“Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence”
March 3, 2002
Dont let deliberate sin undermine your assurance of salvation.
I. The Peril of Deliberate Sin. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
II. The Comfort of Personal Experience. (Hebrews 10:32-34)
III. The Confidence of Persevering Faith. (Hebrews 10:35-39)
MessageImagine youre an immigrant to the United States; a legal immigrant, with a visa, entrance papers and a green card so that you can work. But in the downturn after September 11th you lost your job. Then, in a moment of rage, angry at your employer, bitter toward the U.S., you destroyed all the papers that indicated your legal status. Later, you tried to get a new job. But in the middle of each interview, as a matter of course, your prospective employer asks to see some proof of citizenship. You explain that you dont have a birth certificate because youre an immigrant. The employer, with a bit higher interest, then asks you whether you have proof of status and a green card. You tell him that no, you no longer have these things.
Before this has happened many times, in the caution after the terrorist attack, you find yourself questioned not only by the police and immigration, but also by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Without your papers, you cant prove a thing, so you end up behind bars, treated harshly until proof can be found. In jail, youre very unsure how it will turn out. You regret the rash act of tearing those papers up.
Some who received the letter to the Hebrews were in a similar situation. At one time they had had confidence in their faith, in their reward, even in their salvation. But due to one or more deliberate acts of sin and rebellion against Christ some no longer have that confidence and are facing a very unpleasant future without even having the sure knowledge that they will come through it into eternity with God.
Deliberate sin with rebellion against Christ is a sure way to lose assurance of salvation. The opposite is also true: deliberate faithfulness and clinging to Christ is the best way to have assurance of salvation. Both of these are seen in Hebrews 10:26-39. And the exhortation I want to share from this text is very similar to the exhortation the author gives: Dont let deliberate sin undermine your assurance of salvation. Or, positively, allow persistent faithfulness to strengthen your assurance of salvation.
I. The Peril of Deliberate Sin. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
Lets begin with some of the most difficult verses in this letter. Hebrews 10:26-31. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In the previous passage we studied the great exhortation Let us draw near. Because of the sacrifice of Christ we have the tremendous privilege of intimacy with God. We draw near to God through Christ. But we have a part to play in that intimacy: though Jesus has opened the way, we must walk through it. This weeks text warns us against the opposite behavior. If, instead of being cleansed by Jesus and drawing near to God we deliberately sin and rebel against Jesus, we will have a very different experience: not intimacy with God, but judgment from God.
One of the tremendous warning flags in the Christian life is deliberate sin. In fact, the word deliberate is the very first Greek word in this verse. This is not a sin you stumbled into by accident, it is not a selfish attitude you are only vaguely aware of - this is sin that you know is sin before, during and after the fact - you saw it coming and chose to do it. And it is repeated or continuous. The verb implies an ongoing present activity. Sin that is not confessed, not repented of, but continuing.
Now the passage is not saying that every sin a Christian commits brings a fiery judgment. No, the blood of Christ cleanses from all sins, 1 John 1:7, and if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9. There is forgiveness for the believer who turns from their sin. But what about the person who doesnt? If deliberate sin continues no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment. It has to be one or the other - if there is no sacrifice for sins, there must be judgment of sins, a judgment the author calls a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Notice the comparison though, which shows that the kind of sin judged involves outright rebellion against Christ. Verse 28: anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. The word rejected means set aside, and it implies outright turning from Gods ways. The result is death. Deuteronomy 17 says that if it is proven, after thorough investigation and testimony, that someone is worshiping idols, false gods, they are to be put to death. They have rejected God and his law and are rebels against Gods truth.
In the same way, the person who consciously rebels against Christ is liable to judgment. We saw in verse 26 that this person is deliberately sinning and is not ignorant. He has received knowledge of the truth, but in response he has trampled the Son of God underfoot. This is not mere rejection of the Gospel, but active antagonism to Christ. History is full of examples. Voltaire, the French philosopher said something about Christ that gives me the chills: he said curse the wretch. He boasted in 1740 In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy what it took twelve apostles to build. In the same way, Charles Darwin started out devout. Karl Marx did too - and ended calling religion the opiate of the masses. Thomas Paine knew the Gospel in his youth, but became an enemy of Christianity. They had a knowledge of the truth but chose to trample underfoot the Son of God.
Further, they have treated as common the blood of the covenant that sanctifies. As John Piper says, they have taken communion, and said nice juice and gone out to sin some more. They have treated the blood of Christ, and thus the sacrifice of Christ and thus the death of Christ as if it meant nothing more than any other blood and death. They have not seen in Christ the payment for sin. This explains why no sacrifice is left for their sin - they have rejected the one and only valid sacrifice.
Finally, they have insulted the Holy Spirit of grace. This is immense arrogance: not only despising the Holy Spirits work, but rejecting the free gift he offers. Jesus said that this kind of attitude was unforgivable: Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. To reject the Spirit of grace is to reject forgiveness. The result, in 30 and 31, is judgment. It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. The Lord will judge his people. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. He judges rebellion. The souls of these people will experience the equivalent of a raging consuming fire.
But who are these people? Do believers face this judgment, or unbelievers? We explored this when we studied Hebrews 6. Some think you can be truly born again, justified by faith and on your way to heaven through a life of spiritual sanctification, and yet be finally lost and destroyed by forsaking the truth. But if we read what this writer says elsewhere and what the rest of the New Testament teaches about the security of the believer in Christ, we cant accept that. Right here in Hebrews 10 the author says, By one offering Christ has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." In other words, there is a gift of eternal holiness that is given once and for all to believers. They have been sanctified for eternity in Gods reckoning.
A second suggestion is that these are non-believers who face judgement for rejecting Christ. John Piper and Kent Hughes and others I respect hold this opinion. Piper describes them as having received a fruitless sanctification, a religious separation and outward purification that often happens when a person becomes part of the visible church. They come under the influence of Biblical teaching and love among the saints. They take communion with Gods people and see the cleansing power of his blood. They may feel the wooing of His Spirit. They may even feel they have trusted Christ, or remember a time they felt that way. But now they have turned from the church, rejected Christ and became antagonistic toward the Holy Spirit.
This view of the text has some merit. Voltaire and Darwin and Marx and Paine and so many others seem to fit this pattern. Some people we know, who we would not now say are believers were once very close to us in churches. It is, clearly a possibility. And all of us here who are preparing to take communion need to take seriously this warning, and examine ourselves to see if we really believe at a heart and life level.
But there is a third alternative that I think is worth our attention as well. Ive mentioned it before as having been taught by Mark DeHann of Radio Bible Class, among others. He contends that the people in question here are true believers who do not lose their salvation, but who face a very severe judgment both in this life and at their entrance into the next life because of their rejection of Christ and of grace.
The text is pretty convincing that these people are believers. They are called Gods people. They are said to be sanctified. The author, a believer, addresses them as we. But these same people, it seems, are threatened with fiery judgment, with vengeance, and with the absence of a meaningful sacrifice because they have rejected Gods grace and Spirit in their lives. Dehaan contends that the fiery indignation they face is not designed to kill them, but to cure them. He says by this very judgement the adversary who provoked temptation and stubborn disobedience is destroyed and his work brought to nought. Instead of giving up His child to the adversary, the Lord chastens his child and robs Satan of both his victim and the benefit of the rebellion.
How can you tell if this warning is aimed at you? The first symptom is unrepented sin. If you are consciously allowing sin in your life, you are entering a danger zone. If you continue to excuse anger, or violence, or lust, or greed, or some addiction, you are in danger. The second and even more serious symptom is rebellion against Christ. If you find yourself ignoring the work of Christ, minimizing the importance of his blood, or rejecting the warnings of his Holy Spirit you are in the greatest danger. If youre not yet a believer, youre moving toward hardness of heart, which is the road to hell. If you are a believer, you may be near the point of no return, where God gives up on your usefulness and chastises by setting you outside his work and his people, by sickness, or by death. You need to turn wholeheartedly back to God.
II. The Comfort of Personal Experience. (Hebrews 10:32-34)
The remainder of our text is intended to help us avoid hard heartedness. Verses 32 to 34 counsel us to look back at our own experience of faithfulness. 32Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Remembering what God has done in your life in the past is a great confidence builder for your present faith. This is especially true of remembering how he has helped you be strong in trial. The author encourages his readers to think back on a time when they were strong under persecution. Hes probably referring to the persecution under Claudius when all the Jews in Rome rioted at the instigation of Chrestus - that is, of Christ. It appears that the followers of Chrestus were facing violent persecution from their fellow Jews, and as a result of the violence the whole rioting crowd of them was expelled.
The author reminds them of that earlier time when they stood their ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. The word behind contest is the Greek athlesis, from which we get our English word athletic. The persecution was like a hard fought athletic contest: a strenuous race over the high hurdles, where the obstacles to be surmounted were successive waves of suffering, or a wrestling match in which they withstood the strongest attempts of the enemy to pin them.
R. Kent Hughes uses the English reformer Hugh Latimer as an example of boldness under persecution. On one notable occasion Latimer preached before Henry VIII and offended him. So Latimer was commanded to preach again the following week and apologize. As he began he addressed himself, and said, in effect: OK Hugh, youre preaching before the king who has the power of life and death over you, so you shouldnt say anything to displease him. But you are the messenger of Almighty God, who has the power of eternal life or death, so take care to deliver his message faithfully. Then he repeated the offensive sermon. Thats strength in adversity.
The author recalls for his readers the details of their own behavior under trial because remembering such God given strength will help them remain faithful. Sometimes, he says, you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution. The word for publicly exposed is the root of our word theater. They were ridiculed and taunted like the yokels that modern comedians sneer at in their seats.
At other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. Here their spiritual athleticism is clear, because they went beyond the call of duty. Normally we tend to be passive when we see others suffer - we sympathize, but dont think of joining them in that suffering. But these people went and stood by their brothers and sisters, exposing themselves to the same attack. My favorite example of this occurred in World War 2 when the Nazis occupied Denmark. In most of the occupied countries, the Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David. But this was never required in Denmark. Why? Apparently the King of Denmark, Christian X, let it be known that if the requirement was made, he himself would be the first to wear the star. Presumably most of Denmark would have joined him. That resolve was never tested because before the Nazis began rounding up Danish Jews for the death camps, all but 202 of the Jews in the whole country were taken to safety in neutral Sweden. The Danish Christians stood side by side with those who suffered.
Verse 34 You sympathized with those in prison. That is, they literally had a fellow-feeling with those in prison. The same word is used in 4:15 of Christs sympathy with us as high priest. And like Christ, they didnt just feel sympathy: they acted on it by going to these people and visiting them, and presumably bringing them food and water and supplying their needs, which the prisons did not do.
In our generation Chuck Colsons organization, Prison Fellowship, is at the forefront of this ministry. Hundreds and thousands of Christians have been mobilized for caring ministries as simple as Angel Tree or as serious as weekly visits to evangelize and disciple believers in prison, even sitting with believers in their last hours on death row. We still have the opportunity to show practical sympathy to those in prison.
Finally, these Hebrews were commended because they joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. All of these behaviors are clear indications of Gods presence in peoples lives, but this one in particular amazes us. We live in such a materialistic society that responding with joy when something is taken away seems incredible. But these people were exhilarated by the loss. Why? Because they knew they had better and lasting possessions. The author will expand this thought in chapter 11, but for now it is enough to note that they believed Jesus when he said Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
What a legacy these people had. They could look back not only at Gods blessings on their lives, but could also remember how God was faithful in their suffering as he helped them to walk faithfully through their suffering. The strengthening they received was a testimony that they were believers. Believers walk through adversity by faith.
I hope each of us has similar experiences we can look back on. As a church we have often seen Gods blessings, including the blessing of the new church building. In good times and hard we have seen how God has strengthened us for ministry. As individuals the same is true. If youre a believer you can probably see how God has worked in difficult circumstances to strengthen you and bless you. When someone close to you has been sick, God has strengthened you to care for them. When the stress and care and busyness of life has weighed on you, God has used his Spirit, his word and his people to encourage and strengthen you. When your need has been great, God has provided. If you cant think of an experience like that, you should be concerned because God designed our Christian experience to reinforce our faith.
III. The Confidence of Persevering Faith. (Hebrews 10:35-39)
In the same way, if youve fallen into deliberate sin, if youre unhappy with the truth about the Son of God, the sacrifice of his blood, or the grace of his Spirit, you should be concerned. But you dont need to despair. There is available to you an inexhaustible source of assurance as trustworthy as the arms of God himself. Youll find it in persevering faith. Hebrews 10:35 to 39 35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
The author challenges his readers: do not throw away your confidence. The word means to cast away or fling away as one throws out rubbish which is no further use. Deliberate sin and rebellion are exactly the same as throwing your confidence in the trash. Many of you know about the famous high wire artists, the Flying Wallendas, and about the tragic death of their leader, Karl Wallenda, in 1978. He fell while working without a net on a high-wire in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His wife later said that for three months prior to that event all he had thought about was falling. It seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tight rope. Wallendas loss of confidence no doubt contributed to his death. Yet, spiritually, no true Christian has to surrender to a fatal lack of confidence because we trust, not ourselves, but God. We can begin now to experience the great rewards of faith, not because weve earned them, but because God has given them as a gift.
What this confidence looks like in daily life is perseverance or endurance. It is persistence even when circumstances are contrary. Think, on the one hand, of a distance runner who bursts out of the starting gate and races to the front of the pack, but soon falls back and even leaves the race because of his exhaustion. Compare him to the runner who paces himself and pushes himself and runs with endurance. He is the model for the Christian life. During a Monday Night football game while I was at seminary in Chicago, one of the announcers observed that Walter Payton, the Bears' running back, had gained over nine miles in career rushing yardage. The other announcer remarked, "Yeah, and that's with somebody knocking him down every 4.6 yards!" Everyone gets knocked down. The key is to get up and run again just as hard.
But the goal of our perseverance is not yardage. It is to do the will of God. Already in this chapter the devotion of Jesus to the will of God has been mentioned, and now the same goal is set before the readers. We are to persist in serving God according to his revealed expectations. And the example of Jesus shows us that this will mean persevering through suffering, and that the reward for persevering is to receive what God has promised. Notice that this reward is not far off, verse 37, for in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay. Whether Jesus comes first or we go first, its only a little while before we receive our reward.
Perseverance does not earn salvation, but it is great evidence of Gods work in our lives, because the key to successful perseverance, like the key to salvation, is faith. Verse 38: but my righteous one will live by faith. Originally God gave this exhortation to the prophet Habakkuk after the prophet repeatedly complained about injustice and the suffering of the righteous. Gods response was Live by faith, Habakkuk! Later Habakkuk rose above his depression and complaint and sang a great song of faith: though the fig tree does not bloom and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
We can find the same joyful assurance as we begin to persevere by faith. The author is preparing us here for the greatest exposition of faith found anywhere in Scripture: Chapter 11. Just as faith alone enabled Habakkuk to sing joyfully in the midst of suffering, so his readers had been joyful by faith even when their possessions were confiscated, and we can be joyful as we live in faith. Faith is everything. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans to explain that salvation is totally by faith: for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: the righteous will live by faith. Here in Hebrews the writer quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to stress that the whole Christian life is lived by faith. The reformers were right when they said faith alone, both for salvation and for Christian living. And our assurance of salvation is intricately woven with this faith, for as we continue to trust God and are helped by God in daily life, we are more and more sure that we have also trusted him for salvation.
The writer has this confidence for his readers. He does not see them as those who shrink back from their confidence or their perseverance, but as those who believe and are saved. He does not see them as artificial believers, simply enjoying the fellowship of the church for a time, but then walking away into sin and rebellion, with the result that they will face the same certain judgment as other non-believers, though that might be true of some. He does not see them as believers who have fallen into sin and rebellion and are destined to undergo Gods purging judgment, though he recognizes that it might happen to some. But he is confident that they are continuing in faith, because persevering faith is the best evidence of saving faith.
Dont let deliberate sin undermine your assurance of salvation. Deliberate sin with rebellion against Christ is the one sure way to lose your assurance. But deliberate faithfulness and clinging to Christ is the best way to have assurance of salvation.