We now examine another interpretation that looks to make this sanctification merely outward with no internal reality. It looks to compare the sanctification described in 10:29 with the outward ceremonial cleansing referred to under the old covenant in 9:9 and 9:13.
Peterson and Williams see it as “a covenantal sanctification in which persons are set apart as part of God’s covenant community, the church, but are not necessarily saved.” They conclude that “covenantal but not saving ‘sanctification’ appears in Heb. 9:13 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. In view of the contrast here between the Old and New Covenant, we interpret “sanctified” to mean set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” (Why I Am Not An Arminian pg. 86)
Grudem follows this basic understanding by citing numerous passages, most of which occur outside of Hebrews, that do not necessarily have reference to inward sanctification. He then concludes:
These other examples do not of course prove that hagiazo in Hebrews 10:29 must refer to something other than the internal sanctification that accompanies salvation, but they mean that we should not assume that hagiazo means saving sanctification either. Moreover, the entire context in which 10:29 occurs, from 9:1 to 10:39, is concerned with parallels between the Old Testament Levitical sacrifices and the better new covenant sacrifice of Christ. Because a ceremonial focus pervades this context, a ceremonial sense of sanctify would be appropriate in 10:29. This is especially true in the immediate context of 10:19-31, for the author is speaking of the fact that the congregation in general has a ‘new and living way’ (10:20) available by the blood of Jesus, and therefore can ‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence. (Still Sovereign, pp.177, 178).
So for Grudem, Peterson, and Williams it seems that “sanctified by the blood of the covenant” means little more than “given the right to go to church and assemble with believers as they worship.” This is not only extremely weak but impossible to sustain in light of the very context to which Grudem appeals. Before we examine this context we need to note that Peterson and Williams have probably gone too far and hurt their position by stating that “sanctified” means “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God.” Are they then asserting that an eternally and irrevocably condemned reprobate is “set apart by virtue of the covenant as belonging to God?” Such a thing does not seem friendly to their position at all and may betray the difficulty of describing this sanctification as anything less than that which accompanies salvation. Unfortunately, they did not bother to further explain how such a thing could be said of reprobates who have never belonged to God in any covenantal sense, so we can only speculate.
As we noted in my last post concerning who is sanctified in Hebrews 10:29, the context of the passages in question has to do with a comparison between a “sanctification” that is merely outward, performed by sinful priests, and a “sanctification” that is inward, performed by the holy Priest King, Jesus Christ. We noted that the main focus is the cleansing power of Christ’s blood in contrast to the blood of animals which can never remove sin or cleanse the conscience. The point is that Christ’s blood brings forgiveness and makes believers holy and acceptable in God’s sight, which makes Christ and His eternal priesthood far superior to that priestly ministry of the OT.
Grudem is correct in assuming that the context of the passage has to do with making worshippers fit to enter the presence of God, but he has not gone far enough. The only reason that these worshippers can “‘enter the sanctuary’ (10:19) and “draw near” (10:22) into God’s presence” is because these worshippers have been truly sanctified with the soul cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. They have been made fit and acceptable to enter God’s presence and boldly approach the throne of grace only because they have been truly purified through faith in the Son of God and have been forgiven and made holy on the merits of His blood. What Grudem seems to be suggesting is that some sort of “outward” cleansing has made these worshippers fit to enter God’s presence (which to Grudem means little more than going to church as noted above); but will the context bear this out?
The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience, since they relate to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:8-10)
The inspired writer is concerned with demonstrating that the way to enter God’s presence under the Old Covenant is obsolete and has come to an end. It was inadequate to truly purify and was therefore a shadow of the fulfillment that was yet to come (“a time of reformation”).
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (9:11-12)
Only through Christ’s blood can one truly enter the holy place in the New Covenant which has surpassed and supplanted the Old Covenant. Only those redeemed by His blood have access with and through Him to the holy place and into God’s presence. It is no longer possible for someone to enter God’s presence through that which provides only an outward cleansing because the Old Covenant has been replaced with the New which demands that God’s worshippers enter His presence truly purified by the blood of His dear Son. The writer of Hebrews is not saying that there remains a “sanctification” that is merely outward by which sinners can go to church with believers or hang out undetected with true worshippers. He is stating in no uncertain terms that the only sanctification available by which one can enter God’s presence is that wrought by the blood of Christ which forgives and purifies sinners who put their faith in Him….
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13, 14)
Grudem appeals to verse thirteen to support his theory that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward. The problem with this suggestion is that the context works against it since the writer is again describing the replacing of the Old Covenant with the new due to the inadequacies of the Old Covenant. The inspired writer is in no way suggesting that one can still receive an outward cleansing through the blood of animals for the purpose of approaching God in worship. Rather, he is stating that the New Covenant is superior and the Old Covenant obsolete because Christ’s blood provides real inner cleansing of the soul (see Hebrews 8:6-13).
Hebrews 10:1-18 continues to emphasize the replacement of the Old Covenant with that of the New Covenant with particular attention being placed on the fact that Christ’s blood is superior because it provides a once for all atonement by which the sins of those who approach God are forgiven. Consider especially verses 11-14:
Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (emphasis mine)
The context suggests that “perfected” has specific reference to forgiveness of sins (cf. 10:1). The blood of the New Covenant is superior because it provides forgiveness for those who are being sanctified as a result of that atonement. Those who are being sanctified in this passage are those who are benefiting from the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s sacrifice through faith in His blood (cf. Rom. 3:25). It is an inward and real sanctification. This leads us to the climax of this teaching and the practical implications of it in verses 19-25.
Let’s review and draw a few conclusions based on the context and the suggested interpretations of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams.
1) The context makes it plain that there are only two possible cleansings in view. The first cleansing [sanctification] is that of the Old Covenant which was merely outward and did not take away sins. This cleansing was by the blood of animals which foreshadowed the inauguration of the New Covenant. The second cleansing [sanctification] is that of the New Covenant. This cleansing is inward, brings forgiveness of sin, and makes worshippers holy so that they can draw near to God in confidence. There is no third cleansing in the context of these chapters! It is either an out ward sanctification wrought by the blood of animals, or it is an inward sanctification wrought by the blood of Christ. Therefore, if our Calvinist writers want to say that the sanctification described in 10:29 is merely outward then they must also affirm that it is wrought by the blood of animals under the Old Covenant.
2) The New Covenant in Christ’s blood has replaced and made obsolete the Old Covenant. There is only one way that someone can be “sanctified by the blood of the covenant”, and that must be the blood of the New Covenant since the Old Covenant no longer exists (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:8-10; 10:1-18). Therefore, the apostate described as sanctified by the blood of the covenant could only have been sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant since there is no longer any other sanctification or covenant available.
3) Hebrews 10:28 and 29 reinforces the fact that the apostate has been sanctified under the New Covenant since he deserves a more severe punishment than those who were under the Old Covenant.
4) The connection and uninterrupted flow of thought from 10:19 to 10:29 makes it clear that the blood which sanctified the apostate is the same as the blood of Jesus which gives believers confidence to enter the holy place:
Therefore, brethren, since we [believers] have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…if we [believers] go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…and [the believer who so apostatizes] has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant [that same blood of Jesus by which the believer had confidence to enter the holy place in verse 19] by which he was sanctified…
5) It would be nonsense to say that the apostate has trampled under foot the Son of God because he rejected and regarded as unclean the blood of bulls and goats which only gave him an outward sanctification. The outrage of the apostate’s actions is firmly connected to the fact that he regarded the blood of the covenant “by which he was sanctified” as unholy [common]. Therefore, the blood could only be Christ’s blood as there would be no outrage in regarding the blood of animals as unholy under the New Covenant, nor would such a thing constitute the trampling under foot of the Son of God.
Contrary to the assertions of Grudem, Peterson, and Williams, the context is plainly against their interpretation. It is the soul cleansing blood of Christ that has been under consideration as that which replaces the Old Covenant blood of animals in the two chapters leading up to this warning. Furthermore, verse 19 plainly indicates that Christ’s blood is that which is again in sharp focus leading up to the description of the apostate.
We applaud Peterson and Williams for finding the suggestion that the one sanctified in Hebrews 10:29 is Christ to be “contrived.” However, we find it just as contrived to suggest that the blood of the covenant that sanctified the apostate was anything less than the blood of Christ by which the apostate was inwardly sanctified prior to repudiating the faith. The only interpretation which is faithful to the context is that which admits that one who has been truly sanctified with Christ’s blood can yet abandon the faith to his or her eternal destruction.
In our next post we will examine Hebrews 10:32-39.