CLAIM: The author of Hebrews writes, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Many “holiness preachers” claim that we cannot go to heaven without God’s sanctification. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made:
First, holiness preachers often use this passage inappropriately. That is, they use this passage to scare Christians out of their salvation for committing fornication or drunkenness. However, the sin here is refusal to pursue “peace with all men” (v.14) and the inner heart issue of “bitterness” (v.15). How many sermons from holiness preachers focus on sins of omission like those emphasized here? Even if the author of Hebrews was putting a qualification on salvation in this passage (which he isn’t), holiness preachers take the wrong application of this passage.
Second, we have already been made holy (or sanctified), according to Hebrews. Earlier he wrote, “We have been sanctified [hegiasmenoi] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified [hagiazomenous]” (Heb. 10:10, 14). Thus when the author tells us to “pursue” holiness or sanctification, this is because it is already true of us by virtue of our position in Christ. If holiness or sanctification doesn’t come from our position in Christ, then how much holiness do we need before we can “see the Lord”? This would revert to the legalism which the author has been arguing against throughout this entire book.
Third, in this passage, holiness is something we ARE—not something we DO. The Greek term hagiasmon, which is rendered “holiness” (NIV) or “sanctification” (NASB), is a noun in the Greek—not a verb. This is something we are to “pursue,” not something we create or manufacture. Christ is the one who does the sanctifying to us—not the other way around (Heb. 2:11; 12:10).
Fourth, this text is an evangelistic text. Note the context: The author tells the believers to “pursue peace with all men,” not just each other. It would have been easy for these Christians to be bitter when they were losing their property (Heb. 10:32-34) and enduring suffering (Heb. 12:4-13). So the author tells them to pursue peace and avoid “bitterness” (v.15). If they don’t pursue this sort of sanctification, then he writes, “No one will see the Lord” (v.14). Who exactly is he referring to here? Believers in Christ? No, the context refers to those outside the Christian community (“all men”).
Thus this text refers to pursuing peace for the sake of non-Christians. If we don’t pursue peace and avoid bitterness, then non-Christians will not see the Lord in our community.