For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries...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? 30For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26, 29-31)The New Testament book of Hebrews is one of the most interesting places in the Bible. It presents a sermon by an anonymous first-century Jewish Christian preacher, delivered to fellow Jewish Christians.
By the time the sermon was given, the Christian movement had grown to the point that it was eliciting official persecution from the Roman Empire in which Jesus was first proclaimed as Messiah and God-enfleshed.
The Roman authorities regarded all monotheists as "atheists" because of their refusal to acknowledge a multiplicity of gods, most especially the ruling emperor. That had lain behind Roman persecution of Jews.
But the fervor and the growth of Christianity were, by the time the preacher of Hebrews presents his sermon, of greater concern to Roman authorities than were the Jews.
Outright persecution and threats designed to make Christians renounce their confession of Christ as the only Lord--the word is kurios in the Greek of the New Tesament, meaning boss or king of everything--weren't working.
That's when the Empire came up with another strategy, this one aimed at dividing and conquering. Officials told Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was Messiah that if they renounced their confession and returned to Judaism without Christ, they would be left alone. But if they continued to confess Christ, they would face continued, perhaps intensified, persecution.
The aim of the preacher in Hebrews is to encourage his fellow Jewish Christians to remain steadfast, to not abandon Christ.
His argument for Christ is akin to that implicitly made by the author of Luke and Acts, that faithfulness to the God of the Old Testament meant confessing Jesus as Lord and God. Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament faith. The sacrificial system of the Jerusalem temple, he says, was a shadow and preview of Jesus Christ, the spotless lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world for those who believe in Him, once and for all. Going back to that system, knowing that it was now superceded and rendered irrelevant by Christ's death and resurrection, was not an option for a faithful Jew. It would be a rejection of God Himself and of their faith as Jews, the preacher argues, to now disavow faith Christ.
Hebrews, chapter 10, after discussing Christ not only as the perfect sacrificial lamb, but also as the sinless high priest, brings a ringing call to persevere in faith in Christ. Through Christ, he says, we have the confidence to enter the presence of God always, something that would not have been possible under the old sacrificial system. Then comes the words I quoted above, warning his fellow Jewish Christians not to shrink back from walking with Christ when they knew Who He was. That would imperil their eternal lives.
For me, these words are of more than historical interest. As a Gentile Christian who came to faith thirty-three years ago, the warning is clear. To knowingly defy the will of God--whether by spurning Christ or to deliberately sin when I know better--is to put my eternal salvation at risk.
As I reflected on the familiar words from Hebrews once again today, I had to confess that I have done just this. Though I've known the right path--I've known that keeping the God I know in Jesus as my only object of worship, that the will of God is to love God and love neighbor, and that the Ten Commandments haven't been revoked, there have been times when I have willfully done what I wanted to do rather than what God clearly wanted me to do.
Of course, on each occasion, I've had my rationalizations, reasons why under these circumstances or this set of conditions, it was OK for me to sin. Someone had annoyed me. The situation was different this time. Or my intellect or emotions told me that this time, what was usually wrong was not only acceptable, but right. I replaced God's judgment and authority with my own.
Whenever I did that, I immediately erected a wall between God and me. Hebrews says that I stood naked in my sin before God, there no longer remained a sacrifice for my sins. I declared my independence from God and in so doing, also declared my independence from grace. I was telling Christ on His cross, "No, thanks. I'll fend for myself."
That was not only stupid, it was dangerous.
Other than Jesus, Who was both God and human, we all sin, of course. We all sin each day, in thoughts and actions.
But Christians who have acknowledged their sin, trusted in Christ, and committed themselves to never knowingly sinning and to daily repent of sin so that it can gain no foothold in their lives or rise as a rival to Christ's Lordship, who then deliberately flout the will of God, play a game of Russian Roulette guaranteed to end in eternal separation from God.
Thank God that, after short seasons of egomania when I dared to be my own god and ignore the true God revealed to all in Christ, I finally came to my senses. God gave me the time and opportunity to authentically repent. I acknowledged my hubris. I owned the fact that I had ignored the counsel of God's Holy Spirit even though I knew better. In Christ, I knew that I was forgiven.
But the words from Hebrews 10:26-31, remind me to always be confident in the grace of God, but never allow confidence in forgiveness to turn forgetfulness about my need of grace or the justice and rectitude of God.
I still sin each day. I have plenty to confess during my times of prayer in the mornings and evenings. But I pray never again erect a wall between God and me by ignoring God's will. When tempted to do that, I pray that God will scream into my hearts, "Don't fall back into the trap of self-reliance. That's the road to hell. Keep walking with Me!"
The words of an old Randy Stonehill song, Angry Young Men, also are good, even as I become an older man, to remember in confronting my sinful penchant for trying to be my own god:
He wants some angry young men
Ones who can't be bought
Ones who will not run from a fight
Ones who speak the truth whether it's
popular or not
Ones who'd give up anything to walk
in His light
Rest assured when Jesus comes again
He'll be looking for some angry
He wants some angry young men
With fire in their eyes
Ones who understand what Jesus gave
Ones who have grown weary
of the world and all its lies
Ones who won't forget they've been
delivered from the grave
They say if you don't laugh you cry
I say if you don't live you die
Well, well, the road to hell is paved with
some impressive alibis
But unless you thirst for Jesus first
Man, heaven will pass you by
Heaven will pass you by
You'll be tempted, tried and tested
There'll be wars the devil wins
But God's love is not a license to lie
there in your sins
He understands the human heart
His mercy is complete
But His grace was not intended
As a place to wipe your feet
He wants some angry young men
Who love the Lord they serve
Ones who'll do much more than make
Ones who'll act their faith out with a
passion it deserves
'Cause if we cannot live it
Tell me, who are we to preach?
Written and composed by Randy Stonehill
© 1985 Word Music (a division of Word,
Inc.) and Stonehillian Music (ASCAP)