The Peril of Deliberate Sin

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 20, 1998

Hebrews 10:26-39

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Turn with me to Hebrews 1.  We have been studying the Book of Hebrews for a number of weeks now.  I have lost count and we are drawing near to the close of the book.  We are coming up on Hebrews 11, perhaps the best known section.  In the month of January, the Lord willing, we will be looking four different Wednesday evenings at that glorious passage, the hall of fame of faith.  So I hope you will gather as we approach that chapter for God’s word to be taught.  

Tonight we come to Hebrews 10:26 at the end of the chapter and this is one of those warning passages and that is why I have given you two sheets tonight.  I gave you the old outline that we went through when we studies Hebrews 6 and especially verse 4 and that terrifying warning passage.  On the backside of that sheet we included the questions that we went through as we tried to sort through the whole issue of the unpardonable sin and what it meant to have sinned in such a way that there can be no repentance, not salvation.  We looked at that rather closely two different weeks.  So I wanted to give that to you in case you had forgotten what we had gone through as we approach this passage tonight because it is a very similar passage.  Let’s hear God’s word as we look at Hebrews 10:26. 

Hebrews 10:26-39 

Now Father, as we come to yet another of Hebrew’s hard passages, we ask that You would give us concentration to see the truth of Your word and to receive its application for our own daily living.  We ask you blessing upon our hearing of the word and our studying of it.  May You use it, O Lord, as a means of grace to our hearts. We ask all these things in Jesus name.  Amen. 

Once again, tonight, we come to a passage with very stern warnings.  And this is one of those passages that has been an occasion of a great deal of controversy over the course of years in the Christian church.  In the early church, for instance, this passage which was used to justify what the Roman Catholic Church called a “penitential system.”  As strange as it may be, because what is one of the themes of the Book of Hebrews been?  That there is one sacrifice for sin, once for all.  This passage was used from early days in the writings of the Shepherd of Hermas in the city of Rome, all the way through the gradual development of the Catholic penitential system, to justify the idea that after one had been baptized, if one should accidentally commit a sin, then one had to go through the system of penance in order to be forgiven of that sin, in order to retain one’s salvation.  And even though the whole thrust of Hebrews is what?  There is one sacrifice for sin and that sacrifice is never repeated and it is unrepeatable, and yet the misunderstandings of this passage have led to some really strange theology.

And so as we come to this passage, we bear in mind that there are some difficult things about it.  I would like to look at it with you basically in five very straight forward steps as we study it tonight. 

I. Rejecting the truth of Christ has eternal consequences.

First, if you would like for you to look at verses 26 and 27, you are going to see God giving us a warning here through the author of Hebrews against deliberating sinning against the truth.  It is vital for you to understand as you approach this passage that this is not just any sin.  The first mistake made in interpreting this passage is the assumption that the author of Hebrews is addressing in verses 26 and 27 any kind of sin.  He is addressing a very specific kind of sin and that is sinning against the truth of the work of Christ.  The kind of sin that the author of Hebrews is talking about all the way from verse 26 to 31 is explicitly rejecting the unique and solely sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is basically a person who has made a profession of faith in Christ and yet who at some point has decided that the work of Christ is not necessary for them in order to enjoy fellowship with God forever and they have deliberately and despicably utterly rejected the sacrifice of Christ for them.  They have turned their back on Christ and returned to some other form of religion in approaching God and fellowship.

The author of Hebrews is saying here that if a person willfully and knowingly rejects the one real sacrifice for ins, then, of course, there is no other sacrifice for sin that person can turn to.  If you have rejected the only sacrifice that there is sin, where then do you go in order to get forgiveness for sin?  And the author of Hebrews’ point is there is nowhere you can go.  So if you have rejected the one sacrifice for sin, there is no hope for you.  He is saying very straightforwardly to the congregation that rejecting the truth of Christ has eternal consequences.  That is his point.  So it is very important as you approach this passage that you understand that he is not speaking of any kind of sin.  He is talking about the rejection of Christ, the rejection of His work, of His person, of His Lordship.  In this passage we are being confronted with the consequences of people who have made a profession of faith in Christ, coming to some point in their Christian experience where they reject Jesus Christ.

Now remember that all along as we have studied this book, we have said that most likely the author of Hebrews is writing to a congregation that is made up of Hebrew Christians.  That is, a people who were once Jews, ethnically and religiously, but have converted to Christ.  But apparently some of the people in this congregation are tempted ton convert back to some form of Judaism.  And so if that is the case, this kind of exhortation makes perfect sense.  If there are some people in that congregation who have converted back to Judaism, there are others who are wavering in their faith.  For the author of Hebrews to send out a stern warning saying, “Look, if you reject Christ, who you publicly professed, there is nowhere else to turn for forgiveness of sin.”  That makes perfect sense in light of his argument, because what has he said over and over about the Old Testament system of sacrifices?  He is saying the Old Testament system of sacrifices can’t forgive your sins.  Do you remember his point that he has already made in Hebrews 9 and 10 that the blood of bulls and goats cannot forgive sins.  He makes his point — what?  That only Jesus’ sacrifice forgives sin.  So if anyone in that congregation reverts from Christianity, rejects Jesus and goes back to Judaism, what does he have to say for them?  He says this: “Look, that sacrificial system can’t forgive sins.  Because that sacrificial system pointed forwarded to the one true sacrifice that Jesus was going to offer on the cross.  So to reject that sacrifice, there is no other sacrifice that can get you into fellowship with God.  There is no other sacrifice that can bring about eternal salvation.  There is no other sacrifice that can assure that you will be not be judged for your sins.  So that is the point of the argument of the author of Hebrews here. 

II. God’s gospel justice more exacting than Law justice.

Now he continues that argument in verses 28 and 29.  His argument is basically this.  That in the New Covenant, that is in the time after Christ, in the time in which Christ has come to fulfill the promises of the prophet Jeremiah and he predicted the coming of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, in the time of the New Covenant, the penalty for willful sin is not less than it was in the time of Moses, it is greater.  So the penalty for sin under the New Covenant exceeds the penalty under the Old.  In other words, God’s gospel justice is more exacting than His justice under the Law.

He says this.  Look at verse 28.  “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy under the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  You know the passage in Deuteronomy which speaks of the penalty of the sin of idolatry.  What is supposed to happen when a person commits idolatry?  Moses tells us that if you commit idolatry and two or more witnesses witness to the fact that you have participated in idolatry, what is to happen?  You are to be stoned to death.  Very, very serious — a capital sin in ancient Israel. To participate in idolatry, to turn your back on the living God and to follow after false gods was to bring about immediately the penalty of death. 

Now the author says that as the penalty for idolatry under the Old Covenant.  How much severer do you think it would be to trample under your feet the very Son of God.  That is his argument.  He is saying if you think that was an appropriate penalty for someone who committed idolatry against the one true God in the time of Moses, what do you think will be the penalty for those who trample under foot the blood of the Son of God.  So the argument is that covenant breakers in the New Covenant ought to anticipate severer punishment than the punishment that was meted out to those who broke the Law in the time of Moses.  This is illustrated for us in a story that we studied recently on Sunday mornings.  You remember Matthew 18 in the story of the unmerciful steward.  The king had spared the steward and his family.  He had decided he would not make him pay back the $10 million that you owe me and I’m not going to throw you in debtor’s prison.  I am going to forgive that debt.  The unmerciful steward never accepted the grace of the gospel that had been given him and immediately went out and was unmerciful to the one who owed him money.  What happened to him?  “And the king handed him over to the torturers.”  You see, that is a picture of the rejection of grace.  When you reject God’s grace and turn your back on Christ, then there is a fearful punishment which await. 

So the author of Hebrews is simply reminding us that it is not something to trifle with — our profession in the Lord.  It is of the utmost seriousness.   

III. The very thought of God’s judgment is awesome.

He goes on to give a scriptural proof.  Look at verses 30 and 31.  Basically, he is verifying this principle which he has set forth in verses 26 through 29 by quoting Moses.  If these people are swayed by Jewish teaching, who better to quote than Moses to show that what you are saying is true.  He goes back to Moses and again to some passages from Deuteronomy and says “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’” He says, “We know the God who said through Moses, vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  He gives another quote: “And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’” So Hebrews supplies here scriptural proof of the principle that God will judge sin.  In this passage the point is to remind us of the awesome judgment of God.  Nothing escapes Him.  Sometimes we do things that we get by with.  Our parents tell us to do or not to do things and sometimes we do or don’t do things they tell us to do and we get by with it, for some reason they don’t find out about it.  But the author of Hebrews is saying I want you to remember the one that you are going to have to give an account to.  Nothing gets by Him. Vengeance belongs to Him, He will repay.  He is reminding us that at that final judgment, that awesome judgment of God is not going to miss anything in our lives, especially the rejecting of His Son.  If he gave His son to die, then He apparently thought it was of the utmost importance and the only way that we can be saved and if we despise that death, the author of Hebrews is just saying, what in the world will it be like to fall into the hands of the living God. 

Nothing is more powerful to overcome temptation than the fear of God.  John Calvin said that 400 years ago.  And the author of Hebrews is putting this quotation in front of us.  “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” in order to inspire us to fear God so that we will overcome the temptation to despise the only way of salvation and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we look at this passage together.

Let me just say a few things about the passage.  The author of Hebrews, and we are going to see an example of this in a few moments, is not speaking of this to unbelievers with the hope of getting them to trust in Jesus Christ.  His point is not to blast idolaters or to blast those who have already forsaken Christ.  His point is to warn Christians not to defect from their loyalty to Jesus Christ.  His purpose is constructive.  That is important to see.  In fact, we will see in verses 32-39 that the author of Hebrews has very warm hopes for the perseverance in faith of everyone in this congregation.  He thinks they are going to persevere to the end, that they are going to stay faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.  But he is warning them because he loves them and because it is so serious that they not reject their profession in Jesus Christ. 

IV. Examining our graces is an impetus to perseverance.

Look at verses 32-34.  He calls on them to remember to reflect upon some of the deeds that they did not long after they made their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  They lived out their faith and so he teaches us in verses 32-34 that examining our graces is an impetus to our persevering in the faith.  “Remember the former days when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of suffering,.”  The author of Hebrews says remember those early days after you professed that you were a believer in Jesus Christ.  You went through incredible persecution.  Some of you were thrown into prison.  But all of you, even if you were not thrown into prison, went to visit your brothers and sisters when they were in prison for their profession of faith.  You ministered to them.  You shared in their suffering.  And so he says I want you to remember that because that was a very trying time.  What did you do?  You endured.  You persevered.  You didn’t fall away from Christ when the heat was turned on.  You stayed faithful to Him.  He says, “I want you to recollect that and then reflect on it.  I want you to think about the significance of that because if you persevered in that, you also ought to persevere in  this time, even though you have friends who are saying, ‘Oh, you don’t need to be a Christian.  You can come back and be a Jew and go through the Jewish ceremonial system and have fellowship with God that way just as easily as you could in your Christian profession.” 

This passage makes it clear that the author of Hebrews intends this whole section of his book to be an encouragement and warning to believers, not a blast against people who have already fallen away.  What he is trying to do is buttress our wavering faith.  This is very important.  I was talking with a friend this last week who is going through a very hard time, connected to a lot of things.  He had a difficult upbringing and a difficult relationship with his father.  He is going through difficult things personally right now and one of the things that he said is “I have a hard time trusting God.  I have a hard time thinking about God as someone who is different than my father.  And my father was very difficult and harsh with me.”  This person when on to describe other issues but at the very bottom of the issue he was wrestling with was this — being able to trust God.  The author of Hebrews here is saying, “Look, you have persevered through difficult times and now you are struggling with your ongoing trust in Christ.  I want you to continue to trust in Christ.  Think back about that time where your faith was really put to the test and you persevered.  I want you to do that now.  I want you to hang on no matter how you feel.  I want you to continue to trust, even if it seems to be against your experience, I want you to trust in Christ.  The author of Hebrews here is asking  us to go back and reflect upon ourselves and recognize that the only hope we have is in Jesus Christ.  J. C. Ryle once said, “The true cure for self-righteous is self-knowledge.”  If we really know ourselves and what we deserve, we won’t try and save ourselves; and we won’t entrust our salvation to the blood of bulls and goats.  If we really know ourselves, the only way we will feel secure on the last day is to know that our hope is entirely in Jesus Christ.  On the last day what covering do you want?  When the wrath of God is sent out, what covering do you want?  Do you want the covering of your own deeds?  Of your good life?  Do you want the covering of the blood of bulls and goats or do you want the shelter of the Lord Jesus Christ?  I know how I vote on that issue. What covering  do you want when the wrath of God finally goes out?  The author of Hebrews is pressing that home.  He is saying, persevere, keep trusting in Jesus Christ.  

V. We ought to endure in faith and confidence in light of His coming.

He says one last thing.  In verses 35 through 39, again he is calling us to endure in our hope, to endure in the confidence that we first had.  In light of the second coming, the One who is coming is going to come, Jesus is going to come again.  He is going to judge.  And in light of the fact that faith is the way that the Lord sanctifies us, it is the instrument where we are sanctified, he says, “endure.”  And so this section closes with a final word which is very optimistic, an optimistic exhortation and an exhortation for us to endure.  In fact, this section from verse 32 to 39 is the transition section to Hebrews 11.  The main point is that we are to endure in the faith, and what is Hebrews 11 going to be.  It is a gigantic illustration of people in the Old Testament who endured in their faith.  So there is a perfect logical connection between this section of Hebrews and Hebrews 11.  Having given this exhortation, now the author of Hebrews is going to say, “Let me give you an example of some people who went through difficult things and they endured in the faith.”  And he begins to list them and down that list he goes, telling a little about the things they went through.

This whole passage is an exhortation to us not to fall away from clinging to Christ.  I can’t think of a better exhortation at the end of the year.  There are all sorts of things that tempt us to fall away from our trust in Christ.  We may be going through something in our experience that is so hard that makes it difficult for us to trust God.  The author of Hebrews’ word for us tonight is “endure.”  You have endured in the past and God has been faithful.  Endure in the faith because the One who is coming is coming again.  And it is trust despite all evidence to the contrary, it is faith which grows us up as Christians.  And so when you face those circumstances where you can’t figure out what God is doing, trust anyway.  Just like Abraham who hoped against hope that God would be faithful to His promise.  And God was.  This passage is a call for us to persevere.  May God help us to do so.  Let us pray.

 “Heavenly Father, we thank You for this encouraging word at the end of the year.  In this new year to come, we pray by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we would persevere in the faith to Your praise and to our eternal good.  We ask it in Jesus name.  Amen.”

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