Pastor David B. Curtis

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Turning from Grace

Hebrews 10:26-31

Delivered 09/23/2001

We are studying the 4th warning passage in the book of Hebrews that runs from 10:19-38. We've already looked at verses 19-25, and we said these verses might be called "The Divine Antidote to Apostasy." These verses are a Divine prescription for spiritual victory, and it is given in the form of three exhortations.

Verse 22 - "Let us draw near" - this is communion. We do this through prayer, bible study and submission to God.

Verse 23 - "Let us hold fast our hope" - this is a call for perseverance. In the midst of trials and temptations we need to hang on to our hope.

Verse 24 - "Let us consider one another" - this is a call for fellowship. We need each other. We are to be provoking one another to love and good works, and we can only do this as we continue to meet together.

But suppose someone does not hold fast the confession of their hope. Suppose they don't draw near to God. Suppose they do forsake the assembling with other Christians. What happens then? Verses 26 - 31 answer that question. They receive temporal judgement:

Hebrews 10:27 (NKJV) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

What a solemn passage! It makes one tremble to contemplate the dire implications. Most commentators seem persuaded that apostasy is in view.

What is apostasy? The word means: "a falling away, a withdrawal or a defection."

Hebrews 3:12 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

Commentators agree that the issue here is apostasy, but they don't agree on what apostasy is. There are three main views on apostasy.

1. Arminian view - apostasy is a believer losing their salvation and being damned to hell.

We know this isn't true, because Jesus Christ has perfected believers forever by his sacrifice on the cross:

Hebrews 10:14 (NKJV) For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

2. Lordship view - an apostate is someone who pretends to believe. They're an unbeliever who acts like a believer for awhile and then falls away and are damned forever.

What these views have in common is that in both of them apostates go to hell. In one view they lose their salvation and in the other they never had it. So in the Lordship view, the apostate's position never changed, he's always been on his way to hell. What then did he fall away from?

3. Free Grace view - an apostate is a believer who turns their back on Christianity. They fall away from their fellowship with the Lord and come under temporal judgement. For more on these views see the message "Biblical Theology".

The theme of the book of Hebrews is a call to hold fast to our confession of hope and not to apostatize, don't turn away from God. This fourth warning passage has invoked a number of unusual interpretations. Some have unduly exaggerated these verses and some have unduly minimized them. There were some in the early church who concluded that this text, as well as chapter 6, were referring to the fact that once an individual had come to faith in Christ and had been baptized there was no longer any forgiveness for sins committed after baptism. I believer they missed the meaning of this text, but they must be given credit for treating sin in believers as a very serious matter.

On the other hand, Kenneth Wuest says this about our passage, "This sin could only be committed in the first century while the temple was still standing and only by an unsaved Jew or proselyte to Judaism. In this case there can be no secondary application to present day circumstances or individuals." So, in his view this passage means nothing to us.

Who is this warning to? We must start by understanding who he's writing to. Dismissing Wuest's exaggerated view, we really have only two choices; he is either writing to believers or unbelievers. Would you agree? The easiest way to get rid of the unpleasant message is to apply it to unbelievers. The most common popular and almost universally accepted view is that it refers to unbelievers, make-believers. This interpretation is in direct violation to the plain intention of this chapter. Notice the context of this chapter beginning with:

Hebrews 10:19-20 (NKJV) Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,

Every Bible student agrees that these words are addressed to and refer to believers.

Hebrews 10:21-22 (NKJV) and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Again, there is no disagreement in interpreting this passage. All are agreed that only born-again believers have a high priest.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NKJV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

No one will deny these words are addressed to believers. They are admonished to "hold fast their profession". Would a hypocrite be encouraged to hold fast his false profession? Up until now I have heard no objection:

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

Notice carefully what it says, "For if WE sin willfully". Who is the "we"? It is referring to the writer and his readers who are believers. By what rule of interpretation, reason, or logic can we make this refer to unsaved people? How can we say verses 19-25 applies to believers and then suddenly at verse 26 say these are make-believers? Who is this warning to?

Notice in verse 26 that they "have received the knowledge of the truth". The word "knowledge" is from the Greek word epignosis, which means: "a personal, full knowledge". There is nothing in the New Testament usage of epignosis to encourage the idea that it can mean mere information about the truth. It's usual connotation is a genuine and personal knowledge:

1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Titus 1:1 (NKJV) Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness,

This is parallel to the word "enlightened" in:

Hebrews 6:4 (NKJV) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,

He says that these people were "once enlightened" - the Greek word used here is photizo, it means: "to enlighten, illuminate, to give light, to make see." The writer's other use of this verb in 10:32 seems clearly to point to the early days of their conversion experience:

Hebrews 10:32-36 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

He says that those who were "illuminated" (same word, photizo) "have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" - this is truly speaking of believers. In Hebrews 6:4, the word "once" is the Greek word hapax, [hap'-ax] which means: "once for all." They had been "enlightened once for all."

In view of this, it is extremely questionable whether an unsaved man could be said to be "enlightened." There is certainly nothing to suggest that here, except bad theology.

Hebrews 10:29 (NKJV) Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

Notice that it says, "He was sanctified". This sanctification is obviously the sanctification of:

Hebrews 10:10 (NKJV) By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:14 (NKJV) For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

The word "sanctified" is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means: "to make holy". It is used of positional holiness in Hebrews, which means they had eternal life.

One honest Lordship writer says this, "This is the most difficult phrase in the passage. It seems to indicate that he is here talking about a believer. This is a very problematic phrase. When you look in Hebrews, you discover that the verb "sanctify" always refers to Christians and always entails the idea of a full and completer salvation."

Hebrews 10:29 (GWT) What do you think a person who shows no respect for the Son of God deserves? That person looks at the blood of the promise (the blood that made him holy) as no different from other people's blood, and he insults the Spirit that God gave us out of his kindness. He deserves a much worse punishment.

In trying to get around this, some have adopted the view of Roger Nicole, "Such an one may be stated to be 'sanctified' because of the claim he makes, rather than on account of his spiritual condition."

Weust says the idea here is, "Wherewith he professed to be sanctified". This is eisegesis not exegesis. This is transparently not what the passage intends to say. This would make me question his commitment to inspiration.

Another explanation that some have offered is that it is preferable to take Christ as the subject of the verb hagiazo. But this is a manifest violation of the usage of Hebrews in which Christ is seen as the One who sanctifies His people (2:11; 10:10, 14).

Hebrews 10:30 (NKJV) For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people."

Who is it that the Lord will judge? His people! Who is this warning to? His people -believers.

Hebrews 10:32 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:
Hebrews 10:34 (NKJV) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
Hebrews 10:36 (NKJV) For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

They were "illuminated" and they "joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods" and what they needed was "endurance", not salvation. The conclusion in the light of the context of chapter 10 as a whole is quite unavoidable. The person described is one who has truly known the sanctifying benefits of the blood of Christ - he is a regenerate man.

The single most serious failure in the interpretation of Hebrews has been the eviscerating of its warning passages. The Arminian view is much more honest with the text than the Lordship view is.

This warning is to BELIEVERS! So the Lordship view is out. We are warned of God's temporal judgement on sin. Can a believer lose his salvation? No, so the Arminian view is out also. This solemn fearful warning is to believers:

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

The first century believers had this fearful expectation should they not follow the exhortation of verses 19-25. And secondarily, it applies to us also. God still judges sin.

Let's take a close look at these verses:

Hebrews 10:26 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

The "if" here is a third class condition meaning: "maybe yes, maybe no." The word "willfully" is from the Greek word hekousios, it means: "voluntary, of one's own accord." It is opposed to sins committed inconsiderately and from ignorance or weakness. It's a plotted and planned sin, committed with full intention. This is not the sin of:

Romans 7:15-20 (NKJV) For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

This is a man fighting against sin, but in his own power.

For the deliberate, planned sin there is no more sacrifice, only judgement (verse 27). In the background here is the Old Testament situation in which no sacrifice was provided for "presumptuous" sins:

Numbers 15:27-29 (NKJV) 'And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. 28 'So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29 'You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. 30 'But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. 31 'Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.'"

The Hebrew word for "unintentionally" is shagag. It means: "to stray, a mistake." The priestly sacrificial system was only for those who sinned in ignorance. The word "presumptuously" in verse 30 is from the Hebrew word yad, which means: "defiant or deliberate." There was no sacrifice for those who deliberately sinned. Notice verse 31, "He has despised the word of the LORD" and "his guilt shall be upon him." His guilt cannot be removed through a sacrifice, he must pay for it.

Verses 32-36 illustrate what verse 30 states:

Numbers 15:32-36 (NKJV) Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." 36 So, as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.

Gathering wood falls under the heading of work and is thus forbidden on the Sabbath. The man knew this and therefore did not sin out of ignorance. What he did was willful, and there was no sacrifice for that.

This refusal by God of the benefit of atoning sacrifice where sin was deliberate was declared by Jehovah himself in his words to Samuel:

1 Samuel 3:12-14 (NKJV) "In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 "For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. 14 "And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."

The writer of Hebrews says, "There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment". Those who sin willfully can only look for punishment.

The text says, "Fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries." The word "will" is from the Greek word mello, which means: "about to". This fiery judgement was "about to" devour the adversaries. I think that this is a clear reference to the AD 70 judgement of God on Jerusalem. The Christians who turned away for Christianity and went back to Judaism were in fact turning from God and would experience severe judgement when Jerusalem fell.

A Christian who willfully sins puts himself on the side of God's enemies (not positionally but practically) and thus is worthy of God's flaming indignation and retribution. This, as in Hebrews 6:8, is a reference to temporal judgement.

The word "adversaries" at the end of verse 27 is from the Greek word hupenantios. This word is used only here and in Colossians 2:14 where it is translated "contrary". It means: "contrary or apposed."

He is not referring to the case of a believer being "overtaken in any trespass" (Galatians 6:1), or a yielding to fear or the flesh in a moment of weakness, like Peter:

Matthew 26:70 (NKJV) But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying."

The writer of Hebrews is speaking of a deliberate, willful, presumptuous sin against light:

1 John 1:5-7 (NKJV) This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Walking in the light suggests openness and responsiveness to the light, not sinlessness. If we sin, we confess it:

1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The statement of verse 7 affirms that two things are true of believers who walk in the light: 1) They are in fellowship with God. 2) They are being cleansed from every sin - but only as they walk in the light. Christian failures are under the blood of Jesus Christ , but our willful sins will be judged.

Believers, we are saved by grace, our sin debt is paid in full, and we can never lose our salvation. We are eternally secure. But if we turn from God in defiant, intentional sin, we will be judged by God temporally. Sin is very destructive, and we will reap what we sow:

Hebrews 10:28-29 (NKJV) Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

The simple thought of these verses is that a quick, sure death attended severe infraction of the Old Covenant. An even worse punishment awaits one who violates the New. Verse 29 states, "Of how much worse punishment". Do you realize that there are worse punishments than death?

Matthew 18:34 (NKJV) "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

God doesn't have to kill us or send us to hell to punish us. What could be worse than death? Prolonged illness, insanity, loss of loved ones. We can look at the life of David and see a punishment worse than death.

David, a man after God's own heart , committed adultery and murder. Willful sins! For either of these crimes the penalty was death; under the law of Moses there remained no sacrifice that could be accepted. This explains why David, speaking of that occasion, said, "Thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering." But upon his repentance and confession the word came:

2 Samuel 12:13 (NKJV) So David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.

The capital sentence is remitted. But the prophet continues:

2 Samuel 12:14 (NKJV) "However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die."

Punishment was to follow David to the end of his life. The next 8 chapters detail the exacting of these penalties, which were truly severe. David's 4 month old child died. Ammon, David's son, raped Tamar, David's daughter. Absolom, David's son, killed Amnon. Absolom tries to have David killed, and he himself is killed.

2 Samuel 18:33 (NKJV) Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: "O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom; if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!"

There are punishments worse than death. David sinned willfully, and he paid dearly. Redemption cancels the penalty of eternal death for every believer, but it does not deliver him from the temporal consequences of willful sin.

The reason justifying such a punishment are given in the description of the one who receives it. To trample him under foot is to spurn his right to govern life. They count Christ's blood as common, the redeeming blood means nothing. They insult God's gracious Spirit.

The apostate has flagrantly cast aside every gracious witness and ministry of the Spirit of God. He is trampling under foot the Son of God... this is willful, premeditated sin, and there remains no more sacrifice; judgement will come:

Hebrews 10:30 (NKJV) For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people."

The principle of divine retribution is now established from scripture:

Deuteronomy 32:35-36 (NKJV) Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.' 36 "For the LORD will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free.

In Deuteronomy 32:19-25, God's wrath against his unfaithful people is detailed. It is not hard to sense that such descriptions could influence our author's conception of the "worse punishment" he envisions for unfaithful Christians.

Even in Israel's case, these judgments sound worse than summary execution by stoning. In Lamentations, the prophet cries out:

Lamentations 4:6 (NKJV) The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people Is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, Which was overthrown in a moment, With no hand to help her!

He is saying, "I wish we could have been wiped off the face of the earth like Sodom, that would have been better, this is worse. There are punishments that are worse than death:

Hebrews 10:31 (NKJV) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This is the conclusion of his warning. There is nothing pleasant about the prospect of divine retribution.

David, as king, had sinned in numbering Israel. He acknowledged his sin, but God punished him. The king was allowed to choose one of three punishments. Seven years of famine, three months of defeat in war by his national foes, or three days of divine pestilence. David knew God and chose wisely and reverently saying, "I am in a great strait; let us now fall into the hand of Jehovah for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man." Even though God's mercies are great, it proved to be a fearful thing to fall into God's hands. 70,000 of the kings subjects died in those brief days, and David's heart was torn and bowed.

Believers, I hope you see from this passage how seriously God takes sin. Sin is very destructive to a believer in this life. We don't have to fall into his hands of judgement, we can fall at his feet in worship if we follow the three exhortations of verse 19-25 - "draw near, hold fast, consider one another".

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