(Heb 12:14) Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
As I studied the passage mentioned above through the years I came to the conclusion that holiness is a real important issue in the life of the believer. Our holiness matters. It doesn’t save us but it is a result of knowing Christ. I came to understand the Hebrews passage in light of something Jesus said during His sermon on the Mount.
Mat 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees and scribes were no slackers in trying to obey the law. But their obedience and performance of it seems to be a bit off kilter as a matter of the heart. In fact the passages following the quote above signify a deeper understanding of the Law. The issue isn’t that I have never committed physical adultery but that Adultery is a matter of the heart just as is the issue of cursing a brother and hating someone being equivalent to murder.
Does our righteousness matter? Of course we can’t measure up but we start to see things differently and obey Christ and do righteous deeds so that he may be Glorified instead of us trying to be holy for our glory alone and justification. Our Holiness Matters. But it is a matter of the heart.
I think Jesus shows us a difference between the righteousness of the Pharisee and that of the just in the following passages.
(Mat 6:5) And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
(Mat 6:6) But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
The difference is a matter of the heart. Holiness matters. Without it we need to be cautious.
Let me add to that from the Westminster Confession of Faith to see if it can illuminate us any farther.
Of Good Works.
I. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.
II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
IV. They, who in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
V. We can not, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life, at the hand of God, because of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins; but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they can not endure the severity of God’s judgment.
VI. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
VII. Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.
Our righteousness is important as it is a fruit of the Spirit. Without holiness of this sort there is much to be worried about if we examine who and what we are. This is one of the reasons we are told by Saint Paul to examine ourselves at the Lord’s Table in 1 Corinthians 11 and in 2 Corinthians 13:5. In fact Jesus basically says the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount which I spoke of before. Here are the two quotes.
2Co 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
Mat 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Mat 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
I would caution at the same time that we must not compare our holiness, or ability to perform against our brothers capabilities. That is dangerous. St. Paul tells us this here.
2Co 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
We all are babes when we come to Christ and are only able to digest so much. We all are different and mature differently. Each of us have different issues. Some of us have deep sin and deep inclinations toward different kinds of sin. Some are much harder to overcome if we have participated in particular sin. Everyone starts off in the faith with different struggles due to our involvement with different kinds of bondage to sin. Deliverance is of the Lord and we are to work out our salvation. That will look very differently for some than others. But God will do things and he will pity us as his children.
Through the Years Psalm 130 has become important to me.
Psa 130:1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.
Psa 130:2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
Psa 130:3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
Psa 130:4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
Psa 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
Psa 130:6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
Psa 130:7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
Psa 130:8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
I hope this helps.