Think about this for a moment. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Simply put, you cannot see God without holiness. How many Christians do you know who will acknowledge they are holy? Few, if any, has been my experience. And, I might add, understandably so. After all, God is holy, and Christians are reticent to lay claim to that which is clearly a divine trait (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 99; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 15:4).
So here is the conundrum: On the one hand, we are told that it is hopeless to imagine we will ever see God unless we are holy, while on the other hand, we read that “you alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4). What are we to make of this unsettling arrangement? Is that just another way of saying, “I’d love to have you in heaven but there really is no way for you to make it here”?
If the vast majority of Christians sincerely believe they are not holy, and holiness is a requirement for seeing God, then how do we think we will ever see God? I find the way many believers have decided to solve this problem to be most unfortunate. As a matter of fact, it is pretty disappointing and even shocking. Apparently, many of us believe that death is the mechanism God utilizes to make believers in Christ holy and thereby fit for being in His presence in heaven.
If you are not holy before you die and then suddenly you are in heaven because you died, and belong there…then death must have made you holy! Strange indeed seeing that in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul describes death as something that Christ has conquered (vs. 54-56). Not only that, but he even calls death “the last enemy” (v. 26). If death makes people holy then Hebrews 2:14-15 is nonsensical: “that through death he [Jesus Christ] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
The call to be holy resounds throughout Scripture (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26, Ephesians 1:4; 5:27, Revelation 22:11…to name but a few instances). I realize people associate holiness with God (rightfully so). But we also associate faithfulness with God. Does that mean we cannot be faithful in this life but must wait until death to be truly faithful? What about love? The New Testament makes it clear that “God is love” (1 John 4:8; 16). Does that mean we cannot hope to be loving in this life but must wait until death to open our eyes and hearts to love? Of course not. God is love yet Jesus commanded His followers to love in John 13:34. God is holy too. Why do we think we can obey the command to love but not the command to be holy?
When Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18) did He mean, therefore, that no one could ever hope to be good? Clearly not. He was trying to connect the wealthy young man who called Him “Good Teacher…” to the source of moral goodness…God! Perhaps the goodness Jesus was talking about was merely a synonym for holiness.
Death doesn’t make anyone holy. Being yielded to the lordship of Jesus Christ while consenting to yield to the Holy Spirit’s calling to lead a holy life with God’s help is what makes us holy. Read this word from James very carefully: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). Holiness results when you get close to God. Only God Himself can draw you near Him (John 6:44). Through a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and a humble yieldedness to the Holy Spirit, we are becoming holy.
What a mistake it is to think you are going to see God when you die even though you sided over and over and over again with the vain and self-indulgent philosophies of this world choosing to trust death to make you holy rather than the atoning blood of Jesus under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit. James wasn’t writing to unbelievers when he wrote “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Heaven is not going to be populated by people who found a way to be liked in life. Nor is it going to be the eternal home of those who agreed with the trending tides of culture and society. Rather it is the destination of the holy ones. Those who aligned themselves with God and truth which usually put them at odds with the culture. The ones who selflessly and tirelessly fought “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). The ones who remained “steadfast under trial” (James 1:12).
Don’t count on death to make you holy. Instead, trust in the cleansing blood of Christ and the wisdom of God’s Spirit as He guides you to take the unpopular stands that truth and righteousness call for. May the words of the Apostle Peter ring in your ears now and forevermore:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).