Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
“Be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
Holiness is where we’re headed. We know, of course, that none of us can get there in our own right. We need the grace and strength of our great High Priest, Jesus himself. In him, “we approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Praise his name!
But, having received mercy and grace, we are now called to engage our own will to step more fully into the holiness that has been won for us.
In that pursuit, we often immediately think of avoiding the high profile “sins of the flesh,” those that are rooted in our base appetites, tempting us to fulfill what is contrary to the will of our Lord. Esau provides us with a cautionary tale, who, for the sake of a single meal, set aside his own inheritance. His appetite got the better of him. He embraced it at the expense of the blessing of God. Don’t do that, the author says, linking it specifically with the pursuit of sexual immorality. That craving, in all its forms, can so easily lead us astray from the holiness that the Lord wants to work within us. Don’t go there.
But the call to holiness involves much more. Indeed, this passage starts by focusing instead on sins that are simpler and easier to ignore – like relational sins. “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone,” the author says. Doing the opposite moves us away from holiness – we focus on building factions, being partisan, stoking divisions, fueling fury, keeping track of offenses. We might tell ourselves that we are simply standing firm in truth and rallying others to do the same. In fact, we might take pride in our divisions. How many churches have split in the process? How many neighbours, co-workers, family members, and dear friends have been separated by prideful partisanship? How much turmoil in communities and nations has resulted?
Certainly, there will be times we need to hold to truth regardless of relational consequences. But, “make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” It is truly a sign of holiness. Broken relationships are not.
What do we do, then, when peace is broken? The author has an immediate response: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Rather than being satisfied with factions, we are to extend God’s grace to those around us, on whichever side of the aisle they may be. It’s crucial, for otherwise bitterness itself can take root. Which moves us further away from the holiness the Lord intends to work within us.
In a world of ever-increasing factions and strife – so often leading to deep hostility and violence – followers of Jesus are called to be different. Radically so. We are called to holiness – in every way. In our appetites and behaviours and sexual ethics – yes. But also, in the peace we keep pursuing, even amid issues that divide.
Or, to put it another way, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, you who laid down your life for your enemies: Work your grace and peace in me. Let me live your holiness. Shape me after your own heart in every aspect of my life. To your glory.
Reflect: What aspect of holiness is the Lord wanting to work in your life at the moment? Talk to him about it again. Put it into his hands. Ask for his Spirit’s power.