Sermon preached on Hebrews 10:26-39 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/7/2018 in Novato, CA.
“He Who is Coming Will Come and Will Not Tarry”
Repetition on a serious concern is important. It is important for serious concerns to repeat them. That is what we come to today in Hebrews. This section of scripture closely mirrors what we saw back in Hebrews 6. There, Hebrews warned about the threat of apostasy. There, Hebrews also encouraged the readers of this letter that he was confident of better things for them, even as he encouraged them toward patient and diligent perseverance of the faith. That same structure is here in this passage, and it will be the basis for how I structure today’s sermon. Clearly, this was a message that Hebrews thought needed to be repeated. In fact, what’s here in today’s passage and Hebrews 6 appears to be the primary reason for writing this letter. And so, as we dig into this repeated theme of persevering in the faith versus apostasy, we’ll be reinforcing a central teaching from Hebrews. And yet, as we’ll see, this passage is not just identically repeating what was said back in chapter 6. Rather, Hebrews has had a lot to tell us since chapter 6 about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice as our Great High Priest. Consequently, today’s revisiting of this same topic from Hebrews 6 is explained in some fresh ways that draw from this teaching he’s been giving concerning Christ and his sacrifice.
So then, in our first half of today’s sermon, let’s think about this warning given here concerning apostasy. As a reminder, the definition of apostasy is the abandonment or renunciation of one’s faith and religion. Before I teach on what this passage is saying concerning the threat of apostasy, let me first begin by noting two things this passage must not be saying. I offer these clarifications, because this is a passage that is more difficult to understand which has resulted in some people coming to some conclusions that are not consistent with the rest of the Bible.
First, this passage is not against the possibility that someone could for a time fall away from the faith and later be restored. Certainly and sadly, some people do fall away from the faith and never return. But on the other hand, Scripture also teaches that some people do return. Peter after his three denials of Jesus is restored. In Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians we see the picture of effective church discipline where someone who had engaged in egregious sin is excommunicated but later restored to the church after their repentance. In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:5 that this is the very purpose of church discipline, that by excommunicating them we are handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that they might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. It was Jesus’ point to the Pharisees in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 that he is all about seeking and saving those who have gone astray and bringing them back. Surely, then, however, this passage is understood, it must not contradict this well established and repeated teaching of Scripture.
Second, this passage must not be saying that a truly born-again Christian can lose their salvation. This is a teaching elsewhere that one who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit will never lose that new birth so as to fully and finally fall away from the faith. Or to say it another way, God always completes the work that he begins inside someone’s heart. Surely, the Jeremiah 31 passage speaks to that when it speaks of the new covenant bringing a real change to someone’s heart. How that relates to the real fact that sometimes people who are in the visible church fall away, is to point to what John says in 1 John 2:2. There it says that people who have left the church show that they never really were of the church. In other words, those who truly apostatize the Christian faith show that they never really were born again. Some have wondered if that is correct, however, when they see the language of verse 29. Verse 29 speaks of apostates who were sanctified by Christ’s blood. We can appreciate why some might think this teaches that you could lose your salvation. But the context for this gives us further insight. Notice the blood in verse 29 refers to the “blood of the covenant”. That should trigger the context from last chapter that talked about the Israelites under the old covenant being inaugurated into that covenant when Moses sprinkled them with the animal blood. Such blood outwardly sanctified them in the sense of consecrating them into the covenant. When they were splashed with that blood, they were made members in in that old covenant. Yet, sadly its clear from Israel’s history as well as back in Hebrews 3 that so many of those same Israelites were hard hearted unbelievers. The point is that someone can have an external consecration and become a member of the covenant community of God’s visible church on earth, but never have inwardly been changed. That’s surely what’s being described in verse 29 for these apostates. They have outwardly been consecrated into the visible church with all the external benefits associated with that, and that is one reason why their later apostasy is so egregious.
So then, what is this passage saying about apostasy? Well, the warning starts in verse 26 talking about willful sinning. It connects that with having received the knowledge of the truth. This willful sinning is likely related to what we find in a passage like Numbers 15 in the old covenant. There it contrasts the unintentional sins people commit versus sins which are brazenly committed. There, in Numbers 15, the old covenant provided for atonement for the unintentional sins but called for the person to be cut off from the covenant community who blatantly and hardheartedly sinned in willful defiance to God. Well, similarly here, it seems the language and context here of this “willful sinning” must be understood in this sense of stubborn, deliberate, hardhearted, unrepentant living.
This is further brought to mind when we remember the context from earlier in this chapter when it quoted Psalm 40. Remember in 10:5 we were reminded of that problem under the old covenant where people sinned in this way; they lived in hardhearted sinful rejection of God and his laws but then tried to offer sacrifices to somehow make up for that life of unrepentance. We mentioned that the Old Testament records God saying that he won’t accept such sacrifices from such unrepentant people. Such sacrifices were for repentant people. Well, when we looked at that passage, we said the same sort of concern could come under the new covenant. There could be people who live a life of blatant sin while still trying to claim the blood of Christ and still trying to identify themselves as Christians. But such willful, deliberate and unrepentant sinning would represent someone who has abandoned the Christian faith.
Of course, there are others who live such a life of unrepentance that at least have the honesty to acknowledge they have abandoned the faith. But make no mistake, whether someone acknowledges this or not, it is the reality for someone living in such willful unrepentance. Verse 29 helps us to see this. Verse 29 is basically describing what such willful sinning effectively represents. If you live in the kind of willful sinning described here, it says you have essentially “trampled the Son of God underfoot”, “counted the blood of the covenant a common thing”, and “insulted the Spirit of grace.” In other words, one who lives in such unrepentance has repudiated Christ, rejected his atoning sacrifice, and spurned the Holy Spirit. This is how Hebrews is describing apostasy here.
This is the understanding we need to have in mind when we see the strong statement in verse 26 that says for such people there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin. It’s saying that such willful, unrepentant, sin is essentially a rejecting of Christ’s sacrifice for your sin. But if you reject Christ’s sacrifice, then guess what? There is no other sacrifice available to atone for your sins. We should read this statement then in light of the context from back in 10:18. That’s when Hebrews was comparing the many sacrifices of the old covenant with the one sacrifice under the new covenant. The point made back then was the many old covenant sacrifices couldn’t really remit sin. But the one and only one sacrifice did remit sin. That’s why only one was needed, because it did the job. But that’s also why there is no other sacrifice either. God provided the one and only one way to have your sins truly forgiven. And so, if someone repudiates their sacrifice of Christ, there just isn’t any other way to be forgiven of all their sins. If the original audience thought they could go back to the old covenant sacrifices they were wrong too; as he already said those have been abolished per 10:9. And if they thought they could find atonement in any other religion or ritual, again they would be wrong. The cross of Christ is the only way to have our sins atoned and as long as someone rejects that, then there is no sacrifice available for them for their sins.
Of course, here’s where I would add that if someone did repent of that and return to Christ, then surely they would be saved by the one and only sacrifice for sin. But of course, Hebrews doesn’t mention that surely because that’s not even a place Hebrews wants someone to go. Hebrews doesn’t want anybody to think it’s a good idea to play with fire by flirting with such willful sin with the hope that later you might repent. In fact, any who would foolishly go down that path surely is not acting from a born-again perspective anyways.
The reason this warning is so serious is because of what is said here about the final judgment. God will set all things right in the end. Any sin not already dealt with, will come under the righteous judgment of God who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Verse 27 describes how fearful of an expectation of fiery judgment is in store for those who are not in Christ. And so, this passage is warning those who would apostatize from the Christian faith, that this is what they’ll end up with. In fact, the “how much more” argument of verses 28-29 between breaking the Mosaic law and rejecting Christ should tell us that not only does apostasy end in hell, it will surely be worse for apostates on the day of judgment than those people who had never professed faith or never been a part of the Christ’s church on earth.
So then, with that stern warning against apostasy, let’s turn now briefly to the remainder of this sermon to see the encouragement to perseverance that Hebrews gives here. Enduring in faith is obviously the opposite of apostasy. This passage turns in verse 32 to a more positive note. After giving the negative warning that apostasy will result in divine judgment, he calls them to look back on their past living out of their faith. Verses 32-35 call them to remember how they had personally endured persecution for their Christian faith. It also calls them to remember how they identified with other Christians who were facing persecution, and stood by them and helped in their own hour of persecution. Hebrews points them to their past in part to comfort them so to encourage them. This has the same effect as back in chapter 6 when he said that he was confident of better things for them; that he was confident that instead of falling into apostasy that they would persevere in faith. But he said that back then referencing in brief their previous works as Christians. The idea was that this former fruit encouraged the author of Hebrews that these Christians really had been born again and were saved. That’s what he’s getting at here again, but this time he goes into a lot more detail about these past works.
By bringing out the persecution aspect of the past works, we can certainly suspect that this is at least part of what was behind the warning against apostasy. When persecution heats up, there is the temptation to turn away. Practically speaking, we could wonder how much persecution can the average human take before giving into the pressure to recant Christ. Even today, it is one thing if a Christian endures some name calling and the occasional ridicule. But what if that Christian is going to lose his job for being a Christian? Or what if that Christian is facing a lawsuit or even arrest for being a Christian? Fifty years ago in America such questions would have seemed unfathomable here. Nowadays we could see how quickly we could get there.
But I digress. The point here is that Hebrews sees how pointing them and us back to our former works for the Lord can encourage our faith in the present. We see a similar teaching in Revelation 2:5 when Jesus tells the church at Ephesus that they had forgotten their first love. Jesus’s remedy for them included remembering what things they did at first for the Lord and to start doing those things again. That’s essentially what Hebrews is helping the original audience to do here. Faced with threats that would tempt them to apostasy, he helps them to remember the works they did at first and encourages them to do such things again. Notice that verse 36 points them to the will of God. That’s what they are to be pursuing as those who have faith. Those who believe and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ are to pursue a life of repentance which means we look to live out the will of God. Like we said back with Psalm 40, that we are to take Christ’s confession on our lips too, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.”
The other aspect of his encouraging them to persevere is to point them to the end result of their faith. In verse 35, he speaks of how their confident faith has great reward. In verse 36, he mentions receiving the promise, which reminds us of the language used last chapter of Hebrews 9:25 of the promise of an eternal inheritance. Next chapter will talk of that inheritance in terms of a heavenly one. And in verse 39, it speaks of our souls being saved as the outcome of our faith. All of these are complementary descriptions of the final outcome of our faith. If we persevere in our faith until the end, until Christ comes back, not only will we save our souls from hell, but we have the reward of a heavenly, eternal inheritance in the world to come. This goal of our faith calls us to press on in our faith, no matter the tribulations in this life, no matter the persecutions, it is worth it!
Brothers and sisters, this passage is full of ripe application for us today. To be fair, the strong words concerning apostasy can be unsettling. But the reality is that these Christians back then needed these words. And we need these words. The reason is simple. Verse 39, Jesus is coming again and he won’t tarry. He’ll come in his perfect timing. That means we and then have need of endurance. That’s verse 36 says explicitly. Hebrews told them that they had need of endurance. And in light of the fact that Jesus’s coming has not yet arrived, then we too have need of endurance. In this world we will have troubles and trials and tests of our faith. The world, and Satan, and our own flesh will tempt us to cast off our faith. But we have need of perseverance; that our souls would be saved; that we would finally enter into the glory of the age to come.
What I love about this passage and this application is it reminds us that us Calvinists are not Hyper-Calvinists. If we were, we would affirm the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and say we don’t have need to exhort us to persevere in the faith. We would just say something like, “Well, if we are elect, then we’ll persevere, if not, then we won’t.” But that’s not how the Bible teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Rather, it’s that beautiful and biblical balance between God’s ultimate sovereignty and man’s responsibility in our salvation. And so, Calvinists rightly affirm what the Bible affirms. We affirm that true believers can’t lose our faith, because those whom God elects he will in time regenerate and ultimately persevere us in the faith until the end. So, we give glory to God that he is the reason we persevere in our faith. Yet, we also affirm that the Bible calls us and commands us to persevere in the faith. And the Bible teaches us there are certain actions we can be doing to be diligent in obeying that call to persevere in the faith.
These things include remembering how God has used us in the past. They include faithfully attending church. They include praying for mercy and help from our high priest. They include studying God’s Word that gives us such encouragement and exhortation unto steadfastness. Let us be about these things because we know God is faithful. He has promised to persevere his people. He has promised his grace in these means. And he has promised that he is indeed coming again to bring us to glory. Our God is faithful. Let us keep diligently trusting in him as we see the final outworking and fulfillment of all his wonderful promises. He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Amen!
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.