After such an exciting and encouraging “therefore,” the rest of Chapter Ten seems to take an emotional plunge. The writer returns to the theme in Chapter Six—for those who have gone a long way towards salvation, but have yet to commit to Jesus, do not stop now! And for those who are saved, persevering is evidence of that faith.
“Go On Sinning” or “Willfully Sinning”?
“For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”Hebrews 10:26 (NRSV)
Understanding this passage rests on understanding the word ἑκουσίως | hekousios. Is it willingly or willfully?
First interpretation: Some translations seem to indicate a believer who now decides—willfully—to sin, in direct rejection of God, and of what Jesus has done for us. Other translations seem to indicate someone who has heard the gospel, who has experienced something of what it means to be among the community of Christ, but still decides not to put their faith in Jesus.
Second interpretation: The emphasis is put on what kind of sin is being committed: it is the sin of unbelief, of rejection of faith.
Jesus once spoke somewhat cryptically of sinning against the Holy Spirit in a literally unforgiveable manner.
“The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And [Jesus] called them to him, and spoke to them in parables,
“’How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“’Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’—for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”Jesus, Mark 3:22-30 (NRSV)
Matthew’s gospel adds,
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
“Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”Jesus to His disciples, Matthew 12:30-32 (NRSV)
Right before this, Jesus had been explaining how he could cast out demons. It was not because he was in league with Satan, but rather it was because Jesus was stronger than Satan. He said,
“It is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, [for] the kingdom of God has come to you.
“Or, how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered!”Jesus to His disciples, Matthew 12:28-29 (NRSV)
Jesus was the only one strong enough to tie up the strong man and rob the world of the people Satan (the strong man) oppressed. Jesus alone could bring them into the kingdom of God where they would be free for all eternity.
There is no neutral place.
Either a person belongs to Jesus, who has come into the strong man’s house to rescue that one and free them from Satan, or that person remains a prisoner of the strong man.
The writer of Hebrews reiterated Jesus’ meaning—once hearing the Gospel, the time for decision has come. Either we are with Jesus, or we are against Jesus.
The Unforgivable Sin
But what is this terrible thing that Jesus talked about next?
Was this terrifying prophecy limited to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or can such an unpardonable sin be committed today?
And if so, how?
The context of both the Matthew and Mark passages is the Lord’s indictment of the Pharisees for attributing the origin of His power and the validity of His claims to the devil.
The unforgivable sin is the -rejection- of the true power behind the Lord Jesus Christ’s miracles.
To assign miracles to Satan, not the Holy Spirit, is to reject the One who draws us to Christ.
To repudiate the work of the Spirit, and reject the witness of the Holy Spirit was to remain in their sin.
Go back and take note of Jesus’ statement: “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit -will- not be forgiven.”
Such a thing will not—not can not, but will not—be forgiven.
As Ray Stedman once said (And Harry Ironside before him), “God will not where you will not.” As long as a person is concerned that they might have committed the unforgivable sin, it is a sure sign they have not! Because that is the sign of a contrite and repentant heart.
Jesus warned the Pharisees their words gave evidence of the evil in their hearts. The sin against the Holy Spirit is not a matter of speech, the words spoken are only evidence of a sin-filled heart. Jesus indicated this sin that would never be forgiven was not about a single act, but rather a way of being.
So, now, the writer warned:
“How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have
“—spurned the Son of God,
“—profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified,
“—and outraged the Spirit of grace?
“For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.“Hebrews 10:29-31 (NRSV)
In reading through a number of commentaries, I came across a list of warnings a theologian had compiled, found in the Book of Hebrews. It seems appropriate to list them here.
- Drifting – Hebrews 2:1-4
- To neglect the significance of what Jesus has done leaves a person adrift, inevitably floating away from the chance for salvation because there is no anchor of faith.
- Instead, pay great attention to the teaching we have in the Christian Testament.
- Departing – Hebrews 3:12-15
- Unbelief leaves a person hardened to the deceitfulness of sin.
- Instead, daily exhort each other to persevere.
- Disobedience – Hebrews 4:11-13
- Disobeying God prevents us from entering God’s rest
- Instead, diligently heed the Word of God
- Dullness – Hebrews 5:11-6:6
- Dullness of hearing prevents growth and maturity.
- Instead, embrace the ABC’s of faith, and commit to God.
- Despising – Hebrews 10:26-39
- Willful rejection of the Spirit’s work leaves a person under God’s judgement.
- Instead, endure in confident faith.
- Defying – Hebrews 12:25-29 (We have not read Chapter Twelve together, yet.)
- Refusing God, who speaks through the writer of Hebrews, is to refuse salvation.
- Instead, give thanks to God for salvation through Jesus, and offer God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.