“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 spurned 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.” – Hebrews 10:26-31
How do I read this and not crumble? How do I acknowledge that this is the inspired word of God and not become utterly dismayed? Can I honestly look at this passage and say with confidence that it is not describing me?
Sure, christians sin. We sin all the time, not realizing it. Bewildering as it is, David somehow did not realize his sins of adultery and murder until God revealed them to him via Nathan the prophet, after which, David penned the most dramatic prayer of repentance on written record.
And then, there is temptation. We are weak, still living in cursed flesh. We struggle. And sometimes, we give in. We know what we are doing, and it grieves the Spirit of God as well as our own. We repent, and we move on, worshipping God and thanking him for his grace and mercy.
But do christians ever deliberately pursue ungodliness? Do christians ever knowingly seek it out? For extended periods of time? I do. I desire that which will satisfy my flesh and advance my own kingdom rather than God’s, and I labor to that end. And unlike David, I am quite aware of the sinfulness of it all. As this story develops, I begin to resemble quite accurately the object of Hebrews 10:26-31.
I have read the book of Hebrews many times over the years, but yesterday morning, this passage confronted me as if for the first time. To go on deliberately sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, doesn’t merely grieve, but outrages the Spirit of grace! And there is no sacrifice for the sins of the one who does this; there is judgment. I believe the author of Hebrews: it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
My reading of Hebrews yesterday is not what prompted me to meditate on this. I’ve been frustrated and fearful throughout most of October because I looked more like a hard-hearted gentile than a struggling believer. And yesterday, fed up with myself, I opened the word of God for encouragement, and I turned to Hebrews, where I eventually came upon this passage. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but God does have an interesting way of operating.
And I do believe it was the work of God. While I do acknowledge that the accuser of the brethren is ever ready to oblige a listening ear, I am convinced that on this occasion, it was the Holy Spirit who brought to my attention this most unpleasant passage about God’s judgment.
But how can this be? Does the Spirit of God speak condemnation to the saints, or encouragement? The answer is ultimately the latter, but the issue is complicated. It is something that I have long understood theologically, but am only now beginning to grasp experientially.
God has predestined me, along with every saint, to persevere to the end. And there are several means by which he accomplishes this goal, not the least of which are sobering warnings like the one in Hebrews 10. I have said that for years, and I believed it, although I never truly understood it. While that may be those verses’ intended purpose, all they’ve ever accomplished in my life was driving me toward legalism. Consequently, I have largely avoided them.
But God’s word is living and active. And his Spirit really does indwell me and speak to me. Thus, through a passage that speaks only condemnation to my flesh, God spoke encouragement to my spirit. He granted me a resolve – not to clean myself up to alleviate my conscience, but to cling to Christ all the more desperately!
After reading Hebrews and praying through some things, a weight had certainly been lifted from my shoulders. Nonetheless, nearly a month of rebellion still fresh on my mind, I remained a bit unsettled. I hadn’t merely committed unknown sin or momentarily fallen to temptation. I had spent more than three weeks deliberately, consistently replacing God with myself, and I have gone through extended periods of this throughout my christian life. What makes me any different from the nominal christians who likewise serve Satan, all the while falsely secure in regards to the salvation of their souls? Is it simply that my vain pursuits are periodically interrupted by the pursuit of God?
I was grading papers later that afternoon, when I felt the urge to go online to DesiringGod.org. I have read several of John Piper’s books and listened to more of his sermons, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited his website. But compelled as I was, I searched the site for sermons on perseverance. My attention was grabbed by an exposition of Psalm 119:176. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”
This was the cherry on top of the sundae of grace that God had prepared for me yesterday. As I read the transcript, I gained so much clarity, so much relief! I am not the man whose fate is written in Hebrews 10:26-31. I am one of God’s sheep, and like the psalmist, I sometimes go astray. And also like the psalmist, I am not content to be astray. I cry out for the shepherd to come and get me. And this is the difference! This is why I am not like the man in Hebrews 10 or the nominal christian. Even in my most callous moment, I do not have a heart of stone. God has given me a new heart whose deepest desire is communion with him. And when he comes to get me after I have strayed yet again, that heart erupts in unspeakable joy and worship!
This reality allows me to glory in the rest of Hebrews. The following are some of the great passages in Hebrews that I praise God for:
Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Hebrews 4:14-16 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 9:12-15 “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
Hebrews 9:27-28 “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
I am beyond excited about the unexpected things God is teaching me. Yes, he has a very interesting way of operating, indeed.
(Below is a link to the above mentioned sermon by John Piper. I strongly encourage you to take some time to read it.)