Q. Recently I heard a sermon on YouTube in which the speaker pointed out that Christian behavior must change in the course of a Christian life, because the Bible states that unless we pursue holiness we won’t see Jesus Christ. The Bible reference he gave was Heb.12:14. To me this seems to contradict the position that repentance is only a change of mind and not behavior. I am aware of the fact that if you are sincere about changing your mind, it will not be long until also your behavior will change. Some things however, like deeply engraved habitual sin or even addictions, are very resilient and don’t change easily. So what do I need to tell myself and others who ask me?
A. I would respond by repeating my statement that when we recognize we are sinners and ask the Lord to save us, we have repented according to the meaning of the original Greek word. The Bible is also clear that we don’t make our selves holy, but that we are being made holy as we respond to the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:12-14).
I believe some of the “grace plus works” folks use individual passages like Hebrews 12:14 to frighten people into making superficial external changes for fear of losing their salvation, when in fact our salvation was guaranteed from the moment we believed (Ephesians 1:13-14, 2 Cor. 1:21-22, 2 Cor. 5:5). In addition, our holiness will only be sufficient to allow us into the presence of God when we’re perfected in the resurrection/rapture. Prior to that, any change in our behavior that’s not prompted by the Holy Spirit out of gratitude for the free gift of salvation is like wood, hay, and stubble and will be burned up in the fire (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
Through out the New Testament believers are admonished to live their lives in a manner that’s pleasing to God. But in doing so, we’re only living up to what we’ve already attained (Phil. 3:16). We’re not trying to earn or keep something that could otherwise be lost.
In John 6:40 Jesus said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Therefore our salvation is not dependent on whether we’ve achieved a sufficiently holy life, but on whether we believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose again.