Question from a Site Viewer
So does Hebrews 10:26 mean that if a person sins intentionally they will lose their salvation forever?
Thank you for your question. The answer from Scripture is that intentional sin does not lead to one’s damnation. There are very few people recorded in Scripture who did not sin intentionally. Adam sinned intentionally in eating of the forbidden fruit. Abraham did in lying about his wife. Jacob did in lying to his father. The ten brothers of Joseph did in selling him into slavery. Moses did in striking the rock when God had told him to speak to it. Aaron did in creating the golden calf. David did in committing adultery with Bathsheba. Zechariah did in not believing Gabriel. Peter did in denying Christ. The Corinthians sinned intentionally when they argued among themselves. Yet, the Apostle Paul calls them saints. These were all God’s saints. God forgave them all.
We all sin intentionally at some point in our Christian walk. If sinning intentionally meant that we lost our salvation forever, then there would be no one who could be saved, unless they were saved the instant before they died. Heaven would be virtually empty of believers. And the hope of the church would be destroyed. We would all be miserable, knowing that we were all condemned.
But, praise God, this is not the case. There is mercy and forgiveness with God, as Scripture repeatedly affirms. When we sin, God disciplines us as He has promised to do for all of His children (Hebrews 12:5-11). When we repent, He always welcomes us back. Jesus made this very clear in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son had a relationship with his father. He intentionally went away and sinned against his father. Nevertheless, when he returned, the father eagerly welcomed him back. This is the third of the three stories Jesus tells to drive home His point that God’s desire is not to condemn those who sin, but to restore them. The first parable in this series, Luke 15:3-7, is about a sheep that belonged to the shepherd that was lost. Jesus likens the sheep to a sinner (verse 7). The shepherd goes out and searches until he finds the sheep and then rejoices that the sheep has been found. All we like sheep go astray, and the Lord searches for us. He commissions us to do the same thing. In James 5:19-20, we are told that if one among us (one who is a Christian), wanders from the truth and one of us seeks him out and turns him back to the truth, we have saved a soul from death (I think this is a reference to physical death, see 1 Corinthians 11:29-30) and covered over a multitude of sins. The role of Christians is to mirror the Shepherd and bring those who sin back. So, I am confident from the greater teaching of Scripture that a believer who sins intentionally does not lose their salvation forever.
I am also confident from the passage in Hebrews 10:26-31 that there is no indication of the loss of salvation. In verse 30, the author quotes Deuteronomy 32:36. What is significant about this quotation is that it is taken from the Song of Moses. In the song, God talks about how He protected and guided Israel. He talks about how Israel would go away from Him into idolatry and provoke Him to anger and jealousy. Then God stepped in and actively pursued to destroy them but ultimately relented and brought them back to Himself. The author closes the song with the words “He will provide atonement (a covering for sin) for His land and His people” (verse 43). The song is a poem. Hebrew poetry is known for its parallelisms, that is, the second line plays off of the first line. In Deuteronomy 32:36, the statement “For the Lord will judge His people” is parallel with the statement “And have compassion on His servants.” Stated another way, the idea is not a judgment that condemns, but a judgment that renders a people ready for His mercy and compassion.
The author of Hebrews understands this meaning when he quotes this verse. That is why he follows this passage, after the interlude of the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, with the passage on God’s judgment or discipline in Hebrews 12. When God judges His people, He does it for our good, to bring us back to the place we should be (Hebrews 12:10).
Now, going back to Hebrews 10:26, the statement is that if we sin willfully, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. Of course, immediately before this, in verse 18, we have previously been told why there is no longer a sacrifice for sins. Having forgiven our sins and iniquities, there is no longer a need for a sacrifice. Stated another way, once we come to Christ, we are forgiven, we live in forgiveness, and there is no other sacrifice.
So what happens when we sin willfully? Well, there is no sacrifice that can be done. Rather, when we sin, we face the judgment. There is a fearful expectation of the judgment. This idea is also addressed in Hebrews 12:28-29 where we are told to serve God with reverence and godly fear because God is a consuming fire. Peter speaks of this as well in 1 Peter 4:17-18 where we are told that judgment will begin at the house of God. It is a fearful thing to be in God’s family. It is also a wonderful thing.
And the writer of Hebrews goes on to say that we face the fiery indignation that will devour someone. But notice, the writer does not say that the fiery indignation will devour us who have sinned willfully. He speaks in the first person about us sinning. But he speaks in the third person about whom the indignation will devour; namely, the adversaries. Stated another way, we face the very same righteous judge when we sin that the adversaries do when they sin. They get devoured. We do not. We face Him as His people, not as the adversaries. We face Him as those whom He loves and disciplines.
The author then issues a stern warning about how much worse punishment we will be thought worthy than those under the law of Moses because turning our back on Jesus is much worse than turning our back on the law of Moses. But we must understand. Those who sinned under the law of Moses were put to death for their transgressions. But such punishment did not mean that they went straight to hell. The punishment of physical death should not be viewed as God’s eternal punishment. Physical death and eternal death are two separate matters (Revelation 20:4-6; 14). Likewise, if we sin, we may be judged by God, we are worthy of greater punishment, and we may even die (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). But as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, this does not mean that we have lost our salvation. There are those who will accomplish nothing for Christ, all of their works will be consumed, but yet they will be saved. Salvation depends on whom you believe. Yet, I hasten to add this point; those who confess to having believed in Christ but do no works that show their salvation live in a fearful place and should have no confidence of their salvation (1 John 3:18-23). We have confidence because we believe in Jesus and love one another.
The author of the Hebrews passage closes with the statement that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and this idea of fear is picked up again at the end of chapter 12. God does not tolerate sin among His people. If we can sin and we are not chastised, that is not a good sign for us. He will chasten those who belong to Him (Hebrews 12:7-8).
In conclusion, in my view, the passage issues a stern warning about the place of judgment for believers who sin willfully. The judgment is not about the loss of salvation, but about physical loss, including the loss of life if there is no repentance. The Lord will judge His people.
I know some groups will disagree with this interpretation. I would simply reiterate that if willful sin led to eternal damnation, there is no hope for any of us. I praise God that He judges His people and has compassion on His servants.
May the Lord Jesus guide you as you seek to live your life for Him, a fellow disciple who has sinned willfully many times as a Christian and been forgiven,