The Character and Consequences of Sin
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on (the testimony of) two or three witnesses. How much more sever punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In the next section of Hebrews (vs 26-31) the writer presents the character and consequences of sin. He begins in verse 26; 'For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.' The important word in this verse is 'willfully.' In Greek, when one wants to put emphasis on a certain word, he puts it at the front of the sentence. The Greek text in Hebrews 10:26 lists 'willfully' as the first word. The picture is that of a person who has willingly decided to pursue a course of rebellion against God.
This person continues down the path of sin even 'after receiving the knowledge of the truth.' When a person has heard the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ, he has received the knowledge. When you tell someone that they are a sinner destined for an eternal hell unless they believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and they still continue in their sin, they are sinning willfully even after receiving the truth.
The sin the writer is referring to has nothing to do with a believer who is in sin. That subject is dealt with elsewhere in Scripture. This section deals specifically with the sin of the unbeliever in refusing to accept the salvation provided in Christ. This comes out clearly as we see the consequences.
What is the outcome? When a person refuses to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, '...there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.' There is nothing left for that person. They have no other alternative. They have heard the truth, yet they have rejected it. There is no longer any way for their sin to be forgiven. We saw this truth in 10:4, where the writer said, 'For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.' The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the only way to gain forgiveness of our sins. Hebrews 10:12 says, 'but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.' There is only one decision one must make concerning forgiveness of sins: Do I accept or reject Jesus Christ?
If a person rejects Jesus Christ, there is no provision for forgiveness of sins. However, what does remain is '...a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and 'the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.'' Have you ever shared the Gospel with someone who rejects the person and work of Jesus Christ? After telling them that rejection of Christ means an eternity in hell, they joke, 'It will not be too bad, at least I will get to be with all my friends.' They have deceived themselves into believing that hell is just a place to hang out with their friends and continue to do the same things they did in this world. However, the Bible speaks of hell in a different way. Verse 27 says the judgment of God will be 'terrifying.'
Why is His judgment so 'terrifying'? The writer continues, illustrating that the judgment of God is a 'fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.' This is not the out of control, raging fire that we picture in our minds. Rather, the word 'fury' means a personal 'jealous anger'. It is the jealous anger of God which results in a fire that consumes all those who have set themselves against Him. This idea is taken from the Old Testament (Isaiah 26:11, Zephaniah 1:18), and proves that God alone has the right to be jealous. Why? Because He alone is worthy of all praise, all attention, all honor, and all glory. Those who reject Him to worship false gods, or worship themselves as god, provoke Him to unleash His 'fury of fire' upon them in the day of judgment.
Second Thessalonians 1:7-9 also illustrates this truth. Paul says, '...the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.' Second Thessalonians 1:10 goes on to say that we who believe the Gospel will not experience eternal destruction. Instead, we will be marveling in the glory of the Lord in that day.
Many people, when told of the coming judgment of God, say 'I do not believe that God would deal so harshly with people just because they did not believe in Him, and obey Him. Surely He will give everyone a chance to believe in the gospel after they die.' But the writer illustrates the truth of God's promise of judgment, citing instances from the Old Testament. He says, 'Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?' Anyone who doubts that God judges harshly need only to read the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 17:6 says, 'On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.' The truth is clear. The Old Testament continually illustrates the serious consequences of sin and the judgment of God.
Numbers 15:27 says, 'Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering.' This verse is referring to someone who has not sinned on purpose. But what about someone who sinned willfully? Verses 30-31 say, 'But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.' The person who defied the Lord and His Word was to be executed. There was no sacrifice that could be offered to provide forgiveness for his sins.
It is interesting that the writer says, 'Anyone who has set aside the Law...' in 10:28. The word 'set aside' literally means 'to deny the validity or authority of something.' The writer is reminding the Jews that anyone who denied the validity of the Word of God in the Old Testament committed blasphemy, and was judged. Now the Jews were in danger of returning to Judaism, thus denying the validity and authority of the message of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. If He is denied, there is nowhere else to turn for the forgiveness of sins.
If God dealt harshly with people who denied Him under the Law of Moses, 'How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve...?' The application is that the magnitude of the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus Christ is so much greater than the sin that was dealt with under the Law, that it naturally demands even greater punishment. In fact, when a person refuses to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, three things occur. First, the Son of God is 'trampled under foot.' The attitude of unbelievers toward the Gospel is seen in Matthew 7:6; 'Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.' Just like a pig trampling on precious jewels, an unbeliever has no conception of the value of the Gospel. They trample the Son of God under their feet.
Secondly, those who reject Him have 'regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified.' The word 'regarded' denotes a constant judgment that a person makes after weighing the facts. Those who reject the Gospel do so after they have weighed the facts and declared that the blood of the covenant is unclean. They have full knowledge, yet they reject the Son of God.
The 'blood of the covenant,' is the death of Christ, which is the foundation of the new covenant. The writer says they regard it as 'unclean,' or literally, 'common'. When this word is used in the context of the religious activity of Israel, it means 'something that has not been set aside as holy.' In other words, it is worthless. In their minds, the death of Christ was no different than the death of anyone else.
Those who reject Christ regard His death as worthless, even though it is the sacrifice 'by which he is sanctified.' Some have said that this phrase points to the fact that this section is written to believers. However, I believe it is obvious that the writer directs this section to unbelievers. The proof is in the wording used. Believers do not 'trample' the Son of God under foot, or regard His sacrifice as 'unclean.' We cannot do these things and still be believers. Christ died for our sins, and His death is the sacrifice 'by which he (the unbeliever) is sanctified' if he will believe.
Second Peter parallels this section of Hebrews; 'But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.' The false prophets that Peter refers to obviously are not believers. These are men who taught a false message, and denied Jesus Christ-the Master who bought them. The idea is the same in Hebrews 10:29. Those who reject Christ are denying the Master who bought them, and they will bring destruction upon themselves.
Finally, the Spirit of grace has been 'insulted.' The way this word is written in Greek means 'an insolent arrogance manifested for the purpose of bringing injury to someone.' As if that was not bad enough, the writer has put a preposition in front of the word, which brings greater intensity to the meaning of the word.
When the Spirit of God brings someone to the point that they receive the full knowledge of the Gospel, and they reject it, they are acting arrogant and insulting the 'Spirit of Grace.' Is it not amazing how we, as sinful human beings, act toward God? We cry out 'God cannot be so harsh that He is going to send people to Hell. He has to give us another chance!' Yet, how do we act toward Him? When someone rejects Christ, he is insulting the very One who brings the grace of God into one's life. As one can clearly see, when one willingly sins by rejecting the salvation provided in Jesus Christ, God does not take that rejection lightly. This is how we should view it as well.
How does the writer know that those who reject Christ deserve a 'severer punishment' (vs 29)? He says, 'We know Him....' Do you know why some people cannot grasp the justice in the judgment of God? They do not know Him. Yet, it is those who do not know Him who run around proclaiming what He is like ('He would not send anyone to hell,' 'His attitude has changed now because He knows how hard it is to live in the 90's,' etc.).
What God does the writer know? He says, 'We know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay. And again, The Lord will judge His people.'' The writer quotes Deuteronomy 32:25-36. One cannot escape the truth: the God of the Bible promises judgment.
Everyone who is born will one day stand before God and give an account for his life. As we have learned, if one rejects the Gospel of Christ, there is no provision for forgiveness. This is why the writer concludes this section of Hebrews saying, 'It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' For believers, that terror does not exist. We have been completely forgiven of every sin we have ever committed, or will commit. We anticipate with eagerness the day that we will see our Savior face-to-face. But for the unbeliever, that moment will be filled with a gnawing, uncontrollable, terrifying fear.
This is the same warning that was given in 3:12. We have come full circle. Those who reject the Gospel of Christ and are willing to turn back to the ways of their past demonstrate an unbelieving heart. The warning is clear: you may reject Him in this life, but you are destined to spend an eternity in hell in the life to come. There is no way to grasp how horrible hell is. The Bible just gives us a glimpse of the judgment that is in store for those who reject the salvation provided in Christ (Hebrews 10:27, Matthew 10:28, Revelation 14:10-11 Revelation 20:10). The truth is that there is no mercy, no grace, and no sympathy when the jealous anger of God is poured out on those who turned their back on Him; 'The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night...' (Rev 14:11).
Where are you? Have you ever come to the point in your life when you realized you are a sinner separated from God? Have you ever come to realize the truth of the Gospel of Christ? Have you believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and trusted Him alone as your Lord and Savior? If you have, you will spend eternity in His presence; but if you have not, you are like those in Hebrews 10 who regard the death of Christ as worthless. Your destiny is eternity in a very real and very horrible hell, separated from God, and tormented forever. Do not wait until tomorrow to trust Christ as your Lord and Savior; today is the day of salvation!
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