The Epistle To The Hebrews, Part 7
By Jack Kelley
Along with Hebrews 6, the chapter we’re about to study is a favorite of the conditional security folks, even though within the chapter itself the writer clearly asserts that by His one sacrifice, the Lord has made us perfect forever.
It’s humanity’s way to write conditional clauses into contracts that give us an “out” if things go wrong. Among themselves, people who deal with legal documents call these “weasel clauses” based on the idea that it’s OK to “weasel” out of a deal that goes bad or that you change your mind about. So it’s natural that man should look for God’s weasel clauses, even taking verses out of context here and there in his attempt to prove that he’s found them. We all remember being warned that a deal that looks too good to be true probably is, and let’s face it, being saved by grace just for believing that Jesus died for our sins looks too good to be true.
We forget that the Lord already knows how His contract with us will go, so He doesn’t need any weasel clauses. And He didn’t put a performance condition on us anyway, asking only that we accept by faith that He’s done this for us. And since He can’t lie, if His word says that we’re saved unconditionally even once then that’s the way it is, and anything that seems to us to contradict or modify it has to be a misunderstanding on our part.
This bears repeating. If we find a verse that seems to contradict or modify God’s promise that we’re saved unconditionally, it means that we’ve misunderstood that verse. It doesn’t mean that God changed His mind about it, or clarified it, or explained it in greater detail. It means that we’ve misunderstood. Period. Otherwise, His word can’t be trusted, and we’d have to go through it verse by verse, looking for weasel clauses on all His other promises, too.
So if the writer of Hebrews wasn’t contradicting Jesus, or Paul or even himself when he wrote the part we call chapter 10, then what does it mean? Let’s find out.
Hebrews Chapter 10
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebr. 10:1-4)
After all the sacrifices that had been made, it stands to reason that if they were going to do away with sin, they would have. But instead, they became a reminder every year that God still viewed His people as sinners, unfit for habitation with Him. Though required, those sacrifices got them no closer to heaven than they had previously been, but only kept them from falling into an even worse state, and then only if they performed them with humble and contrite hearts. Any hint in the people’s minds that these sacrifices were actually making them righteous canceled even the limited effect of performing them. (Isaiah 66:2-4)
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” [Psalm 40:6-8]
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebr. 10:5-10)
Knowing the plight of His people, the Father prepared a body for the Son, allowing Him to become human so He could fulfill the Scriptures concerning the sacrifice for sin. It’s the only thing that can save us. The Hebrew word translated will in the phrase “do your will” gives us a special insight into this. It appears 15 times and means a voluntary favor. It comes from a root that means to satisfy a debt. As a favor to us, the Son volunteered to die in our place to satisfy the debt that we owed. Notice the past perfect tense. We have been made Holy. It’s an accomplished fact. Finished. (Remember that word.)
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebr. 10:11-14)
Here’s the comparison between the priesthoods of Levi and Melchizedek again. With Levitical priests, it was an endless stream of insufficient sacrifices that never saved anyone, not even for a moment. But the Lord’s single sacrifice was sufficient to make us perfect forever. The word translated perfect is also used in Matt: 5:48. There the Lord said, “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
And then He made it so. In John 19:30 when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He used a form of the same word, as if He meant, “There. I’ve made you perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
The word translated “forever” also means continuously, without ceasing. Once we accept His death as payment for our sins there’s never a moment in God’s eyes when we’re any less perfect than He is. How can this be? Because the Lord’s one sacrifice was sufficient to cover all the sins of our life, past, present and future. And seeing the end from the beginning, God has chosen to only see us as we’ll be then, when we stand before Him and become in fact that which we now are in faith. Perfect.
“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” [Jere. 31:33]
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” [Jere. 31:34]
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (Hebr. 10:15-18)
The writer is showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34 that he quoted in full in Hebrews 8:8-12. His sacrifice was the offer of a New Covenant. It allows the Father to “forget” we ever sinned at all. There’s no longer any need for the daily sacrifice for sin, or any other work intended to maintain our standing. Now we need only ask in order to receive immediate forgiveness and purification (1 John 1:9). And as he’s said before, continuing to do religious work to maintain our standing relegates the Lord’s sacrifice to the same status as bulls and goats, and the believers doing them to the same status as their ancestors, still God’s people but consigned to the wilderness. Out of fellowship.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebr. 10:19-25)
This a powerful exhortation to rest in the “full assurance of our faith”. Our great High Priest has gone before us and opened the way to the Throne of God. Where before we would have died upon stepping into the presence of God, we can now draw near to Him in confidence. No more religious work, no more uncertainty, no more depending on a sinful priest performing an imperfect ritual. Trusting in God to do what He’s promised, and helping others in the body to do the same, we rejoice in the fact that we’re always welcome in our Father’s house. No appointment necessary, no waiting in line.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[Deut. 32:35] and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” [Deut. 32:36] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebr. 10:26-31)
How this passage ever gained traction as applying to our salvation is beyond me. Has there ever been a Christian who stopped sinning after being saved? Even if they hadn’t read the rest of the letter, a rational person would have to conclude that there are only two options in interpreting it. Either we’re all hopelessly lost or the passage refers to something other than salvation. Try if you can to imagine someone who after being saved never had an angry, or lustful, or envious thought, who never fudged on the truth or said something unkind about another person. And I don’t mean just once, although that would have been enough, but more often than they even know. Remember, in Psalm 19:12-13 King David asked the Lord to forgive him for sins he wasn’t even aware of committing, not just for those he knew about. And just because we don’t remember sinning doesn’t mean it wasn’t deliberate. Sinning is as natural to us as breathing, and while we don’t think about breathing, and don’t remember doing it, we still do it deliberately.
Since it’s clear that the writer is addressing believers, that leaves only two possibilities concerning the judgment and fire reference. One is to take the view that the passage is meant to be understood hypothetically, as many do. They say it means that even though it won’t happen, those believers who keep on sinning will spend their lives in fear of being destroyed (the fearful expectation) as if they were enemies of God, and won’t enjoy any peace in their lives.
The other position is that it pertains to the only fire believers will face, the one in 1 Cor. 3:12-15 where each believer’s work will be judged according to the hidden motives of his heart.
There is justification for equating the religious work we do to either gain earthly recognition or reward, or to earn or keep our salvation, with the work of the enemies of God. The first is intended to magnify ourselves and the second relegates the Lord’s death to the same status as those of barnyard animals. These works will be burned up in the fire, and the one who does them will live his life out of fellowship with God, deprived of His power, and having no more Kingdom impact on those around him than someone who doesn’t know God at all.
I prefer the 1st because to me at least, it keeps the passage literal. Going back to the Law of Moses after Jesus had come to fulfill it was a worse insult to God than disobeying it before He came. It would never bring the believers either restoration to fellowship with God or peace with themselves. And the same is true for Gentile believers who don’t confess their ongoing sins and receive purification from unrighteousness as 1 John 1:9 instructs.
I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people who believe in their heart they were once saved. But their lifetime of worldly living has made it impossible for them to have any assurance at all that the Lord will take them in the rapture. Because of their guilt, they fall prey to all kinds of false doctrine and are spending their remaining days on earth in absolute fear they’ll be left behind. Their blessed hope has become a fearful expectation of judgment.
Remember, this is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The sin that’s been referred to all through the letter has to do with relying on the Old Covenant sacrifices to maintain that which was freely given under the New. No sacrifice will end the interruption in our relationship with God that our ongoing sin causes. Only confession and forgiveness can do that. Why? Because we confess when we expect to be forgiven. It’s an act of faith and what the Lord wants more than anything is for us to live by faith. That’s why He made it the only condition attached to our salvation.
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. [Habakkuk 2:3-4] And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (Hebr. 10:32-39)
The writer closes this chapter with a reminder of all the victories they’ve won by faith alone. Why would they now back down and settle for less? They need to do the will of God to receive the blessing He promised. And what is the will of God?
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40) Believe and be saved. The Lord has promised never to lose you. Both are God’s will.
The reference to shrinking back and being destroyed is the opposite of believing and being saved. His readers will not be destroyed because they’ve become believers and are saved. Now the goal is to rest in the full assurance of faith, and not be tempted back into religious works. Next time we’ll visit that spectacular display of victorious living, Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith. See you then.