“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26, 27 – NKJV).
Exactly what is the writer saying here? To whom is he referring? What does he mean, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”? All these and more are valid questions. How do we answer those questions?
First, what is a willful sin? In some sense any sin that we may commit is, to a certain extent, a willful sin. “Sin” is defined as any act, or failure to act, that is contrary to the nature and commands of God. Sin resides in either of two categories: 1) Those thoughts and actions which we do/commit that are wrong, and 2) Those thoughts and actions we fail to do that are right (James 4:17). I can honestly say that there have been many times in my life when I have sinned, either by actively doing or thinking something that was sinful or by not doing or thinking what was right, but I have never been forced to sin. In every case I could have made a different choice. That is exactly what the apostle is telling us: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Every responsible human being, excepting those whose mind is affected by some kind of disease, malady, or deformity, is capable of making choices and is responsible to God for making good choices and decisions. Of course, immature children are also excepted. But otherwise, all people are responsible for the choices they make and the actions they take (Acts 17:30, 31).
It is also true that God can and will forgive any and every sin we may commit if we repent of that sin. If He can forgive those who crucified His Son (Acts 2:36-38) He can surely forgive any other sin anyone may commit. So, what kind/category of sin is the writer referring to when he states “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”?
In context, the writer has been reminding his readers of the greatness and effectiveness of Jesus’ high priesthood as it compares to the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 10:1-18). He then describes some of the benefits of that high priesthood that accrue to those of us who take advantage of what Jesus has done for us. We can now enter the “Holiest” by means of the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19). That is, we now have a much more direct access to God than was ever possible for those living under the covenant given through Moses. That being the case, the writer mentions three things that we should do in response to this great privilege. 1) We should confidently draw much closer to and have a much more assuring relationship with God than was possible under the previous covenant. 2) We should more tightly cling to the promises that have been given to us in this new covenant because God is faithful to fulfill all His promises, as is evidenced by His “track record” under that previous covenant. 3) We should have a much closer relationship with our “fellow covenanters,” ever more looking forward to assembling with them at every opportunity in order to promote the kind of life and deeds that God would have us perform.
Once we have that knowledge and relationship with God and with one another the only way a right thinking person would abandon that would be a willful, intentional “turning one’s back” on what Jesus has done and accomplished on our behalf. If a person should willfully and intentionally turn his/her back on Jesus and what He has done for us, where might that person turn for salvation and a close relationship with God. THERE IS NOWHERE ELSE TO TURN! Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father (John 14:6), which is to say He is the ONLY way to heaven. If one turns his/her back on Jesus, the only alternative is that “certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
Moses’ law, with its animal sacrifices, could not provide forgiveness, only a reminder, of sins committed (Hebrews 10:3, 4). Anyone who rejected that law was put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Hebrews 10:28). This new covenant is a much better covenant. Everything about it is better, including the sacrifice that allows for the forgiveness of sins. That being the case, should not the rejection of a greater law be punished by a much greater punishment? What can be a worse punishment than execution? The eternal loss of one’s eternal soul!
When a person willfully, intentionally rejects Jesus and His sacrifice and refuses to adhere to the terms of this new covenant that person is essentially saying, “Jesus and His covenant are worthless and are to be thrown out with the trash.” That is the person upon whom God will exact His vengeance (Hebrews 10:30)
The Hebrews writer is not warning those who sometimes, even often, stumble in their quest to live a godly life. He is not really even addressing those who intentionally commit the occasional sin. He is addressing those who would intentionally discard the notion of a loving Savior who made the ultimate sacrifice for their eternal well being, who intentionally (willfully) rebel against God and everything He represents. Those who do such will suffer a worse fate than those who perished in rebellion of Korah against Moses (Numbers 16:1-3, 31-35; Jude 11). After all, those who rebel against Jesus are rebelling against One who is worthy of much more glory than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6).
All of us stumble and sin from time to time (Romans 3:23). Perhaps sometimes we even sin intentionally. But we never stop realizing that Jesus and His sacrifice is the only cure for sin. If we are willing to repent of our sins, even our “willful sin,” God stands at the ready to cleanse us with the precious blood of the Lamb of God.