Last time, recall that the Hebrews writer concluded His comparison and contrast of the Mosaic covenant with the New Covenant in Jesus blood, and began exhorting his readers concerning the manner in which we should live out our new life of faith after having been redeemed from God’s righteous judgement of our sins by the washing of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. The writer continues now with that exhortation, as he builds his exposition up to the great “Hall of Faith” chapter – Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 10:26-31 – Work Out Your Salvation
26For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29Of 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? 30For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”[Deuteronomy 32:35] says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.”[Deuteronomy 32:36] 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.Hebrews 10:26-31 – NKJV
Once again we have a difficult passage here in this letter to the Hebrews. This one isn’t very hard to parse, but it’s nevertheless difficult to hear. Shocking as this passage is, we trust that God gave it to the letter’s author for our edification in the depth of His love. So let us see what we can glean from it. Recall that the writer began chapter 10 concluding his comparison of the continual animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law with the final and complete atonement for sin by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross. The writer summed up this comparison of the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant established by Jesus on the cross saying…
Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.Hebrews 10:18 – NKJV
As we have seen, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross put an end to the need for the animal sacrifices forever. But God leaves us the personal choice whether to accept the salvation Jesus offers us or not. This is the point the writer is making here in Hebrews 10:26-29. Since the old sacrificial system has been done away with, there is now no option for our salvation other than to accept the Gospel of Christ and be born again by the indwelling of His Spirit. In point of fact, there never was any other option. As we know, the animal sacrifices under the Law were never capable of providing full atonement for sin, and were only intended to point out our need for Jesus to come and save us. Furthermore, as the writer reiterates in verse 27, all of us will one day face judgement just as we learned in one of our previous studies.
27And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.Hebrews 9:27-28 – NKJV
Recall that in that previous study, we were careful to point out that the only determinant of God’s final judgement at His great white throne will be whether or not a person’s name is written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:11-15), and that our names are written in the Book of Life when we confess Jesus as LORD, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead. As the Hebrews writer says here in Hebrews 10:27, there is no other way by which we may escape the wrath of God’s judgement upon sin, because in establishing the everlasting way of salvation through His death on the cross, Jesus did away with all of the previous covenants for the remission of sin. In his testimony before the Sanhedrin when being questioned about his healing a cripple at the temple gate by the Name of Jesus, Peter also testified to the uniqueness of salvation in Jesus.
Acts 4:8-12 – NKJV
8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Of course, on this occasion, Peter was also echoing the words of encouragement Jesus Himself gave to His disciples at the Passover meal on the night of His betrayal.
1“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4And where I go you know, and the way you know.”John 14:1-6 – NKJV
5Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
This claim of Jesus leaves no room for any other means of salvation apart from faith in Jesus, and new birth in His Spirit. Those within the ostensible “christian” church, such as pope Francis who proclaim that Jesus is just one of many possible ways to God are clearly false teachers which Jesus’ half-brother, Jude, warned of.
Jude 3-4 – NKJV
3Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us now consider exactly what the LORD means when He says in Hebrews 10:26, “if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth.” This passage is obviously serious business, so it’s very important for us to understand it properly. Recall that earlier in the letter we found a very similar passage that seemed to indicate the possibility for believers to lose our salvation.
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.Hebrews 6:4-6 – NKJV
We spent a good deal of time analyzing that passage. Those interested in our conclusions may review that study. We won’t review those conclusions here except to say that they were quite frankly disturbingly inconclusive. The verses before us in Hebrews 10:26-29 are frighteningly similar. For us to be able to understand what the LORD means here, we must first determine exactly whom He is speaking of. Either of these passages might – after all – refer to true, born-again Gospel believers. This is what makes them so unsettling. Unlike the passage in Hebrews 6:4-6 though, I believe that Hebrews 10:26 clearly doesn’t refer to true Christians. Instead, it seems to be an admonishment to those who have heard the Gospel Truth, but have not yet decided to commit their lives as Jesus’ followers. Why do I say that?
We must keep in mind that this letter was written to Messianic Jews who had left Judaism to follow Jesus. Certainly among these groups there must have been a mixture of believers and non-believers, just as there is in families today – both Jewish and Gentile. There must have been many men within these Messianic congregations who had been cast out of their synagogues as blasphemers for professing faith in Jesus as the Messiah. With them, most would have brought their families. Very likely, many of these family members – spouses and children alike – did not truly share the faith of the heads of their families in the depths of their hearts, but were merely “along for the ride.” I believe it is these unsaved family members to whom the Hebrews writer refers in Hebrews 10:26. As members of Messianic families, they would most certainly have “received the knowledge of the truth,” as the writer says here, and since Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has done away with the sacrificial system of the Mosaic covenant, they were now left (just as we ourselves are) with the single option to receive the salvation that only Jesus can give by allowing the knowledge of the Gospel to settle deeply into the depths of their (our) hearts, or to reject the Gospel despite knowing the Truth, and therefore to face the certain coming judgement that the writer speaks of in the verses that follow.
Of course the admonishment in this passage applies not just to the unsaved families of Christian believers, but to anyone who has heard the Gospel, but continues to reject it. I myself was once one of these. I had heard and believed the Gospel message in Vacation Bible School as a child, then later from a street evangelist while in my late teens or early twenties. Over the years, several Christian friends gave me their Gospel testimonies, yet I continued to kick against the goads of God’s Spirit. Why? Because I knew that to confess Jesus as LORD would mean not only uttering the words aloud (as I had on a number of occasions), but actually turning away from my besetting sin, and wholeheartedly committing my life to following Jesus no matter where He might lead me. All the while, I was trying to ignore the certainty of the judgement to come that the Hebrews writer is warning about in this passage.
All that said, please don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean to imply that those who have truly been born again will not ever sin. Everyone sins – before and after receiving God’s Spirit within our hearts. Unfortunately, practically every new Christian expects that we will be completely sinless after having been washed clean of our sins by the blood of Jesus, just as we saw in our previous study that God promised by the prophet Isaiah.
“Come now, and let us reason together,”Isaiah 1:18 – NKJV
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
Like most, I also fell into this pitfall as a new believer. Imagine how crestfallen I was a few months after I became a Christ follower, when I fell back into the same old besetting sin in which I had allowed myself to be embroiled since my adolescence. Of course, that setback offered our enemy a perfect opportunity to whisper his lies, telling me I wasn’t truly born again and never would be, so I might as well just give in to my sinful propensities and abandon my new Christian life. Our accuser uses such chances to call into question our very belief in the saving power of God by faith in Jesus’ Gospel. Praise God that He has given His children His Spirit, dwelling within our hearts, by whose power we can resist these fiery darts of the enemy. New Christians must be reminded that having been born with a nature of sin, even Christians are still sinners despite our best efforts to the contrary. Consider the heart-rending testimony of the apostle Paul.
15For 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. 16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18For 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. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.Romans 7:15-25 – NKJV
21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
New believers must learn to distinguish between two complimentary, but distinct aspects of our salvation in Christ – justification and sanctification. We are justified in the very hour we first believe, and place our trust in Jesus as our LORD when He fills our hearts with His Spirit. Paul spoke of justification in his proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles gathered at the synagogue in Antioch during his first missionary journey with Barnabas.
38Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man (Jesus) is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.Acts 13:38-39 – NKJV
The Greek word Paul uses here is δικαιόω dikaioō meaning – to render just or innocent or to free. It speaks for itself. Paul used the same word multiple times in his powerful Gospel proclamation to the church in Rome.
21But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:21-26 – NKJV
By contrast, sanctification is an ongoing process of cleansing and perfecting within us that God begins when He first sends His Spirit to dwell within our hearts, and continues until the day He calls us to Him when our mortal bodies die, or – as all Christians fervently hope – He returns in His glory to regather His church. Recall that earlier in Hebrews 10, the writer spoke of this process
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.Hebrews 10:14 – NKJV
The Greek word used here is ἁγιάζω hagiazō – meaning to separate from profane things and dedicate to God or to purify. Whereas our justification was made complete by Jesus in the moment He died on the cross saying “finished,” He is still working our salvation by the power of His Spirit. In the greeting of his letter to the Philippian church, Paul wrote of this process.
3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;Philippians 1:3-6 – NKJV
We who are mature Christians must be diligent to encourage our new Christian brothers and sisters in making this essential distinction between justification and sanctification lest they fall prey to the attacks of our enemy in their inevitable moments of weakness.
Before we continue, it is important that we consider the nature of repentance and its relationship to our salvation. As we have seen, we are justified in the very moment we believe in Jesus’ resurrection and confess with our mouths the LORD Jesus. We have also seen that we are all sinners who continue to sin even after we become Christ followers. We have seen that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Does the indisputable fact that we are hopeless sinners who will continue to be such until the day of our final sanctification when Jesus calls us to Himself in death, or returns in His glory to gather His elect, imply that we should simply give in to our sinful propensities, trusting Jesus to forgive us despite ourselves? This is the question Paul put to the Roman church and then provided a resounding answer.
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?Romans 6:1-2 – NKJV
This is the point that the Hebrews writer makes here in Hebrews 10:26. We accept that we will always continually struggle with sin until He perfects us, but in the meantime let us make sure that we do indeed struggle against our sinful nature, by the power of God’s Spirit dwelling within us. Certainly as the writer points out we do have “a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” As Paul admonished the church at Philippi…
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;Philippians 2:12 – NKJV
But our motivation for obedience to God in our struggle against sin shouldn’t arise out of fear of God’s judgement. Indeed, we know that the judgement for our sins has been borne by Jesus on the cross, just as Isaiah foretold.
5But He was wounded for our transgressions,Isaiah 53:5-6 – NKJV
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Rather, we choose to obey God and resist sin out of our love for the Savior who died in our place, just as Jesus Himself admonished His disciples on the night of His betrayal.
15“If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.John 14:15-17 – NKJV
Notice that along with His admonishment, Jesus also gave them (and us) the promise of His Holy Spirit by Whom we are empowered to battle against sin, knowing that when we fail in the struggle – as we inevitably must due to our inborn nature – it grieves the Spirit dwelling within us, just as Paul wrote in his great exhortation to repentance in his letter to the church at Ephesus
17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.Ephesians 4:17-32 – NKJV
20But you have not so learned Christ, 21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
25Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27nor give place to the devil. 28Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. 29Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Before we move on, let’s briefly look at the quote from Deuteronomy 32 that we find in Hebrews 10:30.
Deuteronomy 32:35-36 – NKJV
35Vengeance 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.
As we have seen, the Hebrews writer (Paul?) has used quotations from the Old Testament throughout his letter, knowing that his Hebrew audience would be familiar with them, having been taught the Torah since childhood. These two verses from Deuteronomy are no exception. Not only are they apropos to the point the Hebrews writer is making in Hebrews 10:30 regarding God’s righteous judgment, they are taken from a passage in the Torah which would have been particularly beloved by his readers – the Song of Moses. God directed Moses to write the words of this song, and sing them before the entire congregation of the Israelites just as they were about to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai following their exodus from Egypt by the mighty hand of God under Moses’ leadership. The song is particularly poignant because God had also told Moses that he would not be allowed to enter into the Promised Land with them, but would die on the other side of the Jordan very soon after singing this song to the Israelite congregation.
The general gist of the Song of Moses is his (accurate) prediction that Israel would fall away from their devotion and obedience to God following his death, and would suffer the punishment of God at the hands of nations (Assyria and Babylon) which were not even yet nations at the time Moses wrote this song. The immediate context of verses 35 and 36 of the Song of Moses is God’s vengeance that He would take upon these nations after His chastisement of Israel was completed.
Aside – Deuteronomy isn’t a very popular choice for in-depth study by modern Christian groups. Yet apart from the Psalms, the LORD Jesus quoted from this book more than any other during the time of His ministry. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness following His baptism
(Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 1:12, 13, Luke 4:1-13 ) all three of the scriptures Jesus used to refute the devil were taken from Deuteronomy. Not only does Deuteronomy contain the reiteration of the Law of Moses found in Exodus and Leviticus for which it is named – the name taken from Latin and Greek words meaning “second law” – it also contains the Shama הקיכלי –
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – NKJV
4“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
This is the scripture passage found inside the phylacteries (boxes) that orthodox Jews bind on their foreheads and wrists, and place inside the mezuzah
מְזוּזָה found on the doorposts of virtually all Jewish houses, schools, and businesses in accordance with the direction given in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. Remember when Jesus was asked by the lawyer of the Pharisees which was the greatest commandment of the Law (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus responded by quoting the second part of the Shama הקיכלי, adding that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Anxious as I am to reach the great summary of the history of Israel we will examine in the so-called “Hall of Faith” found in Hebrews 11, the meat of Hebrews 10 is just too much for us to take in at one sitting. Next time, God willing, we will finish our examination of the Hebrews writer’s great exhortation for us to walk by faith in Hebrews 10, and thereby we will be properly prepared to examine the Hall of Faith chapter in detail.