My question is, what does the author of Hebrews mean by "striving for" holiness?

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12.14, ESV)

Other passages (e.g. Heb 10.10 and 14) indicate that the believer is already made holy. But 12.14 seems to imply that the believer is required to strive for holiness in order to see the Lord. What is meant by "striving for holiness"?


Hebrews is a great text, and from cover to cover spurs the believer on in their faith. There are many warnings about faith which is not sincere. Here's your passage as sourced from biblehub.com

Greek text from biblehub.com

Holiness and Saints

Your word 'holiness' from Hebrews 12:14 ἁγιασμόν / hagiasmon is from the root ἅγιος / hagios, which means to be set-apart/holy/different. The Temple and religious acts were considered 'hagios' because they were set apart from the normal pieces of everyday life, which is not far from the Hebrew idea of holiness either: they were special and set apart.

This is the same word which is translated all over the New Testament as 'saint': all Christians are saints, a 'set apart people', ones who are different. And that is a reality in God's sight, even when it is not a perfect reality on earth.

Living righteously

It's an ideal which we strive towards, but it does not contribute to our own righteousness at all:

"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness" - 1 Corinthians 1:30

"...and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." - Philippians 3:9

And what's more, as Christians who live and walk in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we naturally outwork that righteousness and holiness in how we live. In other words, we don't try harder to be holy, but rather we seek to walk in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:13-14

"For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." - Romans 8:2-4

Ultimately, as Christians living under the New Covenant, our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, which makes us 'righteous' (right-with-God). Our unrighteousness is covered by His righteousness, and the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in pure ways going forward.

One of the core messages of Hebrews is giving warning to those who call themselves Christians, but do not live out that obedience. The overall message of the book is that if our faith is genuinely set on Jesus and we walk in that proper obedience, we will see the results as we live. If we see no results at all, then we must question whether we really have that new life:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" - 2 Corinthians 5:17

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    What is the meaning of "righteousness"? Will you be giving me the English meaning, or the Greek meaning or the Hebrew meaning? Are their meanings coincident? Mar 8 '16 at 2:54
  • Hi @BlessedGeek, 'righteousness' as I take it is akin to having a "legal" right-standing before God, where we have no sin against our name. I believe this is close to the way the NT authors use the word from its Greek legal context. In Hebrew the idea is very different, and closer to being at-peace with your family and community. If you want more information on this I'd suggest starting a new question!
    – Steve Taylor
    Mar 8 '16 at 8:23
  • This site does not allow questions not based on any specific passage of the Bible. No general questions allowed. Mar 8 '16 at 11:44
  • * 'righteousness' as I take it is akin to having a "legal" right-standing before* --- that is a conjecture with no scripturally grammatical basis. Mar 8 '16 at 11:46
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    That's understandable - people who already have the answer for things usually do struggle to ask further questions. No worries
    – Steve Taylor
    Mar 17 '16 at 8:02

The admonition in To the Hebrews has two parts:

  • pursue peace with all people
  • pursue holiness because without it you'll never see God

The first admonition refers to being a peacemaker which seems to invoke the teachings of Jesus:

BSB Matthew 5: 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...

The order is reversed but it seems that verses 8 and 9 are being referenced (with verse 10 also applying to their current situation).

The phrase "pursue peace with all [people]" also seems to be invoking a psalm from the LXX, either by referencing the teaching of Jesus which references it, or directly:

Psalm 33 (which is Psalm 34 in the Hebrew TNK): 11 Come, ye children, hear me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is there that desires life, loving to see good days? 13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14 Turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer: 16a but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to destroy their memorial from the earth.

Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Ps 33:11–16). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.

15 ἔκκλινον ἀπὸ κακοῦ καὶ ποίησον ἀγαθόν, ζήτησον εἰρήνην καὶ δίωξον αὐτήν.

Swete, H. B. (1909). The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Ps 33:15). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

While there is no mention of holiness in the passage it does mention pursuing peace and "the fear of the Lord".

There seems to be an effort to invoke these as a pair to keep them in balance. On the one hand they are to be doing their best ("pursuing" or "chasing after" peace with all people) but on the other hand they must main separated from the people, places, things and activities that are not consecrated the Lord.

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