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 trampled underfoot 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. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had 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 is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one 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 and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. – Hebrews 10:26-39 ESV
Because of all that Jesus has done for us and made available to us, we should have confidence, a secure assurance that we have access into God’s presence because we have been right with God. But we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). We have a part to play. Among all the distractions and difficulties of this world we must keep our eyes focused on the hope to come: the return of Christ and our final glorification. As followers of Christ, we will find the going tough at times this side of heaven. Living as a Christian requires faith, because so much of what we have been promised in Christ is yet to be fulfilled. Chapter 11 will give a glimpse of what faith looked like for the Old Testament saints. Each of the ones mentioned is recognized for having had faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
This section of chapter 10 is difficult. There are many different interpretations as to what the author is saying and who he is referencing in these verses. There are those who use this passage to prove that Christians can lose their salvation. There are others who say it is referring to Christians who “fall away” from the faith and risk losing their rewards at the judgement seat of Christ. I am not sure either view is correct. The author is writing to a congregation made up primarily of Jews who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and expressed faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Up until this point, the author has been diligently attempting to help his Jewish audience to understand the superior value of Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf. He has spent nine chapters contrasting the old and new covenant, presenting Jesus and the new covenant in His blood as not only superior, but singular in its effectiveness. Through His death on the cross, Jesus accomplished for man what the Law could never have done. His sacrifice provided a means by which sinful men could be made right with a holy God.
But there were evidently those in the author’s audience who were having second thoughts about the efficacy of saving work of Jesus. They were having doubts as to whether His death was enough. So they were reverting back to their old habits of relying on the law. They were evidently offering sacrifices in order to cover over their sins, which meant that they were still sinning. The author starts off this section by saying, “for if we go on sinning deliberately” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). What he has in mind are those sins that are willful and planned, not those that are committed out of ignorance or weakness. It would seem that there were those who were sinning on purpose, and relying on the old sacrificial system to atone for those sins. The author accuses them of having “trampled underfoot the Son of God” and having “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29 ESV). In falling back to the old covenant as their source of atonement, they were saying the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough. They were essentially rejecting His offering as not having fully appeased the wrath of God. The author warns them that if they reject Christ’s sacrifice, there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). If Jesus is not enough, then all that remains is judgment.
So to whom is the author referring? Is he warning Christians from falling away from the faith and losing their salvation? That interpretation would contradict too many other passages that promise believers the assurance of their salvation. Jesus Himself said, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29 NLT). Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient and completely effective. It accomplished the will of the Father by paying in full the debt that was owed as a result of man’s sin. He died once and no other sacrifice is needed. The problem the author is warning about is the very real possibility of someone hearing the good news regarding Christ’s sacrificial death, seemingly accepting it, but then later determining it was not enough. The issue is one of confidence. The author uses this word two times in chapter ten. In verse 19 he tells his readers, “Therefore brothers, since we have this confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…” Then in verse 35 he warns, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…”
Saving faith is enduring faith. It lasts. But there have always been those who seem to express faith in Jesus, but then, when the troubles and trials come, they turn away. They reject the truth. They determine that Jesus is not enough and the promise of salvation is not sufficient. Unwilling to wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise they seek their satisfaction in this life. They refuse to believe that their sins are forgiven. They fall back on to a life of works and self-righteousness, or simply reject the idea that they can be made right with God altogether. The author warns that these individuals face the judgment of God. He gives the very sobering warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). It would seem that his talk of God’s vengeance and judgment has nothing to do with believers, but with those who never fully believed in the first place. He makes this clear when he reminds his readers of their “former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33 ESV). In other words, they had been through difficulty in the past, and they had endured. They had remained faithful and he reminds them, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34 ESV). These people had not rejected the saving work of Jesus at the first sign of trouble. Why? Because their faith was real. Their hope was in something greater than a trouble-free life. Their confidence was in the promise of God of a great reward to come, not their best life now. So the author encourages them, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36 ESV). The one who “shrinks back” will have no reward. God has no pleasure in him. But the author makes it clear that “we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV). True believers believe the truth and endure. They have confidence and continue to hold fast regardless of the circumstances.