Summary: If we desire to know God, we must declare war on sin.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about seeking God. What it means to pursue God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And why it’s necessary to do so; why it’s not only desirable and beneficial, but even essential, that we continue striving for God throughout our lives. Last week, we looked at the need for personal holiness in our quest. We saw that in order for us to know the Lord, we must be committed to a life of obedience and purity, in our thoughts, and attitudes, and actions. Our minds, and hearts, and hands must all be dedicated to serving God rather than sin. As the author of Hebrews tells us, we must,
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." – Hebrews 12:14, NIV
"Without holiness no one will see the Lord." Now listen carefully. It doesn’t say, "Without holiness, only the people who go to church, and teach Sunday School, and work in the nursery, and sing on the worship team will see the Lord." It doesn’t say, "Without holiness, no one will see the Lord, unless they’ve been baptized, or unless they’ve made a profession of faith. Then they can see the Lord without holiness." It doesn’t say that. Nor does it say, "Without holiness, no one will see the Lord unless they are convinced that they are saved; unless they’ve had an experience which they believe was a conversion experience. For those people, the holiness requirement is waived." No. It says, "without holiness no one will see the Lord." Period.
And just in case you think this is referring to positional holiness; that it refers to our legal standing before God, rather than to our own conduct, look at the verse again: "Make every effort to live in peace with all men." "Make every effort" to be holy. It’s something we have to do.
In contrast, the righteousness of Christ, which God credits to us when we believe, doesn’t require "effort." All it requires is faith, belief, trust. Our salvation, our justification, in which God declares us legally just and righteous on the basis of faith in Christ, does not require effort. It is not by works. All it requires is that we acknowledge our sin before God; that we confess it, and repent of it, and turn to Christ. That’s all. It is an instantaneous, one-time, never-to-be-repeated transaction. A changed life is not a prerequisite. All that’s required is faith and repentance – agreeing with God about our sin and coming to Him for forgiveness and eternal life. That’s what Paul is referring to when he writes, in Ephesians 2:8-9,
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast." – Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV
If all that’s so, then why am I beating the drum for personal holiness? If all that’s required to be saved is faith, then why do I say that holiness is necessary and essential? Because of the very next verse in Ephesians, verse ten:
"For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." – Ephesians 2:10
That’s the purpose for which God called us to Himself – to do good works. And God’s purpose will not be thwarted. Those whom He has remade and recreated in Christ will live holy and obedient lives. Those who don’t are showing that they have never experienced this fundamental change. They have never experienced the new birth. They may have responded emotionally to the preaching of the gospel; they may have gone forward in an evangelistic meeting; they may have professed faith in Christ; they may have been baptized; they may have joined a church, and attended every Sunday for years and years, and served on the missions committee, and tithed their income – but if there’s no personal holiness, then there’s no genuine faith. And they are not saved.
That’s what the Bible means when it says that a tree’s fruit gives evidence of what kind of tree it is, and of whether it’s alive or dead. Listen:
"In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." . . . People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." – Matthew 3:1-2, 5-8 NIV