NOTES on Hebrews
10:26-31 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews is issuing another of his serious warnings against apostasy. The preceding six verses declare the certainty of Jesus' completed work. His death opened for us a living way by which we can approach God, and we can confidently draw near to him through our high priest, Jesus. The author also encourages the Hebrews to "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess" and to encourage one another.
Now he warns them again about the danger of continuing to sin after receiving "the knowledge of the truth". Deliberately continuing to sin is apostasy. The New Bible Dictionary published by Inter-Varsity Press defines apostasy as coming from a Greek word referring to political rebellion. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the word "apostasy" always refers to rebellion against God. Today we may understand the word to be the earthly counterpart to Lucifer's rebellion in heaven.
Verse 26 says, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice is left." In the Greek the word gar, meaning "for", precedes this passage. This preposition makes it clear that the author is talking about people who are leaving the church, not about people who never made a profession of faith. These verses are talking about deliberate, willful sin.
Both the Old and the New Testaments make a distinction between willful and "ignorant" sin. Numbers 15: 27-31 outlines the offerings and atonement for unintentional sin but says, "Anyone who sins defiantlyblasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people."
2 Peter 2:20 says, "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning."
This passage in Hebrews is a warning against continuing willful sin after assenting to the truth.
What Is Truth?
Truth, ultimately, is Jesus himself. "I am the way and the truth and the life," he said. "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." In 2 Timothy 2:25, Paul further said that if people oppose a servant of the Lord, the Christ-follower "must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."
Paul also refers to truth in Titus 1:1-2a: "an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life"
Truth, according to Paul, is what frees people from evil and leads them to godliness. Truth is what is real. Reality includes truth about one's life, one's motives, one's beliefs and convictions, one's blind spots and points of denial. More than that, truth is what is real about creation and the universe, about science and history, about the physical world and the spiritual realm. But overarching all other parts of truth is God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything. Truth resides in him; from him all knowledge of truth enlightens humanity.
Only when a person accepts Jesus can he have access to truth. Without the saving grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit's instruction, no one can truly know the truth about himself or his motives, his beliefs or convictions. He cannot be open to the possibilities of universal truth or of eternity. Without the Holy Spirit, no one can truly know the truth about Jesus.
Without truth, no one can be free. Without truth, no one can be saved from his or her inherent sin. Without truth, no one can relate to another without causing damage. Without truth, no one can love. Without truth, no one can leave this world alive.
Only truth can save us from our flesh which wars with our now-living spirits. Only truth can protect us from deception. Only truth can guard us from apostasy. Only truth-only Jesus-can keep us in freedom and peace.
Deception and Apostasy
Apostasy does not necessarily happen because of sudden, willful rebellion. It can begin as deception seductively flattering a person with intellectually satisfying variations of orthodoxy. Deception can come by means of "false prophets" (Matt. 24:11) who lead people away from Jesus toward self-centered deviations of biblical truth. They will secretly introduce heresies, even denying the "sovereign Lord." (2 Peter 2:1-2) Some will try to change the gospel of grace into a license for immorality. (Jude 3-4) Deception can come in the form of criticism of our freedom and security in Christ (Gal. 2:4) or from teachers who add works to or take away security from the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-8).
Some people will be looking for a way to be deceived. They will not tolerate sound doctrine and will turn from truth to myths. They will find ways to hear what their "itching ears" want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Ultimately, deception comes from one source: Satan. "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons," says Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1.
Everyone is capable of being deceived. The only thing that protects a person against subtle deviations of truth is total commitment to Jesus and spending time in his word.
As innocuous as deception appears at first, it gets a foothold in a person's soul and gives the father of deception, Satan, an entry point through which to deepen a twisted perception of truth. Ultimately, doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1) and self-centered works turn people's hearts against Jesus, and they lose the faith they first knew and put their confidence in things that leave themselves at the center of their lives. Unchecked, deception leads to rebellion, however passive, against God.
Sometimes apostasy happens more deliberately than by doctrinal deception. Sometimes people look for ways to rationalize obvious sin. Any desire, pursuit, or relationship not fully submitted to Jesus will become self-serving and take the place of Jesus at the center of our attention.
Sin in Israel vs. Sin in the Church
In the Old Testament, deliberate law-breakers were stoned to death and thus removed from the camp of Israel. (Deut. 17:2-7) In the New Testament, there is a new way to deal with persistent sinners.
In Corinth the church was tolerating egregious sin among its members before Paul wrote them his first letter which both rebuked and instructed the Corinthians in godly living. Paul spelled out a specific course of action based on Jesus' instruction for people who refused to repent when their church brothers confronted them. Jesus said if a person catches a sister or brother in sin, they must go to them privately and confront them with it. If that method doesn't convince the offender to leave his or her sin, the original witness must take two or three other witnesses along and talk to the person again. If that doesn't work, bring the issue before the whole body of believers and put the sinner out of fellowship.
Paul emphasizes the necessity of putting an unrepentant sinner out of fellowship. Such action, however, must only be done when the church is "assembled in the name of our Lord Jesusand the power of our Lord Jesus is present," he says in 1 Corinthians 5:4. "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." (1 Cor. 5:5)
Such action is ultimately redemptive, not punitive. When a member of the body of Christ persists in sin, it will mean his eternal death if he does not come to repentance. A person in this compromised position is in more spiritual danger than is a person who has never heard the gospel. For a professed believer to choose to sin means he ignores the price Jesus has paid for him in order to be one with him. A person cannot have Jesus in the center of his mind and spirit if he is deliberately rationalizing sin. He pushes Jesus aside to make room for his idol.
Putting such a person out of the fellowship and spiritual protection of the church is a means of bringing him/her to a realization of what he has lost by pursuing his compulsion. Like the prodigal son, such a person can wake up, repent, and return to his Savior and to his community of fellowship. If, however, he refuses to repent, there's no more hope for him. He has rejected the eternal sacrifice Jesus made for him. He has rejected the Lamb slain from the creation of the world.
Jesus' death healed the chasm of sin in the universe. His blood is the living way we can approach God and be one with him. Because Jesus' blood cleansed and healed our original wound of sin which separated us from God, his blood has sanctified us by cleansing our sin. Even before we accept his cleansing, the tear in the universe is mended. The way is open for us to enter God's presence. We only have to accept his death and enter his life.
The Old Testament law decreed that blatant, deliberate sin be punished by death. When a person disregarded the law, he put himself under the curse of the law. The New Testament offers grace for sinners. But if the sinner refuses the calls of grace on his life, his fate is worse than that of those who died under the law. (v. 29) He insults "the Spirit of grace" by refusing to live by the Spirit and gratifying his sinful flesh instead. He puts his own desires and compulsions in his heart in the place of the Holy Spirit.
Those who apostatize will ultimately be judged and punished by God, who "is a consuming fire". (Hebrews 12:29; Deut. 4:24; 2 Thess. 1:7)
The Mosaic law was between God and Israel. Israel had to keep their part of the agreement in order to receive the blessings of God. Part of their instructions was to keep their camp pure. God instructed the Israelites to kill those who refused to live by the nation's laws. In order to receive God's blessing, they had to keep the camp pure and free from apostasy and anarchy. As covenant partners, Israel was under obligation to carry out this and all other covenant requirements.
But Israel was flawed. It couldn't carry out the law's requirements consistently, and when it attempted to, it could never achieve perfection.
The New Covenant, however, is between God and Jesus. Jesus, the Son of Man, is our covenant with God our Father. In him all requirements for holiness and life are fulfilled. We are the recipients of Jesus' perfection, death, and resurrection. Since he keeps the covenant with his Father, he, not we, is responsible for protecting its integrity.
It is Jesus, not we, who will judge the wicked. It is God, not we, who will destroy them. (v. 30-31) As the church, the body of Christ, our job is to mediate God's grace and forgiveness to the world. We are to be the fragrance of Christ in a world that is perishing. We do not have the authority to judge people's eternal destiny. Only Jesus, who became sin for us and shed his blood to open a living way for us to reach God, has the authority to make that judgment.
As the two parties in the covenant, Jesus and the Father are the ones who have the power and the authority to deal with those who reject God's grace.
Who Are the Apostate?
In his parable of the sower, Jesus told of four different outcomes for the seeds the sower planted. One set of seeds sprang up quickly and grew lovely plants. When the weather grew hot, however, the plants withered and died because their roots grew in rocky soil, and they did not have deep roots. These plants represented people who hear the gospel with great joy, but when life's trials beset them, they lose faith and fall away. (Matthew 13)
Those who apostatize come from this group. They appear to be believers. They give verbal assent to belief, and they are active in the church. But underneath, away from public scrutiny, they do not have roots growing deeply in the soil of God's word and the nourishment of his love. They have not allowed the Holy Spirit to give them a new birth and to replace their secret sins and idols with His presence. When life requires them to make choices, they do not have a relationship with Jesus to sustain them through painful submission. Instead, they hold onto what feels familiar, and they wither away because they are not grounded in personal relationships with Jesus that change their hearts.
God is calling you to complete submission to him. He is asking you not to give in to the temptation to indulge your desires without asking him what his will is.
Jesus is asking you to put everything you most treasure before him. He is asking you to let him teach you how to relate to the people in your life. He is asking you to let him teach you how to trust him enough to give up the things without which it feels you cannot live.
Jesus wants to protect your heart and mind from deception. He wants to be more real to you than the things you fear. He wants to be more to you than the things you crave. He wants to challenge you more than the things you believe. He wants to love you more than can those you love.
Jesus has eternally shed his blood for you, and he longs for your love in return. He has made is possible to be one with you, and he asks you to accept his intimacy.
Jesus is with his Father, and his blood has paved a way for you to approach him. He offers to give you a new heart and a new reality. He offers to put his Spirit in you to give you a new life. He offers to protect you from apostasy. He offers to be in an eternal relationship with you, one in which nothing can ever take you out of his hand and heart.
Say yes to him! You can trust him.
You can live the rest of your life in love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 3, 2001.