What does the author of Hebrews mean when he says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” (Hebrews 10:26)?
Pastor Armstrong addresses this in his Hebrews Bible study, so we encourage you to listen to Lesson 10B of our Hebrews study.
Here is a brief explanation. The full passage in Hebrews reads:
Heb. 10:19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
Heb. 10:20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
Heb. 10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Heb. 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb. 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
Heb. 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
Heb. 10:25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Heb. 10:26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
Heb. 10:27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
Heb. 10:28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Heb. 10:29 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?
Heb. 10:30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”
First, let’s establish the audience this writer is addressing with his teaching. Notice in v.19 the writer calls his audience “brethren,” and throughout the passage he uses the pronoun “we” to associate himself with his audience. In v.23, he asks his audience to “hold fast” to their confession of faith. In v.25, he mentions the Christian gathering, which his audience participates in.
Taking all these details together, we must conclude the writer is speaking to an audience he assumes to be Christian. Therefore, we must also conclude that his warning is not speaking to matters that involve unbelievers, including unbelievers who have joined a congregation without actually professing faith (e.g., these have made a confession according to v.23).
Having established that the audience is believers, we then ask what is the writer’s concern? In v.22, the writer seems concerned that his audience lacks “full assurance” that their faith in Christ is sufficient to cleanse them from their sin. This group seems to be wavering (v.23) in their hope of resurrection, probably because they still find some attraction in the sacrifices and ritual of the Old Covenant Law. The writer has just spent four chapters (7-10) explaining the superiority and sufficiency of the New Covenant, which indicates this group of believers had maintained an unhealthy devotion to Jewish ritual.
Therefore, the writer exhorts these believers to hold fast to their confession of faith in Christ and to cease forsaking the Christian gathering (vs.23-24). Apparently, these believers were returning to the temple and to Jewish religious practice rather than holding firm to their Christian profession. They had forsaken gathering with Christians so that they could gather with Jews instead.
The writer tells his audience this is a dangerous practice, one that has serious eternal consequences. If his audience goes on sinning (in this manner) after having received the knowledge that such behavior is improper and unnecessary (v.26), there is no longer a provision of animal sacrifices to cover this error. While the sin is forgiven on the cross, there is no mechanism to avoid the consequences of sin brought by God the Father upon His disobedient children.
The writer uses the Old Testament example of disobedience under the Law to prove his point. When a Jew consciously disobeyed the Law of Moses, they were subject to death if 2 or more witnesses confirmed their disobedience. Given the greater power and importance of the New Covenant, the writer asks the readers to consider what kind of punishment the Lord will exact against those who willfully disobey the requirements of the New Covenant?
In other words, if Christians persist in participating in dead rituals at the Jewish temple while knowing that the Old Covenant has no power to save or atone for sin, then they are willingly sinning against the Savior Who bought them. Consequently, they should expect the Lord will bring stern consequences for any believer who fails to heed His commandments.
Notice in v.29 the writer says such disobedience is equal to “trampling” the Son of God, and regarding as unclean the blood of the covenant and insulting the Spirit. These are serious offenses, and so the Christian who engages in such things should expect the Father to respond in a serious way to such disobedience. Also, notice in v.30 the writer reminds his audience from the Old Testament that the Lord has declared He will take vengeance on His people when He judges them.
The writer alludes to the consequences in a couple of verses. First, in v.27 the writer mentions the terrifying nature of God’s fury, and in v.30 the writer mentions a judgment God will bring upon His people. So what are the consequences for willfully sinning in this way? What is this fire that will consume (v.27)?
Though the writer of Hebrews doesn’t explain it here, these things are explained elsewhere in scripture. Paul says in 1Corinthians that every believer must stand for judgment before Christ, and that judgment will test the quality of their life’s work:
1Cor. 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.
1Cor. 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1Cor. 3:12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
1Cor. 3:13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
1Cor. 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
1Cor. 3:15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1Cor. 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1Cor. 3:17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
Paul is describing the moment of every believer’s judgment before God. This judgment will evaluate our service to Christ and our life of obedience. The outcome of the judgment is reward, but for those who fail to work as God expected, the result will be loss of reward. Notice the mention of a judgment “fire” in v.13 and the warning against destroying the temple of God? These references are similar to the statements made by the writer of Hebrews, leading us to conclude that the warning in Hebrews 10 is to fear the judgment of Christ and the potential loss of reward.