“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged 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 fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” – Hebrews 10:26-31
“Sin is divine treason.” – Thabiti Anyabwile, from the Ligonier Conference, speaking on the divine treason of sin in light of God’s holiness. How often do we really see sin as it is? I confess that I just don’t many times because well, I’m a great sinner and am still blinded to a great amount of my own wickedness. We certainly don’t talk about sin like this nowadays, even in church where we should be. Sin is treason, divine treason. Think about the seriousness of treason at the political level. You can be thrown into prison for life or worse, executed for committing this crime, because you, being a citizen of this country, are betraying her through your actions. Yet how much worse is divine treason against a holy, eternal God! And this is every sin! God has every right to punish all of us to hell for eternity. He would be right and just to do so. And yet in great mercy, Christ condescended of His own free will and choice in order that we would be rescued, not because we were worth it or even wanted it or even saw our need for it, but because He is Amazing.
In listening to Thabiti Anyabwile at the Ligonier Conference via the free, live webcast they’ve had on their site today, I was really struck by several passages he brought up on the seriousness of sin. In particular, the passage above really got me to thinking. The whole book of Hebrews in general really upsets the postmodern sensibilities of our culture. When reading this book of the Bible, you cannot escape the correlations of blood animal sacrifice and atonement to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, the recurring, severe warnings of coming wrath for those who reject Him, the harshness of God’s judgment against the disobedient. These are things our culture at large rejects. And these are things many postmodern Christians are rejecting within evangelicalism now.
The general thinking nowadays goes, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” This fundamental dogma in our culture permeates the way we converse, the way we think, the way we make decisions in all sectors of our society. And there are large movements going on now in evangelicalism that seek to adapt this thinking to the Christian message. Yet they are incompatible because when Hebrews comes in to the picture, it blows this idea out of the water at its root, let alone those who would seek to adapt the Christian message to this worldly form of thought that is counter-productive to the progress of the Gospel.
And it is no wonder so many postmodern Christians are succumbing to the sophisticated arguments of those rejecting substitutionary atonement, blood atonement in general, wrath, hell. And if these ideas aren’t rejected outright, they are reinterpreted in light of or through the grid of these postmodern convictions that seem to over-ride the concerns of Scripture. Whereas books like The Shack want to make God our fluffy buddy, Hebrews comes in and shows us a wrathful God who is merciful only through faith, rest and trust in Christ alone. And it shows us that God must judge sin, either in the sinner or in the Person of Christ on behalf of the sinner who rests in Christ to take the blow for them on the cross.
But in order that these verses quoted at the top may not be misunderstood by faithful believers and yet still give fair warning to those who still remain outside of Christ’s effective salvation work in the Gospel through unbelief (though they may even be in the church), I want to quote Matthew Henry’s commentary on these passages, located here.
V. Having mentioned these means of establishment, the apostle proceeds, in the close of the chapter, to enforce his exhortations to perseverance, and against apostasy, by many very weighty considerations, v. 26, 27, &c.
1. From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,—despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,—and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Num. xv. 30, 31. They were to be cut off.
2. From the dreadful doom of such apostates. (1.) There remains no more sacrifice for such sins, no other Christ to come to save such sinners; they sin against the last resort and remedy. There were some sins under the law for which no sacrifices were provided; but yet if those who committed them did truly repent, though they might not escape temporal death, they might escape eternal destruction; for Christ would come, and make atonement. But now those under the gospel who will not accept of Christ, that they may be saved by him, have no other refuge left them. (2.) There remains for them only a certain fearful looking for of judgment, v. 27. Some think this refers to the dreadful destruction of the Jewish church and state; but certainly it refers also to the utter destruction that awaits all obstinate apostates at death and judgment, when the Judge will discover a fiery indignation against them, which will devour the adversaries; they will be consigned to the devouring fire and to everlasting burnings. Of this destruction God gives some notorious sinners, while on earth, a fearful foreboding in their own consciences, a dreadful looking for it, with a despair of ever being able either to endure or escape it.
3. From the methods of divine justice with those who despised Moses’s law, that is, sinned presumptuously, despising his authority, his threatenings and his power. These, when convicted by two or three witnesses, were put to death; they died without mercy, a temporal death. Observe, Wise governors should be careful to keep up the credit of their government and the authority of the laws, by punishing presumptuous offenders; but then in such cases there should be good evidence of the fact. Thus God ordained in Moses’s law; and hence the apostle infers the heavy doom that will fall upon those that apostatize from Christ. Here he refers to their own consciences, to judge how much sorer punishment the despisers of Christ (after they have professed to know him) are likely to undergo; and they may judge of the greatness of the punishment by the greatness of the sin. (1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation—to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah—to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom—to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men? (2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value. (3.) Those have done despite unto the Spirit of grace, the Spirit that is graciously given to men, and that works grace wherever it is,—the Spirit of grace, that should be regarded and attended to with the greatest care,—this Spirit they have grieved, resisted, quenched, yea, done despite to him, which is the highest act of wickedness, and makes the case of the sinner desperate, refusing to have the gospel salvation applied to him. Now he leaves it to the consciences of all, appeals to universal reason and equity, whether such aggravated crimes ought not to receive a suitable punishment, a sorer punishment than those who had died without mercy? But what punishment can be sorer than to die without mercy? I answer, To die by mercy, by the mercy and grace which they have despised. How dreadful is the case when not only the justice of God, but his abused grace and mercy call for vengeance!
4. From the description we have in the scripture of the nature of God’s vindictive justice, v. 30. We know that he has said, Vengeance is mine. This is taken out of Ps. xciv. 1, Vengeance belongs unto me. The terrors of the Lord are known both by revelation and reason. Vindictive justice is a glorious, though terrible attribute of God; it belongs to him, and he will use and execute it upon the heads of such sinners as despise his grace; he will avenge himself, and his Son, and Spirit, and covenant, upon apostates. And how dreadful then will their case be! The other quotation is from Deut. xxxii. 36, The Lord will judge his people; he will search and try his visible church, and will discover and detect those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan; and he will separate the precious from the vile, and will punish the sinners in Zion with the greatest severity. Now those who know him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense, must needs conclude, as the apostle does (v. 31): It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Those who know the joy that results from the favour of God can thereby judge of the power and dread of his vindictive wrath. Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.