What does the author of Hebrews mean when he says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” (Hebrews 10:26)?
Pastor Armstrong addresses this in his Hebrews Bible study, so we encourage you to listen to Lesson 10B of our Hebrews study.
Here is a brief explanation. The full passage in Hebrews reads:
First, let’s establish the audience this writer is addressing with his teaching. Notice in v.19 the writer calls his audience “brethren,” and throughout the passage he uses the pronoun “we” to associate himself with his audience. In v.23, he asks his audience to “hold fast” to their confession of faith. In v.25, he mentions the Christian gathering, which his audience participates in.
Taking all these details together, we must conclude the writer is speaking to an audience he assumes to be Christian. Therefore, we must also conclude that his warning is not speaking to matters that involve unbelievers, including unbelievers who have joined a congregation without actually professing faith (e.g., these have made a confession according to v.23).
Having established that the audience is believers, we then ask what is the writer’s concern? In v.22, the writer seems concerned that his audience lacks “full assurance” that their faith in Christ is sufficient to cleanse them from their sin. This group seems to be wavering (v.23) in their hope of resurrection, probably because they still find some attraction in the sacrifices and ritual of the Old Covenant Law. The writer has just spent four chapters (7-10) explaining the superiority and sufficiency of the New Covenant, which indicates this group of believers had maintained an unhealthy devotion to Jewish ritual.
Therefore, the writer exhorts these believers to hold fast to their confession of faith in Christ and to cease forsaking the Christian gathering (vs.23-24). Apparently, these believers were returning to the temple and to Jewish religious practice rather than holding firm to their Christian profession. They had forsaken gathering with Christians so that they could gather with Jews instead.
The writer tells his audience this is a dangerous practice, one that has serious eternal consequences. If his audience goes on sinning (in this manner) after having received the knowledge that such behavior is improper and unnecessary (v.26), there is no longer a provision of animal sacrifices to cover this error. While the sin is forgiven on the cross, there is no mechanism to avoid the consequences of sin brought by God the Father upon His disobedient children.
The writer uses the Old Testament example of disobedience under the Law to prove his point. When a Jew consciously disobeyed the Law of Moses, they were subject to death if 2 or more witnesses confirmed their disobedience. Given the greater power and importance of the New Covenant, the writer asks the readers to consider what kind of punishment the Lord will exact against those who willfully disobey the requirements of the New Covenant?
In other words, if Christians persist in participating in dead rituals at the Jewish temple while knowing that the Old Covenant has no power to save or atone for sin, then they are willingly sinning against the Savior Who bought them. Consequently, they should expect the Lord will bring stern consequences for any believer who fails to heed His commandments.
Notice in v.29 the writer says such disobedience is equal to “trampling” the Son of God, and regarding as unclean the blood of the covenant and insulting the Spirit. These are serious offenses, and so the Christian who engages in such things should expect the Father to respond in a serious way to such disobedience. Also, notice in v.30 the writer reminds his audience from the Old Testament that the Lord has declared He will take vengeance on His people when He judges them.
The writer alludes to the consequences in a couple of verses. First, in v.27 the writer mentions the terrifying nature of God’s fury, and in v.30 the writer mentions a judgment God will bring upon His people. So what are the consequences for willfully sinning in this way? What is this fire that will consume (v.27)?
Though the writer of Hebrews doesn’t explain it here, these things are explained elsewhere in scripture. Paul says in 1Corinthians that every believer must stand for judgment before Christ, and that judgment will test the quality of their life’s work:
Paul is describing the moment of every believer’s judgment before God. This judgment will evaluate our service to Christ and our life of obedience. The outcome of the judgment is reward, but for those who fail to work as God expected, the result will be loss of reward. Notice the mention of a judgment “fire” in v.13 and the warning against destroying the temple of God? These references are similar to the statements made by the writer of Hebrews, leading us to conclude that the warning in Hebrews 10 is to fear the judgment of Christ and the potential loss of reward.