allow you to live in peace with the teaching of God's word? Amos put it well when he asked, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3)
When confronted with the option of either having peace with all others or living a holy life – an obedient life in conformity with God's word – we must always choose holiness over peace. Authentic, biblical peace is always based on truth. Any peace that is attempted apart from the truth of God's word is destined to fail because only through faith do we have true peace. As the Lord explained to Isaiah, ...The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 57:20-21)
The Root of Bitterness
Another aspect of true holiness, as described in these verses, is there in verse 15 which echoes Deuteronomy 29:18 as it warns us, See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
That is a descriptive verse, isn't it?  It paints a “word picture.” You have all seen how the roots of a tree can spread and how they can do great damage. The root of a tree can become so strong and reach so far that it can damage the foundation of a house, not to mention the way it can block the sewer lines. A 2009 study at Virginia Tech analyzed young trees less than 8 inches in diameter and found that the ratio of root radius to trunk diameter was about 38 to 1. For example, a 6-inch tree could have roots out from the trunk as far as 19 feet. (Quoted from God's word is telling us that bitterness is like those roots. Bitterness has a way of growing larger and larger. Bitterness spreads within a group and defiles many.
As an example, consider the bitterness of the 10 spies who returned from spying out the land of Canaan and gave a bad report. They acknowledged that the land was fertile and bore abundant fruit. But they expressed their fear of the people who lived there. They spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored… (Numbers 13:32)
Their report reflected bitterness toward God who had brought them to the promised land of Canaan. Numbers 14 tells how that bitterness quickly spread, of how all the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly and said to them, “If we had only died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?…Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4)
Seeing how destructive bitterness is, seeing how quickly it spreads, you might expect that everybody could easily squelch the attitude of bitterness within themselves. But bitterness is a sin problem that we all feel. We all feel at times that we have been mistreated by others and that can build a bitter feeling in us. Or we may feel bitter about our circumstances, even blaming God for them and becoming bitter not only with our circumstances but bitter toward God. And anytime we are bitter, whether against others, against circumstances, or against God himself, that bitterness becomes contagious; it spreads rapidly and defiles many in the process.
What, then, is the best antidote against bitterness? How can we best guard ourselves from the feelings of bitterness? The best antidote against bitterness is a proper biblical conception of the sovereignty of God.
God allowed those people in your life whom you are bitter about so you should seek to be reconciled to them even as you have been reconciled to God. As Romans 12:18 instructs us, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
God has allowed the circumstances that you and I face even when they are so very hard. But instead of becoming bitter and blaming God we are to learn from Job. When his wife complained about the agonizing circumstances that had come into their lives, and encouraged him to curse God, Job replied "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10)
Because Job recognized the sovereign hand of the Lord in all circumstances, in the great and wonderful blessings of life and in the deep valleys of sorrow, he did not become bitter.
I remember visiting with a widow after the death of one of her children. I was concerned that she would be in a deep depression. Losing a child is one of the most extreme agonies of life because it goes against everything that we expect. We expect to die before our children and every parent experiences great sorrow at the loss of a child.
That widow did indeed have sorrow, as would be expected. But there was not a hint of bitterness. There was no question of God's sovereign timing. Instead, she pointed out that in the words of Psalm 139 God has ordained all the days for each one of us to live before one of those days even came into being.
She explained how some people had said to her, “God should have taken you before he took your daughter.” But she added, “Why should I question God's sovereignty? God knew exactly how long he wanted my daughter to live, and I'm thankful for her life and that she is now with the Lord and that one day I will be as well.”  She had great sorrow, but she had no bitterness because she understood the sovereign hand of God in all things.
It has rightly been pointed out that when we face great adversity, whether in relationships with others, whether with our circumstances, or any other adversity, we can either get bitter or we can get better. And the difference is in the “i”. - The spelling of “bitter” and “better” is the same, except for that vowel “i”.
By God's grace, as he sanctifies us, may we not have that root of bitterness, but instead recognize God's sovereign hand and trust him to use the hardships (as we saw last week in verses 4-13) to make us better, as we trust in him for strength, rather than becoming bitter.
A Tragic Example of Godlessness
Verse 16 uses the example Esau to teach us that godly living requires that we avoid sexual immorality and godlessness. Esau is a tragic example of the godless person. As verse 16 points out for a single meal he sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. The inheritance rights were not just related to material wealth. The inheritance rights focused on the spiritual just as much as on the material blessings to be inherited.
God had revealed to Abraham how through his seed redemption would come to all the nations of the world. As the firstborn Esau was, by birth, part of the plan of redemption that God had given to Esau's grandfather, Abraham. But he despised the spiritual blessing and sold it to Jacob for a pot of stew.
We may find it strange that Esau would be so careless with spiritual promises. We might ask, “How could he sell out on spiritual blessings simply for a pot of stew?” But how many others throughout history have done the same thing? And how often have you and I – if we are honest with ourselves – been tempted to do the same?   Immorality and godlessness go together. How often have those who profess Christ been led astray by the alluring temptations of immorality?
As 1 Corinthians 6:18 warns: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (18-20)
The well-known theologian, Augustine, stands as an example of one who sinned against his own body, disregarding for many years the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Although he lived long before another well-known Christian, the hymn writer, John Newton, he would have been able to relate to Newton's statement, that he joined the British Navy so that he could sin to its fullest.
And yet they are two among an innumerable number who were convicted of their immorality and their godless living. They both came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to receive his holy righteousness as a covering – a propitiation – for their sins.
But then they did not stay in their sinful condition, but rather made every effort to live a holy life themselves.  And by way of application, we must do the same. There is no one righteous, no not one. By nature, we are just as godless as Esau. None of us can attain holiness apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ. It is His holiness, not ours, that saves us. But then, having been justified, saved by faith, we must pursue sanctification, that is, spiritual growth in holy conduct.
And not only are we to pursue holiness ourselves but we are to encourage all others to do the same.  Did you notice how in verse 15 it says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God..."? And did you notice verse 16, how it says, "See to it that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau…"?
Those verses are reminding us that we are to encourage our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and all those around us, to be holy in their lives, even as we strive for holiness in our lives. The author of Hebrews is not specifically addressing pastors or elders, those who are appointed by God in the church to oversee the spiritual welfare of his people. Rather he is writing to all Christians. He is reminding each one of us that we are indeed our brother’s keeper. He is reminding each one of us of our responsibility to encourage one another to live a holy life.
We are to do so because holiness is so crucial for each one of us. As our text says, without holiness no one will see the Lord.  The only alternative to holiness is to be godless, like Esau, facing eternal sorrow.
In verse 17 we find him seeking the blessing with tears and yet unable to repent, unable to change his mind. It is a solemn warning that if we reject the call to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive his imputed holiness, and if we reject the command to be holy in our conduct, the time may come when we become so hardened that we will not change.
But may you and I find, as Augustine, John Newton and an innumerable host of others have found, that God's grace is far greater than our sin. May we find, as they found, that the holy righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed – credited – to the life of everyone who believes in him. And then may we also find as they did, that having believed in him, we eagerly and joyfully strive to live holy lives of gratitude for what he has done! Amen.

                                           - bulletin outline -

          ...without holiness, no one will see the Lord. - Hebrews 12:14b

                     “Without Holiness, No One Will See the Lord”
                                             Hebrews 12:14-17
I.  We are holy by imputation as the holiness – righteousness – of Jesus Christ is
    credited to all who have true saving faith in Him. Yet as believers we are called
    not to miss God’s grace (15a) but to be holy (sanctified) in our conduct as we:
      1) Make every effort to live in peace with others, while keeping holiness as
           our priority (14; Romans 12:18)
      2) Squelch bitterness (15; Deuteronomy 29:18)
      3) Avoid immorality and godlessness (16; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
II. Applications:
     1) No one can attain holiness (14b) apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ.
         It is His holiness, not ours, that saves us (1 Corinthians 1:30)
     2) Having been justified – saved – by faith, we must pursue sanctification –
         our spiritual growth in holy conduct (1 Peter 1:14-16) and encourage it
         in others (15a, 16a)
     3) The only alternative is to be godless, like Esau, facing eternal sorrow (17; Hebrews 10:31)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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