What does Hebrews 12:14 mean?
ESV: Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
NIV: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
NASB: Pursue peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
CSB: Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness--without it no one will see the Lord.
NLT: Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
KJV: Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
This passage of Hebrews encourages Christians to "hold fast" (Hebrews 3:6) despite persecutions and hardships. Most of what we face as believers is not as drastic as it could be (Hebrews 12:4), and God uses those experiences to "train" us into a deeper, stronger faith. Prior verses relied on athletic terminology to depict the way we should approach our own spiritual growth (Hebrews 12:11–12).
A common command given in the New Testament is for Christians to seek peace between themselves and others (Romans 12:18; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:13). In fact, this capacity to "get along" is tied closely to our spiritual maturity (James 3:17; 1 Timothy 3:3; Galatians 5:22). This is especially important when it comes to relationships between other Christians. Not only does mutual love serve to build up the church, it is a primary sign to the world that we're disciples of Christ (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14; 4:21).
Along with mutual peace, the writer encourages a life of holiness. Again, this is a common theme of New Testament teaching. Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live godly, righteous, moral lives (2 Timothy 1:7). Sin is always the result of rejecting that power, in some way (1 Corinthians 10:13). Those who persist in sin are proving that they don't have the influence of the Holy Spirit in their lives (1 John 1:6).
At the same time, this verse does not mean we're meant to be saved based on our "good behavior." It is impossible for an imperfect, unholy sinner to stand before God (Isaiah 6:5) — we must be perfectly righteous to be in His presence (Exodus 33:19–20). That exact point will be made later in this chapter when the writer refers to God's display at Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18–29).
That ability to stand in the presence of God, however, is exactly what we gain from Christ's finished work on our behalf (Hebrews 9:11–12; 1 John 3:2). The holiness we need to "see the Lord" comes from Christ, by His grace, and through our faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Striving to live according to that standard should be the natural desire of every saved believer (John 14:15).
Hebrews 12:3–17 builds from a description of heroes of the faith, culminating in Jesus Christ. Those who came before were loved by God and honored by God, and yet they suffered hardships in this world. In this passage, the writer makes it clear that suffering is often God's way of building us up and training us, not necessarily a sign of His displeasure. Christians who respond to trials by seeking God, in faith, can avoid the fate of less-faithful men, like Esau.
Chapter 11 explained the victories of some of the Old Testament's greatest heroes. It also explained their sufferings and persecution. This chapter uses those examples as a ''cloud of witnesses'' to prove that God does not abandon us when we suffer. In many cases, He uses those experiences to ''train'' us, as if we were athletes, to make us stronger. In other cases, it's the same kind of discipline that a child receives from a loving father. Unlike the old covenant, which rightly inspired fear and dread, the new covenant offers us peace. As with any other matter of truth or falsehood, we should cling to what's true, so that we can be part of ''a kingdom that cannot be shaken.''
Hebrews chapter 12 builds on the example of the heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter 11. The main point of this lesson is that these figures endured suffering and hardship, yet held to their faith in God, which allowed them to achieve victory. Chapter 12, in particular, points out that earthly hardship is not a sign of God's displeasure, or abandonment. Rather, it's part of living in a fallen, godless world. And, in many cases, it's a form of ''training'' the Lord uses to mold us into more powerful instruments. This, as with other passages in Hebrews, leads into another explanation of why we should take these ideas seriously, and sets up a few final practical lessons in chapter 13.
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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