“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15; NIV).
While recently studying these two verses of the Bible, I was challenged by new insights, some of which I share here.
Looking at the context from the beginning of this chapter, the sanctification of our souls is a much more dominent theme than I noticed in the past. Faith is defined in the previous chapter eleven. This chapter twelve lays out specifics of how faith is lived out.
First, Jesus is the “founder” AND “perfector” of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2, ESV). The Passion Translation expresses it as, “Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection” (TPT), i.e. completion. There is a beginning and completing to faith in Christ. Believing in Jesus at a conversion experience begins a process of completing faith’s work the remainder of our lives.
Secondly, verses 4 - 11 speak of growing as children grow in their Father’s (parents’) care. Growth involves change and stretching of what is, into what it needs to become. The growth process requires discipline. A commitment to this kind of change brings about joy and peace.
Now to verses 14 - 15 quoted above. Sanctification is explicitly mentioned “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Without completion of faith in Jesus through the sanctification process (change and growth through discipline toward holiness) we have no faith at all. This ongoing change is to be pursued, intentionally sought, and not merely expected to happen on its own. Moreover, this process is intrinsically linked back to our conversion to faith in Christ, and forward to establishing the conditions for our inner peace.
The phrase “pursue peace with all men” is obviously an exhortation to relate to people on friendly terms whenever possible. But a deeper meaning struck me as I did a word study on the use of the word “peace” in the Bible.
Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is not merely a feeling of self-satisfaction, contentment, security, or harmony with external worldly circumstances. The Webster’s 1828 dictionary explains the definition of peace as, “ a state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance or agitation.” The Bible uses the term “peace” most often as a way to describe our inner (heart) condition before Almighty God. Authors in the Lexham Theological Wordbook point out, “In the biblical writings, peace is the wholeness that comes as a result of alignment with God’s creative and redemptive purposes. … Peace occurs not only in interpersonal relationships, but also in ethnic and political relationships. Peace also carries a cosmic connotation, in which all aspects of creation, both human and non-human, should exist in harmony with each other. Peace is thus the ideal of creation that God’s redemptive activity seeks to restore. …. The flourishing existence of creation described in Gen 1–2 shapes how peace is understood throughout the rest of the Bible. Peace involves well-being. …. ultimately peace comes as a result of Jesus’ work and thus is a gift given by God. Ephesians describes Christ creating a new humanity by healing the divisions between Jews and Gentiles and making peace (eirēnē) between them (Eph 2:14–15)—and by being “our peace (eirēnē)” ” (Lookadoo, J. (2014). Peace. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).
God’s purposes and plans for peace are far greater than our personal experiences, however, our inner life is very important to God. So important that he commands complete surrender of our ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving in exchange for his. The Psalmist reflects, “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165). God’s ways are superior to human ways. We are wise to accept this truth, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:13,17).
Jesus himself had some things to say about peace. Jesus didn’t come into the world to chase away conflict (see Matthew 10:24). He came to deliver us from enslavement to conflict. First, the conflict that exists within our own soul, and the conflict that puts us at war (sometimes literally) with people around us. Without Christ, conflict is inevitable within, but with and through Christ conflict is, was, and will be inihilated. Since the first sin of mankind, conflict within, and conflict without (our environment), is built in the default nature of every human belng. Putting our faith and trust in Jesus means we are yielding to his power to remove the grip of unrest in lost parts of our souls.
At the root of conflict is bitterness. Bitterness is created by the seeds of failed expectations, disappointments, regret, hurt, or offense. Roots of bitterness are specifically mentioned in these verses in Hebrews as destructive anti-growth agents. Bitter roots are weeds that will “defile” (reduce the productivity of the garden of our hearts). Bitter roots can take the form of ill-willed thoughts, envy, jealousy, malice, slander, and the like. The critical, condemning thoughts and opinions turn into blame, resentment, hatred and even sometimes revenge. Our tendency to want to rule our own fate causes our failure to trust God to work all circumstances for good. God’s justice demands that only He can sit on the throne as Judge. Our demands to think and act as Judge, create conflict. The rebellion against God at the core of this conflict is why the “Prince of Peace,” Messiah Jesus, came to this earth (see Isaiah 9:6).
This goes to the heart of the gospel message. Luke records Jesus as saying, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Until recently, like most Christians, I thought of “lost” souls coming to faith in Jesus in a conversion experience as the full extent of interpreting the meaning of this statement in Luke 19.
However, God is challenging me with a deeper understanding. The inner peace stolen by the enemy of our soul with the entry of sin into the world, is part of the loss that Jesus came to redeem. Through the sanctification process, the seeking and saving of the losses in our lives continues. Faith in Jesus makes us whole. All the broken parts of our soul still touched by the losses, are being brought together into the wholeness God intends for us from the beginning. Sanctification is God’s divine plan. Being made whole through holiness (set apart on the inside) yields the fruit of increasingly greater degrees of outwardly “holy” behavior. Being completely at peace with that plan in our inner most being only begins at conversion.
I grew up in the Christian Church thinking the “salvation of souls” refers merely to the conversion of souls. However, the term “salvation” includes sanctification as well. It includes Jesus completing the faith he has begun. It includes the discipline of growing the faith into maturity. It includes the inner peace Hebrews calls “peacable fruit of righteousness” (see Hebrews 12:11).
The “harvest” of souls includes all of the above. Let’s be clear that believing in Jesus is not just a decision of the mind to repent (turn around) from one way of life to another. It is a radical surrender to a process of heart transformation as well. For a Christian seeking the sanctification of our soul is not an option. A result of responding to God and allowing him to change our hearts from the inside out, will yield greater degrees of inner peace. Inner peace can be a gauge for measuring our progress. The more we surrender to God, the more peace we will have in our soul.
Inner change is difficult, but we can be at peace with the uncertainty change brings, when we are trusting God through our faith in Jesus. An inner peace and assurance of what Jesus has accomplished for us, AND what he continues to empower us to do, is foundational for facing the challenges of life. It’s all about his power, not ours.
In summary, I offer my translation of the Hebrews 12:14-15 verses quoted at the beginning. “Pursue inner peace through reconciliation with God, for yourself, and seek this condition for every person you know. Practice surrendering your heart to God for the purpose of a holy being, until the day you see Jesus face to face. Make sure you are living the fullest of God’s purposes for your life by rooting out any bitterness that remains--ie. admitting your critical judgments, surrendering all judgments to God, and releasing all demands for justice so your relationships (with God, others, and self) can be made whole.”
For help in ilving out more specifics of the sanctification journey, check out some of my other blog articles (ie. http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2018/02/ ). Be blessed! Be at peace.
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry