"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted 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 terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves 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 was promised. FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING 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 to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:26-39, NASB).
The gravity of this epistle is underscored by the passage we now consider. In a day when people play at religion, making a business of it, and using it as a means to promote entertainment and careers, this is a most sobering passage. While the thrust of the so-called evangelical world is getting men saved, the thrust of the thrust of the ministry of Christ is, so to speak, keeping them saved. We will find there is a condition that is worse than never having known the Lord at all. There is a state where condemnation is greater, and it would have been better never to have been born. What is more, all of God's people are subject influences that pull them toward that state. None are exempt from temptation, and thus none are exempt from danger.
But I do not aim to produce doubt and debilitating fear in your heart. In His great salvation, God has provided a way of resisting the encroachments of the evil one. The solemn warnings of Scripture are not designed to thrust us from the Lord, but to alert us to the hostile influences that surround us. The Lord has gone to great expense to bring us to glory, and He will not abandon His good work. Angelic hosts have been marshaled for your protection, and the Sovereign of the universe sits at the Father's right hand to ensure your safe arrival in glory (Heb 1:13-14; Heb 5:10; 7:25-26). The Holy Spirit of God has been sent into your heart to strengthen, illuminate, and direct you, even making intercession for you when you do not knowhow to pray yourself (Rom 8:26). We have good ground for confidence!
Every step along the way, our salvation requires our consent. At no time has there ever been, nor is there now, a word of comfort or promise from God to unwilling people. Willingness is an absolute requirement for the blessings of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. That is why disinterest, lethargy, and casualness are so dangerous. They all effect the will, lulling it off to sleep, where God can not be heard because He is not desired. It is always "whosoever will" always (Mk 8:34; Rev 22:17)! I understand, that in the last analysis "it not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Rom 9:16). However, while the human will is not the CAUSE for the conferment of saving mercy, it is a requisite to its obtainment.
Our preaching, teaching, singing, and fellowship must have a strong appeal to the will of the people. Something must be said or done that awakens within the human breast a longing for God, and hunger for His righteousness, and the anticipation of Christ's return. Strong convictions and fervency of heart follow in the perception of Divine influence. We live in a time when people are content to spectate or be entertained. Sentimentality has replaced spirituality, and fleshly happiness the joy of the Lord. But such things will not sustain the soul. They will not put the armies of darkness to flight, nor summon the powers of heaven to your aid.
"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES" (Verse 26, NASB). The gravity of this text cannot be brushed aside with stilted theological views. Seemingly strong arguments may be produced that declare salvation "cannot be lost," or we "cannot fall away," or "once we are saved we are always saved" . . . etc. Those are powerless phrases, created by men who are attempting to cram Scripture into containers of their own making--"bags with holes" and "broken cisterns" (Hag 1:6; Jer 2:13). But after all is said and done, the "Spirit speaks expressly" on this subject. This is not A VIEW of the subject under consideration, it is the ONLY valid view--the Divine assessment.
The condition under consideration is to be avoided by the means declared in verses 24-25. Those in Christ are working out their own salvation (Phil 2:12) in a realm fraught with jeopardy. Their full effort is required in the good fight of faith, else sin will become dominant within them. There is no provision in the New Covenant for the spirit of complacency. Disinterest gives the advantage to the adversary. Without putting on the "whole armor of God" (Eph 6:10-18), the conscience becomes dull, and a spirit of slumber descends upon the soul. The "will" thus becomes weak and emaciated, disarming the soul.
"Sinning willingly," or "willfully," does not refer to being "overtaken in a fault," as in Galatians 6:1. It does not fall into the category of sin mentioned in First John 1:9 and 2:1. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." While no believer wants to sin, and full provision is made for sin to be denied, still "forgiveness is necessary because of our natural frailty. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). This, however, is not the type of sin described in the words "sin willfully."
To "sin willfully" is to choose sin in preference to the Savior. It is NOT to succumb to the Tempter in a single temptation, but to choose to LIVE in sin. This choice is a cultured one, resulting from giving in to temptation. When people indulge in transgression, they awaken in themselves an appetite for sin. Men call this "addiction," but that word is too scientific, and does not carry the weight of personal responsibility. The Scriptural view is "entanglement" (2 Pet 2:20), and is the result of moral compromise. It is the act of rebellion against the Lord. This is called "presumptuous sin" in Psalms 19:13, and is viewed with all seriousness. It is an act of defiance, when the individual sins by premeditation AFTER having had the advantage of great spiritual light. This is what Judas did when he betrayed the Son of God, after having been exposed to "grace and truth," which came by Him. It is said of this apostate, "he fell by transgression, that he might go to his own place" (Acts 1 :25).
This condition is mentioned several places, and in different ways. Here are a few of them. It is making "shipwreck" of the faith (1 Tim 1:19), "departing from the faith" (1 Tim 4:1), and "departing from the living God" (Heb 3:12). It is also "falling away" (Heb 6:6), forsaking the "right way" (2 Pet 2:15), and falling from "steadfastness" (2 Pet 3:17). Jude admonishes us not to take the matter casually, reminded us that Israel fell AFTER they were "saved out of the land of Egypt," and some angels lost their "first estate" (Jude 5-6). All of these occurred as a matter of choice, not coercion. Woe to the individual that believes himself incapable of making a wrong choice! Such a soul is surely deluded!
The phrase "sin willfully" does not apply to alien sinners. Were that the case, none could be saved. Rather, it applies to those "who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come," then choose to return to the bondage from which they were delivered (Heb 6:4-5). They have been confronted with more than facts they participated in the life of God, were illuminated, and enjoyed the blessing of the Lord.
Why does the Holy Spirit introduce this line of reasoning? Rest assured, this is not to establish an official theological position about the possibility of falling away--although it does do that. The Word of God is not a book of religious philosophy. In relegating the Lord Jesus Christ to the background of their thought, the Hebrews were entering the realm where men do "fall away." When you minimize Jesus you maximize spiritual jeopardy! Let us be more specific. This is such a relevant message! Those seeking justification by a system of Law are moving backward, even though they suppose themselves to be moving forward. The Lord Jesus will have nothing to do with such an approach to God. He will not strengthen the individual to perform empty disciplines. The blessing of the Lord will not come to those whose hearts are removed from Him. As elementary as this may appear, the church has struggled against such inclinations from the beginning (Gal 5:4; Col 2:20-23).
When men do not love the Lord "with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength" (Mark 12:33), they begin to move backwards. There is no neutral zone in spiritual life! Furthermore, backward movement is always toward sin, alienation, and spiritual insensitivity. In saying "If we sin willfully," the Spirit is saying, "If we choose to live in sin, abandoning the faith." This is the condition to which Peter referred. Such "turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet 2:20-22). There is no person failing to press toward the mark that is not in danger of this condition!
The passage confronts those who have "received a knowledge of the truth." Obviously, this is not mere academic or cursory knowledge. It goes much deeper than that. Jesus referred to this condition in one of His teachings. "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:47). This knowledge is the "enlightenment" to which the Spirit referred in the sixth chapter: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . . " (verse 4). Peter speaks very poignantly to the subject. "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Pet 2:20). This knowledge results in the escape of the individual from the contaminating effects of the world.
Notice, this is a "received" knowledge, not a developed one. "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth" (NIV). This is being "illuminated," as in Hebrews 10:32), and being "enlightened," as in Ephesians 1:18. This is when the "secret of the Lord" is with men, and He shows them "His covenant" (Psa 25:14). Permit me to elaborate on this. When men are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col 1:13). They experience enlightenment from the God of heaven. How marvelously it is stated in Second Corinthians 4:6. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." That is the "knowledge of the truth" referred to in our text, and it is glorious. It is the knowledge to which Jesus referred when He said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). The person who "sins willfully" deliberately extinguishes that light in quest for this present evil world. Fellowship with Christ, into which we are called (1 Cor 1:9) is abandoned in favor of temporal things.
Here is a dreadful word "no more sacrifice for sins." It means, no more provision for remission, no more way of escape, no more means of forgiveness. This is another way of saying "Christ is dead in vain" for the individual (Gal 2:21). Remember, "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). To choose sin is to reject Christ. It is to repudiate His vicarious atonement. It is to reject the Son of God, and not "receive" Him (John 1:11). Note, they did not reject Him as a Friend or Helper, but as a Sacrifice for their sin! The Son of God is not only "the Lamb of God," but "the Lamb SLAIN" (Rev 13:8). Ultimately, to fail to believe on Christ is to fail to "receive the atonement," or "reconciliation" (Rom 5:11).
Even Omnipotence cannot apply the sacrifice of Christ where it is not chosen. Where sin is preferred, there is no provision for remission! At some point, the will must be turned., and the Divine provision must be held dear. But, when the individual chooses to live in sin, the will becomes debilitated Godward, and the conscience becomes seared. Soon, sin is preferred where once it was despised. Even though the "knowledge of the truth" was received, and deliverance from the powerful grip of darkness was experienced, the heart is deadened by a return to sin--like a "dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Pet 2:22).
There is only one Divine provision for sin--only one "sacrifice for sin" (Heb 9:26,28; 10:10,12,14). There will never be another one! It is possible to drift so far from this "one sacrifice for sins forever" (Heb 10:12), that it cannot again be accessed. That is the point of this sobering text. Those who have concocted doctrines that say this cannot occur are guilty of disarming men, misrepresenting the Lord, and giving the advantage to the devil. Their transgression is neither innocent nor harmless. If the Spirit warns believers of descending into a state where there is "no more sacrifice for sins," woe to that person who affirms such a state does not exist!
This is descriptive of an apostate condition, from which one cannot be extricated. It is the state mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6, and, like salvation itself, involves two things: human choice and Divine decision. It is a point of total renunciation of the faith once embraced. Even when Jesus was upon earth, people abandoned Him who once followed Him. As it is written, "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). The Spirit foretold of a time when apostasy would be on a large scale (Matt 24:10-12; 2 Thess 2:2).
In case someone imagines apostasy is not possible, there were angels, dwelling in the very presence of God, who apostatized, and became unrecoverable (Jude 6; 2 Pet 2:4). This is not a philosophical argument, but a spiritual warning! It is possible to "depart form the faith," and "give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4:1-3). There are not many instances of such departures in Scripture, lest our hearts be bludgeoned by hopelessness. Yet, there are the examples of Judas, Saul (1 Sam 15:11), Amaziah (2 Chron 25:14,27), and Hyenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:19-20), to keep us from being lulled asleep in our spirits. Of apostasy, one has well said, "An apostate's defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the church; or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who for filthy lucre's sake basely betrayed his Lord." (DWIGHT M. PRATT, from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
Sin has a dulling effect upon the conscience, moving the individual away from God's "sacrifice for sin." If that backward course is not averted by "fleeing" for refuge to Christ (Heb 6:18), and aggressively confessing sin (1 John 1:8-9), one will eventually arrive at a point where there is no provision for remission. Rest assured, those who desire to return to the Lord can do so. However, those who suppress that desire in preference for sin have deceived themselves. There is no guarantee that the person choosing sin can recover from the choice! Every sin, regardless how minuscule, has the potential of hardening against the Lord's Christ! It is always right to be absolutely sober about sin. It is always wrong to view it with indifference!
If there remains no more sacrifice for sin, then what does remain? What does the person who chooses to abandon Christ have to look forward to? "But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Verse 27, NIV). This is strong language, but strong language is required where people are moving away from the Lord (as was the case with the Hebrews to whom this letter as written). It is not fashionable to speak of "judgment and fiery indignation" (KJV) in some circles--but the Holy Spirit so speaks! To know such is coming is one thing. To expect it to be directed toward you is something else! There is a day approaching that is called "the day of wrath" (Job 21:30; Rom 2:5). It us also called "the great day of his wrath" (Rev 6:17). It is the time when the wrath of God shall be focused upon His adversaries--those who have rejected His provision for sin. It will not be a chastening wrath (Psa 38:1), and consuming one. The Spirit speaks vividly of this day in the first chapter of Second Thessalonians. "For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess 1:6-8).
God is set forth in Scripture as "a consuming fire" (Deut 4:24; 9:3; Heb 12:29). This means it is His nature to destroy everything opposed to or in conflict with His Person. Praise the Lord, this is not the ONLY aspect of His character! He also has mercy and grace! In Christ Jesus, He has provided a way of escape from the "day of wrath" a way for those who were His "enemies" (Rom 5:10) to be reconciled and be "saved from wrath" (Rom 5:9). Those who "cleave unto the Lord with purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23) will be "glorified" on that very "day of wrath." For them, that day will be the day of ultimate transformation, when they will be "like" Christ, for they shall "see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1-2).
But there will be no mercy for those who have chosen to go back to sin! The only thing they have to look forward to is the "fiery indignation" of God dreadful thought! They will confront the God Who could have been their Savior, but they chose to reject Him in that capacity. After receiving the knowledge of the truth and escaping from the pollutions of this world, they deliberately chose to again "enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb 11:25). It began with small and weakening compromises, but it did not end there. They elected to ingest the narcotic of transgression, having once experienced deliverance from the power of it. Soon, they were "again entangled" in snare of the fowler, unable to be extricated. To me, it is tragic beyond description that much of the religion of our day makes it easy for such retrogression to occur! But you must be allow this to happen!
Sin is such a serious matter, the Spirit must elaborate upon its consequences. No person can allow His words on this subject to become distasteful or repulsive. They are expressions of our Lord's deep love for us, and desire that we be saved. It is written of those who are in Christ Jesus, "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet 3:9, RSV). He has extended Himself to save is. He has also made provision for us to "kept" by His power through the intercession of Christ (1 Pet 1:5; Heb 7:25). The "blood of Christ" still cries forgiveness to every believer that confesses His sins (1 John 1:9), and mercy and grace can now be appropriated to help in the time of need (Heb 4:15). An enumerable company of angels have been assigned as "ministers for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:13-14). If any person is lost, it is NOT because of the lack of Divine provision!
For this reason, the Spirit now directs our attention to the nature and severity of Divine punishment. "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted 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 terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Verses 29-31, NASB). It is not possible to read a test like this without our soul being jarred. We do well to "gird up the loins of our mind" and consider these sobering words.
God has always been noted for His punishments. They have been recorded for our learning, least we think of God in dishonoring and complacent ways. Perhaps a cursory list of some of the punishments of Scripture will refresh our minds concerning the Divine nature. At the very threshold of revelation, we read of the punishment of Adam and Eve, "driven out" from the garden and the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:16- 24). There was the punishment of Cain, the first murderer (Gen 4:11-14), and the curse of the flood which destroyed all by eight people (Gen 6:6-7; 7:21). The conspiring people in the plains of Shinar were cursed in the building of the tower of Babel (Gen 11:8). Who can forget the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), Pharaoh and his armies (Ex 15), the murmuring children of Israel (Num 21:6), and covetous Aachan (Josh 7). The Word of God has countless records of the punishing judgments of the Almighty.
However, the Spirit speaks with even greater strength on this matter. He compares punishment in an era of grace to punishment during the age of Law. "Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses" (NKJV). The words "without mercy" are startling to the soul. Some cannot conceive of such a thing as this--yet these are the words of the Holy Spirit. In the case of a murder, Moses law is specific and arresting. "Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee" (Deut 19:12-13). The judgment of the Law against a false witness was also harsh and merciless. "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut 19:21). Even when a wife sought to aid her husband in a fight with another man by an indiscreet act, her hand was to be cut off, with no pity. "Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her" (Deut 25:12). Those desiring to be justified by Law do well to ponder these passages!
Those, and other, punishments were severe but not as austere as the punishment of those who forsake Christ Jesus. There was limited revelation under the Law, and thus the punishment was tempered. There is boundless revelation in Christ Jesus, and therefore the punishment for defecting from Him is unimaginably greater. The greater the light from which one defects, the greater the punishment! Is there need for extensive comment? Think of the punishment of Judas, who walked with Jesus for three yeas. Think of the angels who chose to leave the very habitation of God. The more light one receives, the greater the punishment for leaving it.
The Spirit waxes eloquent and precise in His description of the apostate--the one who renounces Christ Jesus after once embracing Him. The punishment is richly deserved. "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished . . . " The greater light shined into the heart of the person in Christ demands more severe punishment for those who extinguish that light by their love for and return to sin.
" . . . who has trampled under foot the Son of God." What vivid language--and it is precisely what occurs when one leaves "the Lord's Christ." The RSV version uses the word "spurned" instead of "trampled under foot," as most other versions. This is descriptive of the disdain and contempt that arises in the heart when sin is chosen. This occurs at the entrance of "evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb 3:12). This is even stronger than the expression used earlier, in the sixth verse of chapter six: i.e., "crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame" (NASB). The defector from the faith tramples the Son of God in his will--his choice of sin. It is as though by returning to the morass from which he was extricated he pulls Jesus from the throne, trampling him in scorn and contempt. That is how God Almighty views their defection! What is more, that is how we must view defection also. When we are tempted to return to Egypt, as it were, let us think of God's view of such a return! He loves His Son, and has given all things into His hand. Woe to that person who takes it upon himself to remove everything from the hands of the Son!
" . . . and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified." There is no neutrality in the Kingdom of God. Either the blood of Christ is highly prized or greatly despised! There is no middle ground. Those returning to sin and renouncing their faith have made a statement about the blood of Christ. They have espoused a position exactly the opposite of that affirmed at the Lord's Table. Rather than being "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet 1:19), "the blood of Jesus" (Heb 10:19) is viewed with contempt and disdain. It is not that a public disclaimer is issued by the apostate, declaring Christ's blood as unholy. That statement may never be made. Still, that is what he has said by his action--by returning to the kingdom of darkness from which he was delivered. The blood of Christ sanctified him, but now he has repudiated it, and chosen to return to the defiled realm. This is how God sees the matter, because that is really how it is. Such a person has despised the sacrifice of God's only begotten Son, and it has not escaped the attention of the Living God. You dare not miss the severity of this language. Among other things, it confirms that once the blood of sanctified us, we can still renounce it and incur the wrath of God.
" . . . and has insulted the Spirit of grace . . . " (NASB). Here is one of the few places the Holy Spirit is associated with grace. Ordinarily, grace is identified with God and Christ Jesus (Acts 11:23; 14:26; 15:11; 20:24; Rom 5:15; 16:20,24; Gal 1:6; 2 Thess 3:18, etc.). In fact, I believe it is the only time. It is the Holy Spirit that brings the grace of God to our awareness. He does it through the Gospel, but it is He Who does it. Some portray the Holy Spirit as gentle, and hard to offend, when actually it is quite the opposite. We are solemnly admonished, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30). And again, "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess 5:19). The Holy Spirit is devoted to our salvation, having set us apart for the Lord (Rom 15:16; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). He even "makes intercession" for us, bringing to us heavenly resources for the fight of faith (Rom 8:26). The "Divine nature" is reproduced in measure within the believer under His powerful influence (2 Pet 1:3; Gal 5:22-25). He can "strengthen us with might" in the "inner man," so Christ can "dwell in our heart by faith" (Eph 3:16). All of this can be negated and lost by a choice to abandon Christ and return to sin! Those who renounce heaven's Savior are viewed as having spit in the face of the Holy Spirit, a sign of utter contempt (Num 12:14; Deut 25:9; Job 30:10). This is what those who rejected Christ did to Him literally when he was crucified (Matt 26:67). It is what apostates do to the Spirit when they return to sin.
Now the Spirit makes a strong appeal to the past experience of the Hebrews believers. A return to the bondage from which we have been delivered always obscures the time when we were delivered! "But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one" (Verses 32-34, NASB).
Our deliverance from sin was a time of spiritual enlightenment. The God of heaven "shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). It was a time when we saw Jesus clearly! He was perceived as "the Savior of the world," glorious accessible and "ready to forgive." The understanding of our wretched condition was perceived in the light of His Saviorhood! Although we sat in "great darkness," we were given "light" (Luke 1:79). AS it is written, "The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up" (Matt 4:16). What glorious enlightenment! We saw everything differently: God, Christ, sin, Satan, and the world. The Gospel was clearly applicable to us, and Christ seen as ready to received and pardon us. In the influence of the light we were able to leave Satan's camp and flee to Christ for refuge.
There were repercussions when we embraced Christ Jesus! The responses of the world to our faith took varied forms, but it all amounted to "a great conflict of sufferings." Satan did not go out to lunch when you "put on Christ." In some measure, all believers experience "conflicts without, and fears within" (2 Cor 7:5). Even our own flesh rose up against us as we experienced "another law in [our] members, warring against the law of [our] mind, and bringing [us] into captivity to the law of sin which is in [our] members" (Rom 7:23). Still, even though there was a great fight of affliction and contradiction, we chose to "abide in" Christ Jesus. We saw Him clearly, and it was completely unreasonable to do anything else. The sufferings we endured were "not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18).
The glorious effects of the grace of God was also seen in the public nature of the initial faith of the Hebrew saints. They did not hold their faith in private, but went public, as it were, with Jesus. They lived out their faith in a glass house, seen and held in contempt by heir foes. The language used to describe this condition is vivid. " . . . partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated" (NASB). They were not looked upon with favor, but with contempt. Thus they were maligned and treated harshly because of their faith. Often, they were beaten publically, and scorned in the market place. It was a time of testing, when they did not find "favor with all the people," as at the beginning of the church (Acts 2:47). And how is it they endured this harsh and contemptible display of themselves? It was because they saw the Lord's Christ clearly, and were persuaded of His grace and their reward in heaven! They were not ashamed to be identified with those being persecuted by the world, as is poignantly declared in the words, "partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated."
In the beginning, these believers passed most strenuous tests. Rather than enjoying prosperity and the guarantee of their goods being protected by God, their possessions were confiscated--taken from them. With great power the Spirit reminds them they "took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance." They were not happy because their possessions were taken from them, but because their real inheritance could NOT be taken from them by their enemies. They learned "how to be abased" and "suffer need" (Phil 4:12). It was a kingdom for which they suffered--a kingdom that would be given to them in the fulness of time (2 Thess 1:5; Luke 12:32; Dan 7:18,22,27). The removal of their earthly goods only accentuated the glory of their inheritance! And why so? Because they "KNEW IN THEMSELVES they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance!" They were confident in Christ Jesus, and thus equal to the challenges of life!
But when men begin to sin, they cannot retain such confidence. The very moment a person begins to compromise his faith, or dabble in sin--however inconsequential it may appear--confidence begins to erode. Soon., the world becomes gigantic, and the inheritance becomes small. It is not long until this life is everything, and the life to come is nothing. That condition ultimately leads to defection from Christ. It will ultimately cause the individual to deny Christ, repudiate the faith, and return to bondage to sin.
How appropriate is the exhortation! "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (Verse 35, NASB). See with what determination this action is accomplished--"throw away!" Confidence in God is not lost inadvertently, it is deliberately discarded. To take hold of sin, you have to let go of confidence! You simply cannot be "fully persuaded" of Divine commitments and dabble in sin. Sinning and believing cannot be married! Transgression and the full assurance of faith cannot cohabit the heart. When we are tempted, it is not only to sin, but also to cast away our confidence. Your personal experience will confirm this to be the case. I have known countless people who lost their confidence in Christ because they did not quench the fiery darts of the wicked one with the shield of faith.
You must never forget the essentiality of "your confidence." This is not a kingdom luxury, but a spiritual necessity. Surely you have not forgotten the Word of the Lord. "Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end" (Heb 3:6). And again, "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (Heb 3:14, NASB). Assurance, or confidence, as an aspect of faith itself. Where it does not exist in some measure, faith does not exist. As it is written, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1, NASB). The secret to Abraham's victory was this, he was "fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised" (Rom 4:21, NIV).
Where this assurance is lacking, victory is not possible. Trying to overcome the world and Satan without confidence is like a fearful soldier of Israel trying to fight Goliath. It took a confident believer to defeat Goliath. Do you remember the words of his nemesis? "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands" (1 Sam 17:45-47). In the energy of his confidence of faith, David did not hesitate to confront an apparently superior foe. He knew his God! That is the ONLY way to successfully overcome the foe!
The exhortation, "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (NASB), is not a casual one. It is not a mere suggestion for those who want to go a little further than the nominal Christian. No! Salvation is at stake here! The Spirit has already warned us of falling away, to a state from which we cannot be recovered (6:4-6). He has also told us of a condition that shall consummate in tasting of the wrath of God Almighty (Heb 10:29-30). He is now telling us how to avoid state. DO NOT THROW YOUR CONFIDENCE AWAY! And how do you throw it away? Simply by choosing to take up an alternative! To take hold of the world, you must cast away your confidence, throwing it from you as a contemptible thing. You must forget God to sin! You must deny Christ to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season! You just quench the Spirit to yield to temptation! Those who choose to do this are flirting with death. Soon their choices will cast them into a pit so deep, extrication will not be possible. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Allow me to be more specific in this matter. The confidence of which He speaks is not a the result of spiritual maturity. It is, rather, the MEANS to spiritual maturity. This confidence is associated with the "beginning" of our spiritual life, not with its maturity (Heb 3:14). The Hebrew believers enjoyed this confidence "after they were illuminated" (10:32). The Thessalonians received the Gospel in "much assurance" (1 Thess 1:5), and the Ephesians joyfully "trusted" when they first "heard" the word of their salvation (Eph 1:13). The Ethiopian eunuch went "on his way rejoicing" immediately upon rising to walk in newness of life (Acts 8:39). When a person is born again, they are born with confidence! That confident assurance grows, and is made more firm, but you start with it when you come into Christ. You greatest spiritual triumphs have been owing to your confidence.
This is why we must not throw our confidence away in preference for the fleeting pleasures or advantages of this world. We must not throw it away for a dead and lifeless religion either, where God is approached upon the basis of Law. Such aan approach will not sustain us in the good fight of faith, because it does not rely upon Christ. Being justified by the Law relies upon YOU, not a Savior! Therefore, it thrusts you into a backward motion, away from God, away from grace, and away from power. Also, it makes an attempt to drag Jesus form the throne to be trampled under your feet. It views His precious blood as contemptible, and thinks nothing of spitting in the face of the Holy Spirit of God. If these affirmations seem strong, they are not. They are extremely mild in comparison to the wrath of God that shall be poured out "without mixture" upon the wicked.
In view of these things, what is the need of the hour? What sort of exhortation is in order for the people of God? "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised" (Verse 36, NASB). Is "doing the will of God" the end of the matter? Some certainly think so. Perseverance in doing the will of God is the appoint means to receiving the promise, which is the fundamental thing! I hear so little about the promises of God these days. Remember, the "exceeding great and precious promises of God" are the appointed means of becoming "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). Whatever a person may think about DOING the will of God, it does have a priority in the Kingdom. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 7:21, NASB). Further, His will is to be done "with the heart"in anticipation of receiving the blessing of the Lord (Eph 6:6-8).
Time is the great tester of our faith. Tragically, there are some who "for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). During the heat of conflict and opposition, they throw away their confidence, thereby excluding themselves from the inheritance. Do you think yourself incapable of such a thing? Remember, you are standing by faith, not by strength or even Divine mandate (Rom 11:20). Because you retain your sinful nature, you have the ability to deny the faith. There are some who once held faith and a good conscience, yet dashed their faith upon the rocks of iniquity, making shipwreck of it (1 Tim 1:19).
The appropriation of the promise does not always immediately follow our obedience. Abraham was promised the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7; 15:7; 17:8), yet sojourned in it as in a strange land, having no possession of it while in the body (Heb 11:9; Acts 7:5). He had to persevere during tests of his faith, and will yet enjoy the fulfillment the Lord's promise. Thus it is with us. We are required to continue the race until its conclusion--to the end. "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (Matt 24:13, NASB). "For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (Heb 3:14, NASB). "And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Heb 6:11, NASB).
There is grace to do this very thing, persevere unto the end! Remember, doing the will of God is essential, but obtaining the promise is everything! What is more, keeping your minds fixed upon the promised inheritance will enable you to persevere in keeping the faith and your confidence. That was the secret of Christ's continuance under the most difficult of all Divine assignments--laying down His life for a ransom. Therefore it is written, "Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2).
How long must we endure? Think if you were Adam, who lived 930 years (Gen 5:5), or Methuselah who lived for 969 years. Noah lived to be 950 years of age (Gen 9:29). How would you like to persevere for that long? To keep the faith in a hostile world for that many years? Thank God for the brevity of life! From this perspective, it is a mercy that death entered the world with the introduction of sin (Rom 5:12). Now, as a display of Divine mercy, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (Psa 90:10, NASB, written by Moses). Now we have the greatest of all resources and the reduction of life-span. However, we also are involved in the fiercest of all battles, for "the devil has come down to [us], having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time" (Rev 12:12, NASB). Now the Spirit informs us the knowledge of the length of remaining time is not known by the devil alone!
"FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY" (Verse 37, NASB). This is the language of faith. To some, the time has been too long, and thus they scoff about the return of the Lord Jesus. They say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation" (2 Pet 3:4, NASB). But they are wrong! Everything has not remained the same! There was a time in the creation when the earth stood out above the water. There was also a time when it was submerged into water during the flood, and the world that then was perished (2 Pet 3:5-6). We are living in the time of "delay," when faith is being tested and rewards are being accumulated. But it will not always be the time of "delay."
As faith reckons time, the return of Christ is not far away. Every generation since His ascension has been able to live with this persuasion. The stronger the faith, the closer the day seemed, for faith transports us into the eternal realm. The objective is to remain in the fold during the "delay." This "delay" is not a secondary consideration of the Lord, or a shift in plans. It does not represent a lack of decision on God's part, or the postponing of the day. This is language that accommodates itself to those living by faith. It accentuates that "the time" is in Divine control. It also highlights that it cannot be precisely known. Its surety can also be seen in the expression. Our mandate is to be ready for that return! It will occur suddenly, and without delay. When He comes, He will scan the earth, as it were, for faith. As He Himself said, "I tell you that He will bring about justice for them [those praying without ceasing] speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
I am convinced there must be more prayers for the perseverance of the saints--for their faithfulness until the end. No one will be saved without this endurance! It is an absolute requirement. Part of our spiritual weaponry is such prayer. "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints" (Eph 6:18, NASB). Endurance is something we "NEED!" This is why the emphasis of Apostolic doctrine is on edifying the body of Christ. They need to endure. Never, nor at any time, is the reaching the lost emphasized in the Epistles--never! That is not to say there is not Divine commitment to this holy work. It is to say that a weak and emaciated church will never get the job done. It is also to say God has no Kingdom outreach-work for those to do, whose hearts are not confident and assured of their inheritance in heaven. Let their hands be strengthened in the Lord--let their confidence be bolstered and confirmed! When this happens, you will find a dynamo of spiritual power loosed in a sinful world that cannot be denied. Long before the inauguration of the New Covenant, David well stated this principle. "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee" (Psa 51:10-13, NASB).
The Spirit now closes on a most somber note. While the nominal church has learned to live with nominal Christians, no such tolerance is found in heaven! The loving forbearance of God is not extended to those who choose to refuse the dominance of His Son. Jesus said the wrath of God remained upon such people every day (John 3:36). I dare not say how the Lord feels about the contemporary religion that is popular in the Western world. Those who are justified sustain their identity with God by means of their faith. "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 to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Heb 10:38-39, NASB). No faith, no life! Unbelief cuts the umbilical chord to Christ. Life is not sustained by doing, but by believing--being persuaded that "God is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb 11:6).
Note how sensitive the Lord is to our spiritual posture. "And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him" (NIV). There is no way for this reaction to be avoided--no way at all. It the individual "shrinks back" from the Lord, He will NOT BE pleased with him--regardless of what else he may do. Again, there is no neutral or middle ground here. The individual is either "drawing near" (Heb 10:22) or "shrinking back." The person who is not coming close is drifting away, bring drawn to an area from which deliverance is not possible. The person who is drawing near is putting a greater distance between himself and the curse of the Almighty. In the language of our text, the person availing himself of the access to God provided by Christ Jesus, is pleasing to God. The favor of the Lord is upon the one coming to Him through Christ Jesus. Such an individual may appear to be unqualified, having a sordid background like the woman with the alabaster box (Matt 26:7-12). It may be a person like Zacchaeus who was held in contempt because of his earthly position and manner (Luke 19:2-10). Perhaps the approacher may be like the woman at the well of Sychar, morally deficient and spiritually bankrupt. But the one who comes will please the Lord, regardless of their deficiencies.
But those who "shrink back," being lured into the realm of the curse, will incur the displeasure of the Lord. By so doing, they are trampling the Son of God under their feet. They are considering the precious blood of Christ an unholy thing, and are doing despite to the Spirit of grace. Their church membership and arduous works all count for nothing (Matt 7:20-23). Those not availing themselves of Divine fellowship are, by that backward stance, readying themselves for the wrath of God. Those choosing NOT to draw near with a true heart and in full assurance of faith are living with the wrath of God upon their head. Such are "shrinking back" from the One Who desires to save them.
The Spirit closes with an optimistic word. "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Heb 10:39, NASB). Notice, the "shrinking back" is to "destruction." Unless that backward movement is averted, condemnation is sure! How this needs to be affirmed in our churches! Those identified with Christ have access to all of the resources required to fulfill the admonition to "draw near." There is no deficiency in Christ!
This admonition does not affirm the impossibility of falling away, but the utter senselessness of doing so. Those in Christ have been "delivered from the power of darkness." They can say "NO!" to all of his devices, and are taught to do so by the grace of God (Tit 2:11-12). Everything "pertaining to life and godliness" has been given to them, and is accessible to them by means of their faith (2 Pet 1:3). They have been called into an amalgamation of people who are "kings and priests unto God" (Rev 1:5-6). But everything depends upon their faith. It must be kept in the gale of temptation, the desert of testing, and the flood-tide of opposition. If we keep believing, we will keep persevering, and will receive the "end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls" (1 Pet 1:9). Holy on, child of God, HOLD ON! In due season we shall reap, "if we faint not" (Gal 6:9).