Notice:

PCA Disaster Relief Update for Harvey and Irma

If We Go on Sinning Wilfully

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 21, 2013

Hebrews 10:26-39

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 10; we’re going to be looking at verse 26 and all the way to the end of the chapter.  This is a hard, sobering, but important passage of Scripture.  You may remember when we looked at Hebrews 6 together that I commented that Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the pastor of the Westminster Chapter in London, had remarked a couple of years ago that in his pastoral experience that misunderstandings of Hebrews 6 and 10 were very often accompanied by struggles with assurance in members of his congregation and those of other congregations where he preached.  He said, not that these are the two most difficult passages in Scripture, but that the misunderstanding of them often unsettles the hearts of believers.  And so before we read this passage I want you to be on the lookout for a few things that may help you not misunderstand this passage.

The first thing that I want you to see is this.  The opening statement of the passage is really the theme of the whole section.  If you look at verse 26, the exhortation is this - “If we go on sinning deliberately, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  And so you have to ask yourself the question, “What do you mean, ‘go on sinning deliberately’?  How so?  In what way are you talking about me going on sinning willfully or deliberately?  What is meant specifically, especially by ‘deliberate sin’?  What is the pastoral problem that the author of Hebrews is addressing?”  Now getting the answer to that question right is key to your understanding this passage and either being wrongly discouraged by it or rightly encouraged by it.  Now let me go ahead and give you the answer to that question.  What is the deliberate sin that the author of Hebrews is warning us against going on in?  The sin is the sin of rejecting Christ, of ceasing to believe on Him in whom alone is life eternal, of failing to continue in faith in Jesus, of looking for another way to stand accepted before God than in the righteousness of Christ.  What has the whole argument of this book been all the way up to Hebrews 10:26?  That Jesus is better.  So what he’s warning against is you deciding that something is better than Jesus or that there is another way to stand right before God other than Jesus.  In other words, failing to put your faith in Jesus and persisting in that unbelief.  

This is hugely important for understanding this passage. If you approach this passage thinking that it is about someone who truly trusts in Jesus and yet is struggling with some ongoing sin, you may well be deeply unsettled by this section in a way that the author of Hebrews did not intend.  Now that is, of course, a very legitimate and common pastoral issue.  True Christians that are struggling with some habitual sin - and if that’s your struggle today, let me just encourage you to reach out to one of your pastors or elders.  We want to help you and we want to encourage you in that.  But the author of Hebrews is not trying to discourage you in that situation today.  He is talking about someone who, along the way, once trusted in Jesus that just no longer does.  They’ve given up on Jesus.  They’re looking somewhere else for their hope.  And he is deeply concerned about that, because if Jesus is the better and only Savior there is no Savior apart and outside of Him.  And so looking away from Him is a spiritual disaster.  That’s what this passage is about.  Now let’s pray before we read it together and consider God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  Speak its truth deeply into our hearts and by Your Holy Spirit, enable us not only to understand and believe this Word, but especially and more to trust in Jesus and to keep on trusting in Jesus and to never stop trusting in Jesus and to trust in Jesus all the way to the end.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God.  Hear it, beginning in Hebrews 10 verse 26:

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’  And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  For, 

‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The whole Christian life gets down to Jesus, doesn’t it?  That’s one of the things that the author of Hebrews is pressing home to us here. He’s saying, in this warning, positively, “Keep on believing in Jesus.  Keep on trusting Christ as He is offered in the Gospel.  Don’t quit. Don’t look somewhere else.  Don’t look away.  Don’t find a hope somewhere else because it will be a false hope.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. You began with Jesus; keep on with Jesus; end with Jesus.  Don’t stop believing in Him.”  And really that’s his one-point sermon in this passage.  He unfolds that one point in five steps or stages, but it’s all the same message.  And you really see the main message, don’t you, in verses 26 and 27.  

THERE ARE ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES FOR REJECTING JESUS

Here’s the main point of the message and the first step along the way as the author of the Hebrews brings home this truth.  “If we go on sinning deliberately, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  In other words, he’s saying, “If we continue in the rejection of Jesus, there are eternal consequences.”  He is giving a warning here against the deliberate sin against truth to which this congregation was tempted.  There were some there who were tempted to turn their back on Jesus and to refuse to continue to trust in Him for salvation.  They may have been tempted to go back to some form of Judaism, maybe Essene Judaism, where they thought they could get all the things they found in Christianity without having to reject parts of their culture and their heritage which they thought Christianity compromised.  But whatever the temptation was, it was a temptation to stop trusting in Jesus.  And the author of Hebrews is saying very clearly here that if a person willfully and knowingly rejects Jesus, the one real sacrifice for sins, there is nowhere else for him to turn.  

Didn’t we hear that message in Jeremiah 36 this morning?  Jeremiah, through Baruch, brings a word of warning and mercy to the king and to the people.  The warning is:  “Judgment will come if you do not repent!  But I extend to you My mercies.  Repent and believe and I will save you!”  And the king cut the message up and burned it.  Two options are set before the king:  Repent and be saved!  Believe the Word of God.  Receive His promises of mercy and be saved!  Or ignore them, reject them, turn your back on them, and be judged.”  

It reminds me of a moment that I had with a friend of mine.  A friend of mine was a solicitor in the foreign office of the British government in London, and his office was in a building very close to the Imperial War Museum in London.  If you’ve ever been to London, you must visit the Imperial War Room where Churchill often operated the resistance to the Nazi tide that was sweeping across Europe.  And when you get to the end of that tour you hear the speeches of Hitler at Nuremberg and they are terrifying to hear.  Even if you can’t understand a word of German, they are terrifying in their mesmeric effect.  But then immediately after you hear Hitler speaking you hear Churchill speaking.  And I just happened to walk into the room as Churchill was responding on the floor, this audio version of him responding on the floor of the houses of parliament in Westminster saying, “We gave you the choice between honor and war.  You chose dishonor and you shall have war.”  Two, stark alternative that he had given to the Third Reich.  They rejected the possibility of peace and honor and they got war.  That is exactly what is happening in Hebrews 10 and that is exactly what happened in Jeremiah 36.  Here is the opportunity.  Embrace Christ by faith and have peace with God, or turn your back on Him and reject Him or you will have God’s judgment.

THE GREATER MERCY OF NEW COVENANT CARRIES 

WITH IT A GREATER JUDGEMENT WHEN IT IS REJECTED

Now he unfolds this in an argument. You see the second step of the argument, don’t you, in verses 28 and 29.  Here, he takes you right to Moses, because you remember, these people are tempted to go back to some form of Judaism, perhaps Essene Judaism. And so he quotes Moses to them.  Look at verse 28.  “Anyone who set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”  And then he asks a question.  “Now do you think that the punishment would be less under the new covenant or more?”  Notice how he puts it.  Verse 29 - “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” The point is simply this - the greater mercy of the new covenant carries with it a greater judgment when it is rejected.  He’s saying, “Don’t think that if God in the days of Jeremiah and Baruch and Jehoiakim wrought His just judgment on people who turned their backs on His Word, what do you think He’s going to do when He has sent His final Word into the world, Jesus, and people say, ‘I’m not going to believe on Him.  I can find my hope somewhere else.’”  There is a terrifying judgment that awaits God’s new covenant mercies when they are rejected.

THE VERY THOUGHT OF GOD, WHO IS HOLY AND JUST, 

OUGHT TO PROMOTE THE FEAR OF GOD IN YOU

Third, he then quotes Scripture.  Look at verses 30 and 31.  He gives you Scripture proof of this point. He tells you two things about God.  Look at verse 30 - “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’”  And then he gives a little explanatory gloss on those quotations.  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  That’s the phrase that inspired the line from Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  What’s the point?  The very thought of God, who is holy and just, ought to promote the fear of God in us.  When you realize that God is just and we are not and that He will deal justly with the earth, it ought to promote the fear of God in you.  You ought to be looking for His provision of mercy because you know that you need it.  But to reject that, to fail to respond to the character of God by applying to His kind and free offers of mercy, no, this is an indication of the certainly of God’s judgment falling on us.  The point, of course, of this passage is to remind us of the awesome judgment of God and to ask ourselves the question, “What in the world will enable me to escape that judgment when I stand before Him in the final of times?”  And if any of my answer is, “My goodness,” I’m really in trouble; I don’t know myself very well.  The only hope is in Christ and in Christ alone anD in the righteousness that He supplies and in faith alone in Christ alone that we might receive His righteousness credited to us.

And then he goes on to turn and give a word of encouragement to this congregation.  He’s given then a very stern warning in verses 26 to 31, but if you look at verses 32 to 34, the fourth part of his unfolding of this argument is actually an encouragement.  He asks them to examine the grace of God at work in their lives.  Look at what he says in verse 32.  “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with suffering, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.”  In other words, he asks them to examine the graces in their lives implanted there by the Holy Spirit as an encouragement and impetus to their perseverance in faith.  The author here cherishes a warm hope for this congregation based on his knowledge of how they bore up under trial.  And he wants them to reflect on those times and use them as a basis from which to continue on in faith in Christ.  This passage makes very clear that the author intends this section as a warning to believers, not a blast against apostates.  His purpose is to encourage believers to keep on believing in Christ.  They began with faith in Christ; they continue in faith in Christ.  

And that’s even more evident when you look at verses 35 to the end of the chapter.  “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.  For, ‘Yes a little while and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith.’”  Now did you notice that in those verses he gave you a three-part formula for continuing in the Christian life?  What’s the first part?  The first part is putting your hope in the promises of God and their reward.  Put your hope in the promises of God and their reward.  Did you notice what he said?  “Don’t throw away your confidence.  It has a great reward.  You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised.”  How do you live the Christian life?  Believing the promise of God that He will reward those who trust Him.

Second, notice what he goes on to say.  Verse 37 - “For, ‘Yet a little while and the coming one will come.’”  Here’s the second key to perseverance in the Christian life:  Looking to the coming of Jesus.  Living in light of the coming of Jesus.  Remember when we studied 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians together and the whole theme of both of those books was what?  Live the Christian life in light of the coming of Jesus.  Well here’s the author of Hebrews saying the very same thing here.  It’s another evidence of Paul’s influence on the theology of the author of Hebrews.  Live your life in light of the coming of Jesus.

PERSEVERING IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS BY FAITH

And then finally, notice what he says.  “My righteous one shall live by faith.”  How do you go on in the Christian life?  By faith.   You begin the Christian life by faith in Jesus; you continue in the Christian life by faith in Jesus.  You endure in the Christian life by faith in Jesus.  Sinclair Ferguson says, “We persevere through faith and never apart from it.  Perseverance in the Christian life is always through faith.  By faith we live.”  By faith we’re saved.  By faith we live.  And so he’s given you a formula for persevering in the Christian life.

Now the challenge that these Hebrew Christians were facing are a little bit different than the challenge that we saw set before us in the book of Jeremiah chapter 36 this morning.  None of these people cut up Scripture and threw it in the fire and they're probably not many of us in the room that would respond to Scripture that way.  Probably not many of us would cut up our Bibles and throw them in the fire.  But here’s what Ian Murray says.  “Scripture does not need to be denied for apostasy to begin.  All that is needed is that Scripture takes second place in our calculations.”  The author of Hebrews is telling us, “Don’t put the promises of God in second place in your calculations.  Don’t put Jesus in second place in your calculations.  Don’t put the coming of the Savior in second place in your calculations.  Don’t put faith in Christ as He is offered in the Gospel in second place in your calculations.  Keep on believing Jesus.”

You know, many people start out with a profession of faith and somewhere along the way they get lost.  And it’s always because they’ve taken their eyes off Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith, as this author if going to say himself in just a few more verses.  He’s saying, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”  The Christian life can be hard because we live in a sinful and broken world, but keep on believing.  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this Word.  It’s my prayer that by the grace of Your Holy Spirit that You would cause every member of this congregation, in fact every friend who is with us this morning, to believe on Jesus for salvation, but not only that, to keep them believing in Jesus all the days of their lives until the very end and that You would bring them home.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s sing of the only hope there is, our hope in the Lord.  523 - “My Hope Is in the Lord.”  

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.