Strive for… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness. That expression is taken from Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for [literally: pursue]… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
This pursuit requires sustained, vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez-faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in a Christian’s life because to be holy is to be like Christ—God’s goal for every Christian.
The word pursue in this context means to strive to gain or accomplish. In Philippians 3:12-14, this word is translated “press on.” In the New Testament it is most commonly translated “persecute,” carrying the word’s common meaning—to track down in order to harm or destroy.
At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical—in direct and unequivocal opposition.
To some, the pursuit of holiness sounds like legalism and manmade rules. To others, an emphasis on grace seems to open the door to irresponsible behavior based on the notion that God’s unconditional love means we’re free to sin as we please.
Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a lifelong pursuit of holiness.