The most pertinent question to ask is this: “Are you holy?” Listen, I pray you, to the question I put to you this day. Do you know anything of the holiness of which I have been speaking?
I do not ask whether you attend your church regularly, whether you have been baptized and received the Lord’s Supper, whether you have the name of Christian. I ask something more than all this: are you holy, or are you not?
I do not ask whether you approve of holiness in others, whether you like to read the lives of holy people and to talk of holy things and to have on your table holy books, whether you mean to be holy and hope you will be holy some day. I ask something further: are you yourself holy this very day, or are you not?
And why do I ask so straitly and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” It is written, it is not my fancy; it is the Bible, not my private opinion; it is the word of God, not of man: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! What thoughts come across my mind as I write them down! I look at the world and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I turn to the Bible, and I hear the Spirit saying, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
Surely it is a text that ought to make us consider our ways and search our hearts. Surely it should raise within us solemn thoughts and send us to prayer.
You may try to put me off by saying you feel much and think much about these things: far more than many suppose. I answer, “This is not the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great question is not what you think, and what you feel, but what you do.”
You may say, it was never meant that all Christians should be holy and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints and people of uncommon gifts. I answer, “I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who has hope in Christ purifies himself” (1 John 3:3). “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
You may say, it is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done. I answer, “You are mistaken.” It can be done. With Christ on your side, nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David and Obadiah and Daniel and the servants of Nero’s household are all examples that go to prove it.
You may say, if you were so holy you would be unlike other people. I answer, “I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ’s true servants always were unlike the world around them—a separate nation, a peculiar people, and you must be so too, if you would be saved!”
You may say, at this rate very few will be saved. I answer, “I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the sermon on the mount.” The Lord Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14). Few will be saved because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an “inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away.” “You will not come to Me,” says Jesus, “that you might have life” (John 5:40).
You may say, these are hard sayings; the way is very narrow. I answer, “I know it. So says the sermon on the mount.” The Lord Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things, there are no gains without pains. That which costs nothing is worth nothing.
Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name and Christian knowledge; we must have a Christian character also. We must be saints on earth if ever we mean to be saints in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” “The pope’s calendar,” says Jenkyn, “only makes saints of the dead, but Scripture requires sanctity in the living.” “Let not men deceive themselves,” says Owen, “sanctification is a qualification indispensably necessary unto those who will be under the conduct of the Lord Christ unto salvation. He leads none to heaven but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead members.”
Surely we need not wonder that Scripture says, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Surely it is clear as noonday that many professing Christians need a complete change, new hearts, new natures, if ever they are to be saved. Old things must pass away; they must become new creatures. “Without holiness no man,” be he who he may, “no man shall see the Lord.”
J.C. Ryle “Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots” 1816-1900