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Hebrews 10:26 – sin and sinning in Hebrews

Hebrews 10:26 can be a scary verse.  One woman I know has been crippled by the fear that she is damned because of ongoing sin.  Whenever I declared the gospel to her and held out the grace of Jesus she would always come back to these verses:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Heb 10:26-27)

Whatever happens we don't want to be found to be ones who "deliberately keep on sinning."  So what does it mean?

Different things can be said, but let me just take up one line of inquiry.  Verse 26 uses 'sin' in two senses - first as a verb, then as a noun.  It's interesting to note that Hebrews only uses 'sin' as a verb twice.  But 'sin' as a noun is everywhere.  Here are all its uses:

Sin as a noun:

is purified - 1:3

is atoned for - 2:17

is not remembered anymore - 8:12; 10:17

is put away once and for all - 9:26

is borne by Jesus once and for all - 9:28

Christ is sacrificed for it once for all time - 10:12

Christ is without it - 4:15

is dealt with in shadowy way by High Priest / old covenant - 5:1,3; 7:27; 10:2,3,4,6,8,11,18,26; 13:11

hardens and deceives - 3:13

gives fleeting pleasures - 11:25

easily entangles - 12:1

causes struggle - 12:4

Sin as a verb is only mentioned twice:

Israelites ‘sinned’ and their bodies fell in the wilderness - 3:17

Deliberately sinning – no sacrifice for sins remains - 10:26

Sin (noun) – has been purified, atoned for, put away and borne in the sacrifice of sinless Jesus once and for all.  It is therefore remembered no more.  This is precisely what the old covenant promised through its shadows but never effected itself.  Sin remains a reality for the Christian – it offers fleeting pleasures.  But it deceives and hardens, it easily entangles and causes painful struggle.

To sin (verb) – is a decisive and deadly rejection of the Lord.  The Israelites “sinned” in the wilderness and so they died (3:17).  This is the verdict upon 40 years of their constantly wayward hearts.  They did not want the Lord and His future and so He swore that they would not enter His rest.  People today ‘deliberately sin’ when they reject Jesus, their one Sacrifice for sins and Forerunner to glory.  If they forsake Him, no sacrifice for sins remains. (10:26)

I wonder therefore whether the slight overtranslation of 10:26 in most versions ("Deliberately keep on sinning ...") spotlights the wrong thing.  The unforgiveable nature of this kind of sinning is not really its ongoingness - though it is an ongoing attitude.  The unforgiveableness of this sin is that it is a rejection of the very One in Whom forgiveness is offered.  The author is not telling us: "a spot of occasional sinning is alright but ongoing sinning is damnable."  He's saying that sin is put away by Christ once and for all, but the person who rejects Christ deliberately has nowhere else to turn.

Hebrews is written to a people always tempted to trust the shadows and not the Substance.  They look to angels and Moses and temple and priests and goats and bulls and everything but Jesus.  But Jesus is the One we are to See and Fix our thoughts upon, etc, etc.  If we have seen HIM and then turn away again to worthless sin-bearers - no sacrifice for sins remains.  We've rejected the one Life-raft.

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0 thoughts on “Hebrews 10:26 – sin and sinning in Hebrews

  1. Heather

    Hebrews 10:26 connects in my mind with the blasphemy against the Spirit that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 12:31. And also with 1 John 1:8-10.

    If we have seen HIM and then turn away again to worthless sin-bearers – no sacrifice for sins remains. We’ve rejected the one Life-raft.

    This is a good way to explain the verse, I think. There are many who believe salvation can be lost but I've wondered whether it is more that people cut themselves off from Christ's generous offer because of a refusal to admit sin and ask Him to pull them out of the mire. Maybe?

  2. Dave K

    Thanks Glen. Very helpful thoughts on a challenging verse.

    So do you think the author thinks by "no sacrifice left" not "there are no more chances" but that "there's no other sacrifices for sin"? A bit like Peter's comment "Lord, to whom shall we go?" That seems to be what you are saying in your final paragraph.

    If we have put away and spurned the sacrifice of Christ, like the Israelites who "set aside" the law, then there are no other ways to deal with sin.

    I see the OT quotations in the passage are all about worshipping and sacrificing to other gods, particularly in the wilderness. The wilderness rebellion runs all the way through Hebrews doesn't it? The desire to return to Egypt, instead of march/run forward to the promised land. I guess we can encourage people that if they don't want to go back, but do want to go forward, they are not sinning in the way that Hebrews has in mind here.

    Hmmm.. thanks for provoking me to think about Hebrews 10 again.

  3. Heather

    A bit like Peter’s comment “Lord, to whom shall we go?” That seems to be what you are saying in your final paragraph.

    Dave K,

    Considering who is the target audience of the letter, I would imagine the temptation to give into societal pressure and give up on following Christ would have been tremendous. Religion as usual has a certain familiar comfort about it, yes?

    I think you hit on a key point concerning Peter's statement. Jesus' words concerning the leaving of family, homes and livelihoods would have been much more than an intellectual assertion for these early believers. When all's said and done, and regardless of external circumstances, we all must come to that place of recognition. As the Psalmist repeatedly says, the Lord is our refuge.

    After all, who can withstand the wrath of God, but God alone?

  4. Glen

    The wilderness is such a good parallel here. Because a) they are the visible church yet many (most) are unbelievers and b) because they were given precisely what they wanted. "You don't want My future - fine, you don't get it. But one thing you can't do is simply rely on your membership of the census."

    No-one who wants Christ is ever refused Him. But there are those who outwardly seem like believers but don't actually want Him. They go through the waters but they haven't truly come to partake in Christ (Heb 3:14).

    It can be a dangerous thing to put too much of a gap between 'participation in Christ' and 'participation in His body through word and sacrament' - but the wilderness example gives us warrant to do exactly that. Those who participate in the latter don't necessarily participate in the former. But interestingly the remedy the bible gives is to pay more careful attention to Christ being given to His body in word and sacrament. In word - "Today, if you hear His voice..." (Heb 3&4). And sacrament - 1 Cor 10.

  5. Dave K

    Absolutely Heather. Sin is irrational, and yet it is so understandable. The pull of sin(ning) is powerful.

    On word and sacrament: all the Protestant tradition has emphasised that they have to be received by faith hasn't it? The Israelites were baptised in the Red Sea and had received in anticipation the promised land. God had opened up the way for them, but they chose not to enter the rest. The land was open, as relationship with God is for us. But not to have faith is to wish to be be unbaptised - to go back into Egypt. It turns the truth (freedom) into a lie (death in the wilderness - what the Israelites thought they had been given by Moses, and what God actually gave them).

    Hebrews 4:2 says: "the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened". You could also say that the baptism they received did not benefit them because they had no faith.

  6. theoldadam

    Repentance and forgiveness is NOt a one time deal.

    It is the shape of the life of a believer.

    Simul ustes et peccator. At the same time, fully justified, and yet fully sinner. (Romans 7)

    Repentance and forgiveness is a picture of baptism.

    Over and over, and over again.

  7. Dave K

    Hi theoldadam,

    I think it is, and it isn't, isn't it? :-)

    Lutheranism tends to emphasise the over and over again. Always remembering we are a sinner.

    Evangelicals emphasising being born-again, and the Reformed emphasising perseverance of the saints, tend the other way and see it all at the beginning of the Christian life. Always remembering we were sinners but now are saints (in tune with what is the dominant NT witness).

    We are born-again once, and we are baptised once.

    At the same time, we confess our sins over and over again.

    However, these are not totally different things as Luther saw when he denied confession was a sacrament.

    Confession and absolution are really returning again and again to baptism. So in some sense repentance is once, and in another sense it is repeated.

    ... throwing that out there, as I'd be interested to know your thoughts... although I'm not trying to get onto a big debate on perseverance!

    Glen,

    While I'm here, have you seen this post on Barth and faith? I read it and thought of you :-) faith is not a thing...

    I thought you may not of seen it as I'm not sure if it is a blog you frequent, but I think you may enjoy the diet of quotes it would provide you with. He reads a lot!

  8. Heather

    Dave K,

    I appreciate your perspective and tend to agree with you concerning "it is and it isn't".

    Funny how one person gets a great view of one side of a coin (ie Lutheran vantage point) and another will see the other side (evangelical) and both can forget that they are actually looking at the same item as they debate about who's right.

    In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul describes the war that rages between the new creature in Christ and the flesh which is still kicking. It is horrible for the believer to want to be completely free yet still be stuck, wrestling with the desire to do what (s)he ought not.

    Yet, 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As we become aware of our failings and frailties as per Romans 7, we can be reassured that as we are convicted and agree with God about our sinfulness, the Lord is merciful and will forgive. Not just seven times. But "seventy times seven"!

    On the one hand, Jesus' work on the cross and resurrection make salvation a "done" deal. While being crucified, He asked the Father to forgive and just before releasing his spirit He said "It is finished". Forgiveness for sins is secured. On the other hand, we are not yet fully delivered because we still dwell in bodies of death (Romans 7:24) which have yet to be transformed upon Christ's return.

    We're saved. We're being saved.

    "Repentance" isn't a one time thing. It is an ongoing attitude that drives us back to the feet of Jesus to weep over our part in His suffering and to ask Him to draw us closer. Interestingly, repentance also tends to "grow" as I am made more and more aware of how much I need Christ to intercede for me.

  9. theoldadam

    Dave K.,

    Luther wanted to keep confession as a Sacrament. He and the other Reformers eventually thought not to. (I think they couldn't really justify it the way they wanted to, scripturally - I may be wrong on that score)

    You understand Lutheranism very well. For us it isn't a one time event (being saved - that is actually how St. Paul puts it. "for those of us who are being saved..."

    We do not look at baptism as a one time event but more like a ship that carries us throughout life. And an active faith will have that dynamic quality of constant repentance and forgiveness. That's why we (some of us) preach the law so hard and unrelenting, and the gospel so freely and unmitigated, as the antidote to that demand of the law.

    Heather,

    Nice comments, Heather.

    I really like that last sentence.

  10. Glen

    Thanks for the recommendation Dave. Some really interesting stuff.

    I'm enjoying everyone's comments - just not the time to interact at the moment...

    Glory to Jesus!

  11. Si Hollett

    Confession (though not in the Catholic sense of to a priest) works in a similar way to the sacraments - If we confess, God is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9). Grace and blessing come to us through the act.

    And here's Psalm 32:1-5, which just how much of a blessing confessing sins is:

    1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
    2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

    3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
    4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

    5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

    --
    Don't confess and there's guilt, there's sorrow (3&4), but confess and be forgiven (5) and the exposure of the sin covers it properly (5&1), the inquity is removed, and there's blessing.

    On a different subject - does anyone else think the phrase "perseverance of the saints" (rightly) implies hard work? How did people twist it to mean "once saved, always saved" (which is true, but worded badly). While their salvation doesn't depend on them, the saints will push on, fight the good fight, keep coming to the cross, keep repenting. They do this because they are saints as well as sinners - they keep having to kill their old nature, they are _forgiven_ sinners, but they are still sinners - not now controlled by sin and sin's law, but rather by the Spirit's law. New creations, yet not yet fully vanquishing the old self. There's tons of warnings about not falling away, not because saints can, but because it's a battle to persevere and we need to realise that.

  12. pgjackson

    Confession is, like the sacraments, a means of grace. Calvin is pretty good on this I think - he labels prayer along with the sacraments as amongst the means God gives to us for growth and nurture in grace. Which is a great way of seeing all prayer nevermind just confession.

    Si, I love that last paragraph of yours above. Spot on. Thanks.

  13. Dave K

    Flying visit, as I have an exam tomorrow but I'm having a few minutes break.

    Nice comments. I'll just throw a few favourite Luther quotes on the confession/penance and baptism:

    "baptism remains forever. Even though someone falls from it and sins, we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old creature.....Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to baptism...
    As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is as long as we carry the old creature around our necks" (LC)

    "it has seemed proper to restrict the name of sacrament to those promises which have signs attached to them. The remainder, not being bound to signs, are bare promises. Hence there are, strictly speaking, but two sacraments in the church of God - baptism and the bread. For only in these two do we find both the divinely instituted sign and the promise of forgiveness of sins. The sacrament of penance, which I added to these two [earlier he said there were three sacraments], lacks the divinely instituted visible sign, and is, as I have said, nothing but a way and a return to baptism." (Bab Cap)

    Although, remembering our previous discussion on sacraments, Luther says that in some ways there is "one single sacrament" in the Scriptures and that is Christ (1 Tim 3:16 - 'mystery' is translated 'sacramentum' in the Latin Vulgate).

    In some sense confession, prayer etc could be labelled sacraments. But they are really a returning to the visible promise of the 2 sacraments which promise new life. But these are signs of the 1 sacrament.... you could imagine a kind of family tree (or vine?) with branches branching off, but all the leaves finding nourishment through the main branches of the word and sacrament, which find their nourishment from Christ himself.

    Anyhow, back to company law....

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