Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14, NIV)
If Methodism went looking for a bedrock biblical verse, Hebrews 12:14 would be a strong contender for that title. There are some verses that John Wesley might have liked more, but the need for holiness was the driving force that got him up in that saddle day after day.
And so, I find myself wondering what this verse means in 2014 in the United Methodist Church.
For me, this verse, especially when read in the context of the whole chapter, resonates with a tone that we shun. Hebrews 12 takes a stance toward God that we do not. It stands in reverent awe of God. It shudders at the immense stakes of all this. It is the voice of one who stands humbly and meekly before a God beyond our comprehension.
We, for the most part, do not stand where the author of Hebrews stands. We are arrogant. We presume to tell God what is right and just and true. We treat God like a hired servant, here to cater to our whims. We let our democratic impulses invade our theology, informing God that the voters are not buying his program. We lecture God about poor customer service and threaten to take our business to the vendor up the street.
Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
If we believed that, our theology would be undertaken with much less confidence and much more fear. Lives are at stake here. Our God is a consuming fire.
But here is the good news in that. Our God is powerful. Our God is not helpless to save us. Our God is not reduced to merely weeping beside us when we suffer. Our God is stronger than the foes that surround us. The Psalms know this to be true. They are prayers to a powerful and awesome God. They are prayers that speak in anguish when God does not rebuke the wicked precisely because they know in their bones that God could shatter evil like a rod on a clay pot.
A God powerful enough to kill Pharaoh’s child is a God who can save you, too.
The unholy will not see the Lord.
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16, NIV)