Sinning Willfully

“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26).

This is a very frightful verse in Holy Scripture. Certainly, it is meant to be sobering. It is also a misused verse by some who use it to put sensitive Christians into spiritual bondage leading to despair because an honest believer acknowledges sin in the soul even after confessing Christ as Lord and Savior.

The apostle Paul knew he sinned after his conversion to Christ and wrote about his struggle to the Church in Rome. “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21).

The beloved apostle, John, wrote to Christians, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

There is another reality. Every sin is willful. No one ever does anything against their will.

It would be wonderful if, at the moment of salvation, the soul was entirely sanctified. It would be a blessing to every person, and to society as a whole, if conversion brought such a change in a person that, from that moment forward they were never angry, jealous, vengeful, lustful, or inclined to lie, cheat, or murder. The truth of the matter is that the saints do sin.

Peter denied the Lord of glory. Barnabas and Paul argued violently over John Mark. The epistles to the churches are filled with exhortations to put away anger, malice, evil speaking, and much more.

So, what do the words of Hebrews 10:26 mean? How are they to be understood in light of the whole counsel of God? There must be a way to reconcile what the author of Hebrews is saying with the rest of Scripture for in 1 John 1:9 we read that if we confess sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Since the Bible does not, and cannot contradict itself, the challenge is to reconcile paradoxical thoughts.

Certainly, the Devil does not want Christians to properly understand this passage because the Enemy can effectively use the verse to beat up on Christians. The Evil One can use the text in the mouths of his false teachers to frighten the Lord’s little children, and to malign God. One of the darkest images promoted by religion, and by non-Christians is that God is a mean tempered tyrant who rules in an arbitrary way over the affairs of the earth.

When a person is exposed to a wrong teaching, it can trap their conscience. A free conscience can lead a person to salvation, but a trapped conscience leads a person to anger and harsh thoughts about the Lord and His anointed (A. W. Tozer).

A conscience can become trapped by failing to understand a difficult passage. Peter struggled with this himself for he spoke of how challenging the letters of Paul could be “according to the wisdom given unto him” (2 Peter 3:15). Peter noted that in the Pauline epistles, he spoke of things “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

When Peter spoke of the “unlearned” he was speaking of those who did not know the Scriptures. It is possible to be highly intelligent, and yet have a very low spiritual intelligence. God the Holy Spirit must come and illuminate the mind if spiritual truths are to be comprehended. It is the Spirit who guides into all truth. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). It is possible for Christians to turn against themselves and flagellate themselves without mercy until all hope is lost.

Hope is what the heart needs when there is great sin. The angry person who has hurt and hated their spouse must have hope they can be forgiven and redeemed. The lustful person must have hope that the passions which sweep away reason to engage in unspeakable behavior can be subdued. The covetous person, the blasphemer, the addicted person must have hope in the mercy of the Lord.

If someone had told the Prodigal Son there was a verse in the Law and the Prophets saying they could never be forgiven after willfully sinning, which the son was guilty of, he would have no hope of returning to the Father. Therefore, any theology which destroys hope in the heart cannot be of God. The Sermon on the Mount, the teaching of Jesus, and the death of Christ teach there is love, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and redemption for sinners.

In light of this, what does the author of Hebrews mean when he says, “if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins”?

We can begin by noticing what the text does not say, and what it does not mean.

First, the text does not mean that a person who has heard the gospel one time, and goes on to sin, cannot be saved. Many people are exposed to the gospel for years without being touched and converted by its message.  Saul of Tarsus was familiar with the teaching of those whom he sought to arrest. However, Saul was not born again until the Lord of Glory appeared to him on the Road to Damascus. The fact is, God is longsuffering. He is willing to forgive seventy times seven, and more if necessary. Therefore, God would not impose a standard on His people which He would violate.

Second, the text does not mean there is no hope for a Christian who sins after salvation for then there would be no need for passages such as 1 John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Therefore, “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood anymore. 5 For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. 6 For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. 7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. 8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:4-8). The Lord wants to convey the message that He is a God of mercy and everlasting kindness.

Because Scripture does not contradict itself, the words of Hebrews 10 must be reconciled with the words of Isaiah, and the words of David in Psalm 51. David sinned willfully with Bathsheba. He sinned willfully when he murdered Uriah the Hittite. But then came his great confession and plea for forgiveness. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Psalms 51:10-13). If there was no hope for David, if there was no more sacrifice for his sins, he would not have written what he did.

What is taught in the Old Testament is affirmed in the New Testament. It is comforting for the Christians who sins to read afresh the words of the apostle John.

The divine ideal standard is always that the believer sins not. The Scripture teaches God’s people how to live righteously, and sin not in as far as there is compliance. However, if we do sin, there is an Advocate, a defense attorney.

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). But there is an oughtness to the Christian’s belief and behavior. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).

Moses needed an Advocate. David needed an Advocate. Peter needed an Advocate. Every Christian needs an Advocate even after they are converted to Christ.

This is not to encourage sin. The gospel exhortation is to always walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh. But the fact is Christians do sin. They do backslide. If Hebrews 11:26 means that any person who has ever heard the Word can never be restored again, then all is lost after all.

Because one passage of Scripture does not establish a doctrine, care must be taken to consider the whole counsel of God to come to a harmony. For example, John 3:16 in the New Testament declares the love of God. That truth is consistent and confirmed by the Old Testament whereby God says, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). What Moses taught, Jeremiah declared. What Jeremiah declared, Jesus affirmed. What Jesus affirmed was spread abroad by the apostles through the book of Acts to the end of the Revelation. That is how a true teaching of Scripture is established.

We must not twist the Scriptures, as the Devil did with Jesus in the wilderness temptations, or as erroneous Bible teachers do today who insist there is no more sacrifice after a person hears the gospel and sins willfully.

The Father promises to keep His people, but do not tempt Him. The Lord promises to answer prayer, but not do not ask for something inappropriate. The Lord promises to provide an Advocate, but do not exploit His grace.

There are two words in Hebrews 9:26 that deserve special attention. There is the word, sin, and the word, sacrifice. The particular sin in view is a determined rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is the sin of unbelief.

The writer of the Hebrews looked back over Jewish history and noted the Exodus Generation rebelled against the Lord in unbelief. God then swore in His wrath they would not enter into the Land of Promise. The author of Hebrews tells his audience, “Do not do as they did. Do not die the death of the wicked.” “So, we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). Because of their unbelief the Exodus Generation had no more sacrifice for sin. Moreover, the Jews of the New Testament era must not go back under the Law looking for a sacrifice. Those animal ritual sacrifices no longer exist. They have been fulfilled in Christ.

“For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices, there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4).

What the sacrifices could not do, Christ did. But if the Jews, in context, or any professing Christian, in stubbornness and unbelief continue to be like the forefathers and reject the Last Sacrifice, Christ, there remains no hope.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

In ev’ry rough and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the vale.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.

Not earth, nor hell, my soul can move;
I rest upon unchanging love.
I trust his righteous character,
his counsel, promise, and his pow’r.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
oh, may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne.”

Edward Mote

While the gospel does not encourage sin, or condone any transgression, let no one despair for the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, still cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7).

The person who loses his, or her, temper, does so willfully. There are far too many married domestic terrorists who try to instill fear in their spouse in order to control them. They curse and scream, hit and hurt willfully, and not because their spouse “made them”, as later thoughts of self-justification indicate. The person who engages in acts of immorality does so willfully. The fornicator, the idolater, the homosexual, the thief, the covetous, the alcoholic, all sin willfully. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

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