I have been studying Hebrews chapter 10 in the Greek this morning. It is part of my study of passages traditionally translated or interpreted to preach a fear based warning.
For example a typical translation of Hebrews 10:26 & 27 might be: If we willfully sin after knowing the truth we are left with no sacrifice for sin. Instead we have a fearful expectation of a judgment and raging fire that consumes enemies of God.
This is then used to teach that Christians who continue to sin deliberately will be cut off from the benefit of the sacrifice of Christ and will have put themselves into a condition where all they have to look forward to is hell.
There is always more than one way to understand a cluster of words. But it is interesting how the options change in different languages. The entire chapter is contrasting law with grace in general. And specifically it contrasts the difference between how Levitical sacrifice and the sacrifice of Christ impact the guilty conscience differently.
The law was not a final agreement but rather served to foreshadow a better way. Had the Levitical sacrifice been so sufficient that only one was ever needed, then guilt would be able to move on. But under the old sacrifice system, the fact that sacrifices were regularly repeated inadvertently serves as a constant reminder of sin. It keeps us focused upon sin and we never escape the dynamics of guilt. The only way to escape the resulting reminder of guilt is to self-righteously deny sin.
But the sacrifice of Christ makes perfect forever those who are in the process of being made holy. If what is stated in verse 14 is true then the typical warnings preached from verses 26 & 27 are a contradiction and a lie.
The point of the chapter is that Old Testament sacrifices must be repeated and never ever get to the point where the debilitating focus upon guilt can go away. For those who do not turn to self-righteousness to cope with this ever returning guilt, there is frequent discouragement. If such a person were to discover that simply one sacrifice of Christ secures their eventual perfection, trust in that reality will resolve the impossible to appease guilt response.
It has been wisely said that you can never go home again. The old days shall remain forever gone. When you try to return it is never the same it is forever different. In light of this, every believer will from time to time face doubts especially in the earlier years. During that doubt their mind inevitably returns to their former beliefs.
If you happen to be one of those who formerly found the repetition of sacrifice a constant source of discouraging guilt, there is a danger that after experiencing freedom in Christ, if you entertain doubts and try to go back to the former sacrificial system, you will discover it is not the same. Previously the repeated sacrifices worked for a moment to remove guilt but because it kept you focused upon your sin, guilt would always return and it was discouraging. But now after having known freedom in Christ, you will discover that the repeated sacrifices do not remove any guilt at all, and the guilt that used to return in a discouragement will also change. It will become a dread that you are cursed and lost. You have nothing to face in the future except the rage of God.
Verses 26 & 27 are not teaching that this is indeed the danger you face, they teach that this is indeed the way you will be thinking.
The lesson to be gained is this: Anyone who has had a coping mechanism of a repeated ritual that appeases their sense of guilt will find that embracing the perfection secured by Christ once and for all removes from them any need for ongoing repetition of that ritual. But if they begin to doubt they will find they cannot successfully return to the old ritual. Trying to do so will result in a complete break down of the impact of the old ritual and they will be left in a state of dread.
These verses are not a warning to the Christian to stay away from deliberate sin. It is a heads up of what to expect your distorted thinking will anticipate if you slip in your faith. If you previously held to a legalistic approach that was working for you, then you have a background that anticipates the destiny of lawbreakers. Those ideas are well ingrained within. And those ideas will torment you.
The solution is to remember the earlier days when the one sacrifice of Christ was truly all you needed. It made you a person of authentic sympathy and service because the possession of the hope of securing perfection in Christ was fully sufficient. So verse 35 encourages those whose faith has slipped to return to faith in the sufficiency of the one sacrifice. If you can nail down this idea that the sin problem is SOLVED even though the process is not yet complete, you will experience once again the great confidence and it is a rich reward.
It is in some ways a sad reality that for those who know the freedom of Christ, moments of doubt takes them to a place far worse than they have ever been before. They are exposed to the maximum dread of failure. It throws you into an experience where all confidence dies and all that remains is dread.
But do not lose heart. That dread is NOT your destiny it is only your perspective of doubt tormenting you. There is no greater freedom from guilt than to know that Jesus has settled the issue completely.
We all struggle with sin from time to time. Knowing the sufficiency of Christ allows us to leave sin in the past and to press on toward the perfection in which we hope. Should we lose sight of this hope after having known it, we do not simply return to a former way of thinking, we actually enter a tormenting perspective that is triggered by another occasion of sin.
Beloved, Jesus is sufficient, the question is settled, the guilt is gone, the perfection is promised, and the hope is real. God loves you and has perfected you forever!
What a shame that religious fear mongers seek to take a verse of honesty from the bible and seek to use it to scare us into obedience. I prefer to know Christ crucified and to pursue holiness through the motivation of love. I have no room for fear of destruction in my spiritual journey.
Grace and peace be yours in Christ now and always.