Willful Sin and the Fearful Expectation of Judgment

For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” –
Hebrews 10:26-27 (KJV).

This verse has caused many people undue anxiety.  J. Vernon McGee says, that this verse should cause the hair on the back of our necks to stand up, but not in the way it does for many who read it out of context. If we were to look at this verse by itself we might assume that if we deliberately sin after we are saved, we are without hope and should simply await judgment, but does the author of Hebrews mean any sin, or does he have a specific sin in mind?

The first thing we need to do with this scripture is to check the context in which we find it. First, according to Henry Virkler in his book on hermeneutics, we need to find out some basic information about the book in which we find the statement. We should start by asking, “to whom is this book written?” When studying scripture, the best place to start looking for answers to questions like these is scripture itself because it is infallible unlike external sources. Without much effort we will find that it is written to people familiar with the Jewish sacrificial system, and who have converted to Christianity or at least have made some commitment to it. This is quickly apparent because according to Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, the author of Hebrews speaks about Jewish customs without any explanation. It is apparent that the audience was Jewish or at least had practiced the customs and knew what they were and what they represented.

Another question we should ask is, “why is this book being written?” As we study the book we find that it has a general purpose, first, the author describes what Christ has done for them as the only true sacrifice for sin and then warns them against falling away. The concern about falling away was not due to persecution but due to the many who were tempted to go back to the old sacrifices which were only symbols of the true sacrifice which is Christ (Heb. 10:14).

After we have the overall argument of the book, the next question we should ask is, “how do these verses of scripture fit into the overall argument of the book?” As we read the book we see that chapter 10 seems to bring the first and major section of the book to a close. Chapter 10 starts by showing that Christ is and was the only sacrifice by which any person will ever be saved. The author in verses 19-25 lays out the “new and living way”, which indicates that the old method of sacrifices are no longer of any value and to continue in them is sin.

It is in this context that we find our text. When the author says, “if we willingly sin” he is clearly speaking of willfully rejecting the sacrifice of Christ and going back to the old symbols which never actually cleansed anyone from sin. If a believer does this, then there is no sacrifice for their sins and they can only await judgment. In a broader sense, the sin that the author is speaking of is apostasy, which is when a member of the visible church walks away from Christ, and as John indicates “were never really of us.”  Therefore as J. Vernon McGee said, it should cause the hair on our neck to stand up, because this is a strong warning to keep us from ever letting anyone lead us away from trusting in the only true sacrifice that can cleanse us from our sins; Jesus Christ.

If the book of Hebrews’ internal evidence is not enough to comfort a trembling soul who thinks they are forever lost because they have willfully sinned, then we must always remember that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” In them we will find no contradictions. If we ever have trouble with a difficult verse that is not immediately clear to us, then we need to go check the scriptures that are clear, for Scripture is it best interpreter. In doing this we will find a verse like 1 John 2:1, which is crystal clear and says, “and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In a quick study of the context we see that John is speaking to believers. We also have the story of David being a man after God’s own heart even after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having Uriah killed. There is also the encouragement found in the account of Peter’s three denials and the forgiveness he receives from Christ, or of Paul in Romans 7 struggling with the flesh and committing sins that he hates. All of these are ample evidence that the two verses in Hebrews 10 are not saying that if you willfully commit a sin, you are lost and no longer have hope. It is saying that if you reject the sacrifice of Christ you have no hope.J

Jesus, keep us near the cross.

-D. Eaton

A Tale of Two Preachers

Both men had a fire in their eyes with Jesus at the center, but their flames were different. Have you ever noticed that you can listen to someone talk about Jesus, but as they are saying all of the right things, there still seems to be a disconnect? While others you run into always seem to be able to focus you like a laser beam on what truly matters.

When I see it in churches, I sometimes call it the programmatic versus the spiritual, but I doubt that is the best way to describe it. It is hard to put a fine point on it because the programmatic is not wrong in itself. Even spiritual churches have programmatic elements. I think I use the word programmatic because it sometimes feels that way. The leaders appear to be doing what they know they should be doing, but they do not seem to be doing it in a way that tells me that they believe their very lives depend upon the Gospel they are preaching. So what makes the difference? I suppose it all comes down to the hearts of those involved.

The first man, a church leader, had a fire in his eyes and Christ was at the center, but Jesus seemed to be a means to an end. Everything surrounding the ministry where he labored was orthodox. People came, heard the word, and were often even blessed by his preaching, but in his heart, he was building his own kingdom. A place where the people would revere his name; a place where he could leave his legacy. His faith was real, but he still seemed to have one foot planted in the world, and it showed. Well, not to everyone. There were many in the congregation with hearts split between heaven and earth as well, and they did not seem to notice.

They did not notice, at least, until they got a chance to hear the second man begin to speak because the fire in his eyes was pure. Where the first man had the tendency to view knowing Jesus as a means to building his ministry, the second man saw knowing Jesus as the goal. He had found the Pearl of Great Price and was willing to sell all he had to have it (Matt. 13:45-46). Christ was beautiful to him so that is what he pursued. His ministry was something he did to show the world the beauty of Christ so others could know Him too. There was a love for his Lord in his eyes that made believers want to know their Savior the way he did.

Two things seemed to separate these men and their ministries. The first had to do with their reliance. The first one worked with a high degree of self-reliance, where the second one knew his weakness so well that he dared only to rely on Christ. The second aspect had to do with their focus. The first, to some degree, still had his mind set on the things of the world. Even when he preached on setting your mind on things above, he did it with a heart that hoped he was establishing his own glory. The second man had been broken. His heart had been set free from this world. He knew it could no longer satisfy, so he had given up pursuing its glory a long time ago. One seemed to be walking home and calling others to go with him while the other appeared to be fairly content in this strange land.

Here is what I noticed in their preaching, to take a thought from Jayber Crow, one of them was troubled enough to have something worthwhile to say. The first one was unable to show us the emptiness of even the glorious things of this life in comparison to Christ because he had yet to see their vanity. The second one felt a shuddering within him, that knew that the things of this world were trembling all around us. No matter what the topic, his words, and actions shone like a spotlight on our glorious Savior and our true homeland.

So what about you? Where is your heart? Is Jesus the end you seek, or a means to an end? Are you awake enough to feel the frailty of this world convulse beneath you to such a degree that you dare not place your hope in it? We aspire to be like what we find beautiful. May your love for Jesus compel you to grow into His likeness, because if we have no desire to be conformed to His image or make his name known, we may not truly find Him beautiful like we say we do. We may still have our hearts set on this world. May God show us its vanity compared to Himself and turn our eyes heavenward. May we be troubled enough by this world to have something worth saying, and if we are too comfortable, may the Lord shake us from our slumber. May we be able to acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles on the earth.

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. – Hebrews 11:14

-Doug Eaton

When God’s Love Hurts

But they will become his slaves so that they may learn the difference between my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries. 2 Chronicles 12:8

In this verse, we find the nation of Judah in a humbling position. King Rehoboam had only been king of Judah for five years, but in that five years, he had forsaken the law of the Lord. Because of this unfaithfulness, the Lord sends Shishak, King of Egypt to capture the fortified cities of Judah. The Lord then says to King Rehoboam, “You have forsaken me, so I have forsaken you to Shishak”, and what we see next is faith revived, for they humbled themselves and said, “the Lord is righteous.”

Too often we take disobedience lightly, and most people do not like to talk about the times they have been under God’s rod of discipline, and you can understand why. With so much theology pushing for the elusive mountaintop experience, and Christian pop psychology teaching us “How to manage our emotions” or “How to find the champion within,” a Christian could feel like quite the failure in many of today’s churches to acknowledge that God’s discipline is upon them.

We must, however, see this for what it is. To be under the heavy hand of God is a blessing because the Lord only disciplines those He loves. In this text we see His discipline had a specific purpose: to teach. There are many things we must be taught by the hand of the Lord for our hearts are deceitful and prone to wander, but our Shepherd knows how to lead us. When we learn the difference between His service and the service of the prince of this world, we find that His yoke is easy and His burden in light.

There is also the unfortunate fact that many people live their lives based on subjective feelings and do not live according to the Word of God. They feel that they are spiritual because they get goosebumps during their worship service, but they are living in sin and feel no remorse about it. Living in disobedience with warm affections in worship is a much worse place to be than under the rod of God’s discipline.

Today, if you find yourself under God’s Rod of discipline, humble yourself, and know that He is righteous. Don’t try to run, for it is God’s love that is dealing with you, not His condemnation. Praise Him for He is good, and if the world looks down on you because you have been brought low, and if many in the church are too busy chasing affluence under the guise of Christianity to understand, remember victory is yours because He is your shepherd. It is God’s grace that teaches us these crucial lessons, and we know “the broken and contrite He will never turn away.” Praise God, for He disciplines those He loves, we are kept by the power of God, and we will never be lost.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. -Hebrew 12:4-11 

D. Eaton

More From The Fight Of Faith

 

Four Ways Incense Typifies Prayer

Old Covenant Altar of Incense
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2

All throughout the Old Testament we see incense playing an important role in the way God prescribed that the people should worship Him.  There was even an altar of incense in the Holy Place.  As we look at this, it is important to remember the ceremonies of the old covenant were pictures and shadows of what Christ would accomplish in His atoning work on the cross, and incense is part of that picture. Ultimately, incense is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ which is the sweet aroma that goes before the Father on our behalf, but in another sense, incense also typifies prayer.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1. Incense was beaten and pounded before it was used.  Likewise acceptable prayer proceeds from a broken and contrite heart. 

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  Elsewhere we are told that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  In order for our prayers to be as incense we must be broken enough to be aware that we are poor in spirit, knowing that our sinfulness has separated us from God, and that only through Christ our mediator do we have peace with Him.  If we approach God in any other way we are like the tax collector leaning on our own righteousness, and he went away unjustified.

2. Incense rises toward heaven, and the point of prayer is that it ascends to the throne of God.

One of the major points made in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father.   Yet we are encouraged to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence.  When we pray, we are doing that very thing.  We are bringing our praises and petitions to the throne of God.  In doing this we need to remember three things.  First, we are approaching a throne, and we need to approach it with reverence and not flippancy.  Second, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in the sense that we have no merit there.  We make our petitions without making demands.  Third, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in a different sense.  Though we have no merit there, we still find favor because of the merit of Christ and His righteousness.  So for our prayers to be as incense, we need to be aware of the great heights they are reaching when we commune with the exalted Christ.

3.  Incense requires fire for it to be useful, and prayer has no virtue unless is set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.

By this we are not referring to some mystical experience.  The very fact that a believer desires to go to the Lord in prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The natural man desires to be independent and self-sufficient.  Prayer is not his natural disposition.  Most prayer will never take place apart from the Spirit’s work.  The only prayer that would take place without Him would be prayer that is not in accord with the Word of God: for example, prayers to false gods, and ritualistic prayers by those who believe they will be heard because of mere formality.  We must pray in accordance with the Word of God.  When this happens it is because the Spirit is moving.

4.   Incense yields a sweet aroma, and our prayers are a sweet aroma to the Lord.  

This seems to be at the heart of the cry of the Psalmist.  “May my prayer be as incense,” means, may it be a sweet aroma to you.  In Revelation 8:4 we see that the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints.  This seems to signify that there is a sweet fragrance associated with our prayers, and the sweet fragrance is due to the fact that we approach the Lord in Christ’s name.  This teaches us that our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, and the very fact that we can bring pleasure to God is something that should cause us to drop to our knees with joy.

As you spend time with the Lord in prayer this week, may you approach him with a broken and contrite heart, may you be reverent and hopeful as you understand the exalted nature of the One with whom you commune, may your prayers be set on set on fire by the Holy Spirit, and may you approach Him with joy knowing that your prayers bring him pleasure.  In so doing, your prayers will be as incense before the Lord.

D. Eaton