Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 20, Aug 2015
Scripture Reading: Hebrew 10: 26-31
‘For if we go on sinning wilLfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a 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 severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot 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.’
The writer to the Hebrews speaks with a sternness that is almost without parallel in the New Testament. Few writers have such a sense of the sheer horror of sin as the Hebrew writer. Surprisingly the author of Hebrews; generally agreed by commentators to be Paul, the Apostle, grammatically identifies himself with the wilLfully sinning group. The group that Paul is addressing includes himself. For ‘if we’, not ‘if they’. We have a great tendency when reading the Word of God to immediately presume a certain text, or Word of God for someone other than ourselves. But a correct approach when it comes to the Word of God has to be that the Word is addressed to us first and foremost. So these few verses that I have just read refers to believers, not the people outside of the church.
The sternness and the sheer horror of sin has to do with what we did with Christ. I mean, look at what Jesus has done for us; Jesus has enabled us to come close to God, the veil at the Temple has been torn from top to bottom, so that we can come freely to the throne of Grace, we can have heart to heart talk with God and life to life encounter with Christ. Paul says, we have such grace that wasn’t found in the OT. Therefore it’s unthinkable to treat this salvation lightly — as though the sacrifice of Jesus is just a mildly interesting event. The writer to the Hebrews says in effect: “Look at what has been done for you; look at the shed blood and the broken body of Christ; look at what your new relationship to God cost; can you treat it as if it did not matter? Don’t you see what a sacred thing it is?”
A man can stand almost any attack on his body; the thing that beats him is a broken heart. It is told that in the days of the Hitler terror there was a man in Germany who was arrested, tried, tortured and put into a concentration camp. He faced it all with gallantry and emerged erect and unbroken. Then by accident he discovered who it was who had laid information against him–it was his own son. The discovery broke him and he died. Attack by an enemy he could bear; attack by one whom he loved killed him. When Caesar was murdered he faced his assassins with almost disdainful courage. But when he saw the hand of his friend Brutus raised to strike, he wrapped his head in his mantle and died. When we sin wilfully we broke the heart of Christ.
A pastor says this, ‘While I am a preacher of grace, I have observed a fallacy (a lie) which diminishes the value of God’s grace. In the eyes of God, grace was never a cheap thing because it costed the high price of His son to die on the cross for our sins. The fact that grace is a free gift has caused many modern minds to belittle it because cheap things in modern markets are usually valueless. The higher the price the greater the quality. May we be reminded that the blood of Jesus, because of its superior value, speaks better things than the blood of animals. While there is no price to pay for our salvation, it does not follow that because grace is free, therefore it is cheap. Indeed there is need for believers to reciprocate God’s grace they have been freely given by living a holy life. Today’s Christian community has made grace so cheap that one can live anyhow and then expect to appropriate God’s unlimited grace. They can deliberately sin because God has already forgiven them in advance because of the finished work at Calvary. However the writer to the Hebrews rightfully says that when we make grace cheap, we are actually trampling the Son of God underfoot.’ What can we learn from this portion of Scripture?
1. Addressed to Believers who willfully sin
Paul refers to believers who continue in sin. This individual is among us, and even possibly us. Paul is addressing believers in the church. If we wilfully sin or deliberately keep on sinning will face judgement. Dick Sheppard spent much of his life preaching in the open air to people who were either hostile or indifferent to the Church. From their questions and their arguments and their criticisms he said that he had learned that “the greatest handicap the Church has is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians.” The Christian undermines the very foundations of the Church. The problem is the unsatisfactory Christians who undermines the very foundation of the Church.
We were in fellowship with a pastor of a certain church and were concerned with the children of that church. A problem cropped up with the children’s church. The problem is not the children but the parents of the children. They had young people complained that their parents supposedly even leaders of the church, used vulgarities against each other when in heated argument. The phrase ‘The Lord will judge His people’ is a life or death warning. Of course ultimately he or she will face the great white throne judgement but more accurately it mean his or her life will be cut short on earth. So this is a punishment worse than death. Because it not only involves cutting short your lives on earth but eternal fire upon death. I personally believe judgment has to begin in the house of God, before the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ. What are some of the common wilful sinning that is implied here?
Apostasy from the faith is one. This is a strong and wilful rejection of faith in Christ. The issue is not so much on the sinning believers but believers who cease to believe. You no more believe God, believe the church, believe His Word, His Promise. I have seen Pastor walk away from the faith. I have seen missionary who divorced his wife and married a Muslim, completely cutting off his walk with Christ. It is not so much of incidental sins, but of breaking the whole covenant. Our relationship with Christ is a covenant relationship. For whatever reasons for breaking the relationship; people, disappointment with God, loss, etc.; rejection of Jesus after you have known the truth, produces the darkest possible spiritual night and in the end death; physical as well as spiritual death. There is a Doctor by the name of Dr Chew who was invited recently to preach at BBTC church. He gave up his medical profession and became a full time pastor because of an incident involving his father. It was said that his father died but came back to life. But when his father was dead for that short moment, he was in hell and he saw many people he knew in the church that were there; the pastor of the church, the elders and many supposedly good leaders. These people walk away from faith, walk away from God. They stopped believing.
Another wilful sinning is idolatry. Idolatry could mean literally idols that we worshipped; that means, we went back to idol worship again. But it could also mean something we cherish more than God. Paul said, ‘Demas has forsaken me having loved this present world.’ The third is false prophecy. And the fourth is blasphemy. Alexander the Copper Smith, contradicts Paul, blaspheme the teaching of Paul and did so much harm to Paul.
There are two theologies that is going around in the church circle today. One theology is lost, saved, lost, saved, lost, saved! We see it even in Evangel Tabernacle. Last Friday evening, Pastor Lily and I, together with Pastor Paulynne and Pastor Carlyn, had a bonding time with the Mentors, Facilitators and Peer leaders of the youth church. There are around 30 of them. A time was given for each of them to introduce themselves and tell us more about themselves. Some of them surprised us because they have been attending Evangel Tabernacle since Quezon Street time. One common honest statement, which Pastor Lily and I sincerely appreciate is that in their 10 years of time with Evangel Tabernacle, they backslided for a number of years. But I am not referring to this group of people, where they were away for a while but they came back and walked with Christ since then; that is how they became Mentor, Facilitator or Peer Leader. But I am referring to people within the church who are continually lost, then saved, then lost again and saved again and lost and saved. You may think nothing of it but you are in this category that Paul is warning about. Another theology is the ‘once saved, always saved.’ These group lived in such a way which is unrelated to continuing belief in Christ and a lifestyle that is contradicts Christ. Their living has nothing to do with belief in God and their lifestyles denies Christ.
Hebrews seems to be a specialized book, to a select group. The select group is of course the Jew but also believers which is us in the church. As believers, we are exhorted to continue to run the race, live a godly life of faith, a strive toward holiness, produced by an attitude of gratitude in our salvation through Christ by faith.
2. Characteristics of such people
I’ll mention just three brief characteristics of such people. Firstly they had received a knowledge of the truth. Verse 26: “For if we go on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.’ They know the truth. We will all be judged in proportion to the amount of light and truth available to us. These people had received the gospel. But they were walking away from Christ from the truth. I think the best example for such people who knows the truth is myself. I mean I am a Christian for 36 years, pastor for 29 years. I have experience the joy of Salvation, have power encounter with Christ. I know that God is real and nobody can prevent me from believing in a real God. I too have experienced the reality of Christ, the help of God, personal relationship with God. I truly have knowledge of God already. I think a great number of you are in this category with me. We have a knowledge of the truth already. We have received the Gospel. Then you want to cease to believe. You want to walk away from Christ.
Secondly they are already part of God’s people. Verse 30b says, “The Lord will judge his people.” You see, ‘His people’. This seems to mean that the writer sees the visible church – the external church – the way he saw the Old Testament people of God – they are a mixed group. Some of “God’s people” will be saved, and some from “God’s people” will be lost. For example, in Ezekiel 34:17, God says, “As for you, My flock (the people of God, the external church], thus says the Lord God, `Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.”‘ As Paul says in Romans 9:6, “Not all those from Israel are Israel.” Likewise Paul calls the church the “people of God.” He calls them brothers – even “holy brothers” I put it in today’s context, ‘Not all those that are from the church are the church, not all those that are Christians are Christians.
Thirdly, in verse 29 he says that these casualties of God’s wrath were “sanctified.” They are sanctified people. What do you mean by being sanctified? These people have come under the influence of truth in preaching and teaching. They come under the influence of love among the saints. They come under the influence of the ordinances and even eat and drink the sacred emblems of Christ’s body and blood. They feel the blowing of God’s Spirit of grace and taste his wooing and winning influences. They have been sanctified by the blood covenant. Therefore Brothers and Sisters take heed to yourselves. You have received a knowledge of the truth. The Son of God has laid his life down for you to receive as your substitute. You are God’s people. You have come under the sway of many sanctifying influences. Do not trample the Son of God or make light of his blood or insult the Spirit of grace that is blowing over your soul even now.
3. God is a God of Grace and Judgement
They broke the ten commandment. What did these wilful sinning believers did? Hebrew 10:28 tells us. I am going to give you a few translation.
NASB – anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses”
NKJV – anyone who has rejected Moses’ law”
NRSV – anyone who has violated the Law of Moses”
TEV – anyone who disobeys the Law of Moses”
NJB – anyone who disregards the Law of Moses”
People says that there is no such thing as judgement and our understanding of God is completely wrong. God is a good God. Yes. But God also says ‘Vengeance is mine’. Charles Spurgeon tells about a church that was asked to accept as their minister a man who did not believe in hell. They (the church leader) said, “You have come to tell us that there is no hell. If your doctrine is true (there is no hell) we certainly do not need you. And if it’s not true, (if there is hell) we don’t want you. So either way, we can do without you”. Jonathan Edwards based his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” on a verse from Deuteronomy; he got the title from verse 31 of our text, ‘It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. ‘ It is said that God backed up Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, in such a way that the conviction and the terror of hell was so real that the congregation grab their chairs so tightly because they felt that the ground was going to open and swallow them up. Well please remember Korah. Number 16:32 says ‘and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions.’ What God wants to do in the future, he always give a demonstration from the history book of the bible.
Sometimes people will say, “I don’t believe in a God of judgment. My God is a God of love.” If you subscribe to that view, then your “god” is not the living God who reveals Himself through His Word! In one of the earliest records of God’s revelation of Himself, He said to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” [So far, we all cheer, “Yeah! That’s my kind of God!”] But keep going: “yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exod. 34:6-7).
You may protest, “But that’s the God of the Old Testament. I believe in Jesus, who was always gentle and kind.” Really? I again remind you that Jesus spoke more often about the terrors of hell than anyone else in the Bible. He called it a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48, citing Isa. 66:24). He said that the punishment for one who causes one of His little ones to stumble would be far worse than if he had a millstone hung around his neck and was cast into the sea (Mark 9:42). He described hell as a place of outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 24:51). He said that it’s better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand than for your whole body to go to hell (Matt. 5:29, 30). He described the rich man in hell as being in agony in the flames (Luke 16:24). He further described those flames as “eternal fire,” which is the same word used for “eternal life” (Matt. 25:41, 46).
The Arminian believes the text of Hebrew describes true believers who sin and lose their salvation. Actually it is not so much of sinning because honestly every believer will sin again. So it is not so much on sinning and losing your salvation. The issue is not sinning believers. The issue is believers who cease to believe! Another group believes the author is talking about genuine believers who renounce the faith, but the punishment he describes is not hell, but some awful temporal judgment. But in our text the judgment is described as “the fury of a fire that will consume the adversaries” (10:27). Limiting this to temporal judgment, no matter how severe, does not do justice to the severity of the warnings.
To understand the grace of Christ I give you this illustration. Picture a man lying in the gutter in rags, covered with sores, hungry and homeless. He is there because of his own sinful choices. A kind, generous man offers to take this man to the hospital, pay all of his bills, and then to bequeath on him all that he would ever need in life. He would have a comfortable home, all the food he could eat, and every comfort he could dream of. But the ungrateful wretch in the gutter spits in the man’s face, curses at him, and then tells others that the man’s offer was worthless. That would not be as bad as insulting the Spirit of grace by turning your back on the free pardon that He offers through the blood of Jesus Christ! The person who spurns God’s grace in Christ deserves far greater punishment than physical death by stoning. He will suffer justly throughout eternity.
The writer encourages his readers not to forsake Christ, by reminding them of what they have suffered for his sake. They have persevered through insults, violence, imprisonments and robberies, because of their confidence of a lasting reward (32–35). Endurance is essential, since there must always be some waiting time before a promise can be fulfilled. For Christians the promised reward will be at Christ’s return, when he judges between those who persevere in faith and those who turn back (36–39).
I know that as Christian we are bound to sin but do not cease to believe in Christ. To be very honest, I don’t think we can prevent ourselves from willful sinning. But we have one who was able to succeed and he has shown us the way to succeed. We have one who has succeeded as a man and that man is Jesus Christ, who became a man so that we can succeeded as him. He died at the Cross of Calvary for your sins and failures and he empowers you to live that Godlike life. In your walk with God Jesus will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able but with the temptation provide a way for you to escape that you may be able to bear it. He said that he has to go so that he can send us the Holy Spirit who is called alongside with us to walk this journey of life with God. He is our High Priest who intercedes for us continually even until now. We cannot do it. But with Christ we can. We can call him in the day of testing and He will come immediately to bear you up in Eagles’ wings. He has empowered you with His Holy Spirit to snatch people from the fire of Hell. He wants you to not just start well with him, He wants you to end well with you. And He is prepared a great reward for you, a rewards far beyond your imagination. He is not just God, but our brother, we are joint heir with him in Christ. Endure hardship for a little while and He is coming back soon.
We just had a fellowship with a good friend in Singapore. He brought us out for a good meal, brought us to his amazing house for fellowship and openly offered his house for us to stay if we cannot find a lodging in Singapore. We asked him why is he so nice to us. Oh he has a motive. He says that in heaven our Mansion will be so gigantic and mind boggling but we must not forget him in heaven. Reserve a room for him, he called the name of that room, room 309. He intends to lodge there permanently. We laugh it off. But there is some truth in what he says. Our rewards will be commensurate with what we have given up to follow and serve God. Don’t sin willfully. Don’t cease to believe in God.