I get asked more questions on Hebrews 10:26 than any other verse in the Bible. Evidently, this is a verse that troubles many Christians:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left (Heb 10:26)
Wow! That looks scary! Let’s take a quick survey. Please put your hand up if you have lived a sinless life since accepting Jesus as your Savior. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands. I have been saved for decades and – if I’m honest with you – I cannot say my performance has been flawless throughout that period. I’m pretty sure I sinned this one time back in 1987…
Ha! It’s easy for me to make jokes. I’ve been set free. I no longer mine at the pits of religion with condemnation. I’m drawing from the wells of salvation with joy!
The wrong way to interpret Hebrews 10:26
All jokes aside, Hebrews 10:26 is an oft-abused scripture. If you wanted to use this verse to scare people, there are a couple of angles you could take:
1. You could use this verse to present a “balanced” view of God, like this: “He is a God of grace and He is a God of judgment. He’s not some senile Santa in the sky. He’s a God of vengeance and a consuming fire. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
2. You could also use this verse to preach works: “You will be judged according to the light of your revelation and those who have received the knowledge of the truth will be held to the highest standard. It’s time for judgment to begin in the house of God. If you fall away it is impossible to be brought back to repentance!”
What is the problem with these messages? Well if you listen to the first one you’re going to come away thinking that God is schizophrenic, at war with His own nature. He loves you, but He doesn’t. It’s unconditional love – with conditions. And if you listen to the second you will either end up a religious fraud or a nervous wreck. You may even wish that you had never heard the gospel because ignorance is bliss.
The tricky part with these false messages is that they are composed of true statements. Our God is a consuming fire. But the interpretation is all wrong. They are anti-cross and anti-Christ. Any message that tells you that God is double-minded or that the good news is bad news ought to be rejected. You know that, right? Good. So how do we read Hebrews 10:26?
A key to unpackaging this scripture is to recall the audience. Hebrews was written for – surprise, surprise – Hebrews. It was for those who have grown up with the “elementary teachings” of the Old Covenant. In other words, the author writes for an informed audience. They know all about the law, sacrifices, and high priests. But what they may not appreciate is that the law was only a shadow of the good things to come. The law points to the true high priest Jesus and His eternally perfect sacrifice.
Hebrews was written to reveal Christ and His work so that we may “enter through the new and living way,” “go on to maturity,” and “draw near to God.” That last bit is the key. How do I know the two sermonettes above are carnal nonsense? Because neither will inspire you to draw near to God. Indeed, they will have the opposite effect.
Hebrews 10:26 describes those who have received the knowledge of the truth (i.e., they have heard the gospel) but they have rejected it. The writer compares those who reject grace with those who reject law:
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28-29)
This passage is not talking about Christians but those who, like Judas, have heard the truth and spurned it. Judas spent time in the company of the Lord. He not only heard the truth, he saw Grace and Truth in the flesh. But Judas rejected Jesus as Lord. He never saw Jesus as anything other than a rabbi. Calling Jesus “Rabbi” is a bit like calling the President “Mister,” only infinitely more so. It’s not just insulting, it’s unbelief.
Jesus came to give His life for Judas but Judas wasn’t interested. He preferred his own sinful life of greed and betrayal. I am sure Judas had many opportunities to repent (i.e., change his mind) and put his faith in Jesus, but he never did. He rejected the grace of God that could empower him to say no to sin.
Jesus died for Judas. What more could He do? There is nothing! There is no more sacrifice for sins other than the one Jesus provided. To reject Jesus as Lord is to trample the Son of God underfoot and treat the blood of the covenant as unholy.
How do you insult the Spirit of grace?
If I was to give you a free car out of the generosity of my heart, but you insisted on paying for it, I would be insulted. Similarly, we insult the Spirit of grace by trying to pay, with works and sacrifices, what God has freely given us. We may call it “proving our salvation” or “appropriating what God has given” but it is unbelief. It is like saying, “I don’t believe Jesus has done it all. I need to finish what He started.”
The wrong way to read Hebrews is to think that God is judging us on our performance. Over and over again Hebrews tells us that it is Jesus and His performance that matters. It is His sacrifice that made us holy, indeed, perfect forever (Heb 10:10-14). How can we interpret Hebrews 10:26 as a warning against sin when Hebrews 9:26 says that Christ appeared once for all “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself”? Is His a finished work or isn’t it? If it is, then sin is no longer the problem. Where there is remission of sins, “there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Heb 10:18). The good news is that the Son of God is the once and final solution for sin. Because of Jesus, both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit choose to remember our sins no more (see Heb 8:12, 10:17).
The warning of Hebrews
In a forthcoming post I will look at Hebrews 6:4-6, which is another passage that bothers some. But the punch-line is the same. The main warning of Hebrews is not in regard to sin but unbelief:
So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Heb 3:19)
The Hebrews of Moses’ day never entered God’s rest because they hardened their hearts to His voice. In the New Testament era, many Jews were doing exactly the same thing. They received the knowledge of truth, they heard the gospel of grace, but they rejected it. They may not have said so in so many words, but by their actions they revealed their distrust.
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Heb 4:2)
The author of Hebrews writes to stir up faith. Without it we cannot please God. With it we can come boldly to the throne of grace.
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb 10:39)
Some people hear the good news of God’s grace and shrink back. They cannot believe it. “It’s too good to be true,” they say. “I’d better cover myself by doing works.” Do you see the danger? You cannot cover yourself. This is idol-worship. You are elevating yourself to co-savior with Christ. You are insulting the Spirit of grace by trying to pay for what God has already given you. This is why sermons that put the emphasis on you and your performance are dangerous. Don’t buy into any message that purports to give you a list of keys or steps that will help you achieve/accomplish/appropriate what you already have. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and the sweat of men to take away sins and it is faithless to strive for what you already have (every good thing!).
According to Hebrews there are only two kinds of people; those who don’t enter because of their unbelief and those who believe and are saved. Sin is not the variable; faith is. Where does faith come from? Jesus! He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2). Fix your eyes on Him.
- Acts 21:17-26
- What happens to unfruitful branches?
- Do NIV readers have a sinful nature?