Question from a Site Viewer
Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” The “pursue peace” part is connected to the verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the children of God.” The “holiness” part in the Sermon on the Mount is where it says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” You cannot see God unless you are his child, so pursuing peace with all people and holiness are both needed to see the Lord. So, how much can God’s grace really save?
For example: a person hurts (in some way) a lot of people thinking, “I will accept Christ some other time; I don’t want to seek reconciliation with all those people; I don’t want to pursue peace.” And some years later he chooses to accept Christ. By then it has to be too late since he has violated Hebrews 12:14 and can’t be forgiven since he willfully refused to obey and seek reconciliation with those he had hurt. Remember the parable of the talents where Jesus called wicked the servant who didn’t use his talents! And also Jesus said that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the will of his Father. He further said the the person who didn’t prepare himself or do His will when he came back would be beaten with many stripes. To say that Jesus would accept a person who had done such things is to say that Jesus contradicts Himself. It seems as though God’s grace isn’t really enough.
God’s grace can save the vilest of sinners. Paul, the great apostle, states that Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom he was chief (1 Timothy 1:15). But he said in the preceding verse that the grace of the Lord was exceedingly abundant. The grace of Christ saved the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-43), a person who was described as a robber (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27) and a criminal (Luke 23:32, 33, 39). The grace of God saved wicked King Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-13). God’s great desire is to redeem sinners from the realm of Satan and to bring them into the kingdom of His Son. He has more pleasure over a sinner who repents than over 99 who do not need repentance (Luke 15:7). He came to save sinners. Grace will save anyone who comes to Christ. Even those who initially rejected Christ can turn to Him and be welcomed. This is the story of the prodigal son. I know, for those in the elder son’s situation, such does not seem fair that the ones who deliberately lived their lives away from God would be welcomed back into the Father’s embrace after wasting their lives pursuing sin. But such an attitude is not the attitude of the Father. The Father wants everyone to come, and especially those who have disdained Him and gone astray. He does not want any to perish. To the extent that such does not seem fair to us, we must remember that we all stand before Christ because of His grace. The one who comes in the 11th hour gets the same payment as the one hired at the beginning of the day (Matthew 20:1-16).
I suspect what you struggle with is the attitude I have found in some that they know they should turn to Christ but they deliberately choose to live their lives as they want with the idea that at the end of their lives they will repent and thus gain heaven. I fear greatly for anyone who has such an attitude. One never knows how hard the heart will be at the end. Now is the time to turn and repent. Those who intentionally delay may find that at the end they have no desire to repent and will be forever lost–a tragic ending.
But, I will quickly add, if one does at the end truly repent and turn to Christ, then we should rejoice along with heaven itself. Such repentance cannot be simply a light-hearted matter where there is no regret for past sins. God looks on the heart to see if there is true repentance.
You reference Hebrews 12:14. I believe that is a command for believers. The unbelievers have no power to pursue peace and holiness, as they are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2). Sinners by nature sin. Believers, by nature, will pursue peace and holiness. No one can pursue Christ and not pursue peace and holiness, because He is peace and He is holy. So, if one is not pursuing peace and holiness, they are not pursuing Christ. If one truly repents, then they will pursue peace and holiness because repentance involves turning to pursue Christ.
Christ does not contradict Himself. But Christ has made it clear that He came to save sinners. He has saved many who have done horrible things. He saved David, who committed adultery and murder. He saved tax collectors and sinners. He saved harlots. He saved Paul, who persecuted the church. Christ Himself said that He came to call sinners to repentance. So, we must be careful not to think that our righteousness makes us acceptable before Christ. Always, we stand in His grace because of His righteousness. It is when we were dead that He saved us by grace (Ephesians 2:1-5). It is while we were going astray that He took our iniquity upon Him. He came to save sinners.
The examples of the parable of the talents, the ones who do not do God’s will, and the ones who refuse to reconcile with others do not undermine the centrality of Christ’s message to save sinners. In Jesus’ parable, the person who buried his talent never repented, even for a short time. He is not like a person who at the end repents. The person who does not do God’s will in Christ’s teaching never repents. But, as Jesus points out, the one who initially refuses but afterwards does the will is accepted (Matthew 21:28-32). And, as Jesus said, the work of the Father is that we believe on His Son (John 6:29). The only question is whether one ultimately turns, whether as the thief on the cross at the end of life, or earlier in life. Jesus will accept all who truly come to him. And those who come to Jesus will have a heart for reconciliation.
As I said, I pity those who deliberately turn away. Those who know and turn away are in a more precarious situation than those who have never heard (2 Peter 2:20-22). Although when they initially turn away from God they may think they have outsmarted God; what they have done is robbed themselves of the joy of the Spirit here in this life and have pursued a life of hardening their necks to the point that they are in danger of being destroyed without warning. They stand on the precipice of hell and do not know it.
I hope this helps explain what we see as the Biblical teaching. God always desires repentance and if there is true repentance, His grace will save. That is His character. Mercy will triumph over justice when given a chance. But without true repentance, there is no hope.
May we all share the heart of Christ that sinners be saved.
a fellow pilgrim,