Exchanging Sacrifice for Judgment
“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.”- Hebrews 10:26–27
Drawing near to God through Christ, holding fast to our confession of faith, meeting with other Christians to encourage them to do the same and to be exhorted ourselves to persevere—those are the right responses when we understand the perfect, final, effectual atonement of Jesus (Heb. 10:1–25). The wrong action, then, would be to deny Christ, to leave the church, and to run away from God. Dreadful indeed are the consequences of such actions, as we see in today’s passage.
Hebrews 10:26–27 warns us against “sinning deliberately after receiving the truth” because then there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” Importantly, while engaging in any kind of sin is dangerous, the author here does not refer to just any sin. Apostasy—impenitently abandoning one’s Christian profession and the corresponding rejection of Christ’s body, the church—is in view, for that is the sin that motivated the author to write to the Hebrews. To profess faith in Christ and then to finally reject one’s profession is the deliberate sin for which “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin.” John Calvin comments, “Those who sin, mentioned by the Apostle, are not such as offend in any way, but such as forsake the Church, and wholly alienate themselves from Christ. For he speaks not here of this or of that sin, but he condemns by name those who willfully renounced fellowship with the Church.”
Note the qualifier “impenitent” with respect to the apostasy that exchanges atonement for judgment. The author does not mean all denials of Jesus, for as Peter’s example shows us, it is possible to deny Jesus and to be forgiven once one repents (John 19:15–27; 21:15–19). Some, however, apostatize fully and finally, never repenting of their rejection of Christ. As Calvin says, “There is a vast difference between particular fallings [that is, sins] and a complete defection … by which we entirely fall away from the grace of Christ.” These people were never truly saved to begin with (1 John 2:19). Final apostasy from which the sinner never turns eliminates the sacrifice for sin not because the sacrifice lacks power but because one does not benefit from the cross except by trusting in Christ alone for salvation.
Without the sacrifice of Jesus applied to us through Spirit-wrought faith in Him, there is only divine judgment and the consuming fire of hell (Heb. 10:27). There is no way to be reconciled to God except through receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, for only He propitiates—turns away—the wrath of God (John 14:6; Rom. 3:21–26).
John Owen comments that the kind of apostasy in view in Hebrews 10:26–27 is done “obstinately, maliciously, from choice, without compulsion or fear.” It is not a momentary lapse of faith that the author is talking about. Nevertheless, such lapses are sin, and we must repent when they occur lest we remain in them and cut ourselves off from the grace of Christ.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 4:10