Debunking the False Faith View of the Hebrews Warning Passages

Below are some comments I made long ago in my perseverance series against the idea that the writer of Hebrews is addressing his warnings of falling away to those whose faith is not genuine, or describing those with non-genuine faith. My comments are followed by more recent comments by Scot McKnight against O’Brien’s false faith interpretation. The specific language of the warnings and the way the believers are described and addressed simply will not allow for the false faith interpretation. The writer of Hebrews is describing genuine believers who have fallen away from faith and salvation and admonishing those with genuine faith to endure less they too fall away and forfeit salvation.

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 10: Examining Wilderness Typology

What sense would it make to say to unbelievers, “Take care…that there not be in any one of you an evil unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God?” Why shouldn’t unbelievers have an evil and unbelieving heart? Does it make sense to warn unbelievers against falling away from God? This is not a call to conversion but a warning to those who are already converted. We can plainly see this in the fact that the writer of Hebrews then calls on them to “encourage one another day after day…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Are unbelievers to encourage each other? Are they to encourage each other in unbelief or in a faith that they do not yet possess?

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 9: Hebrews 10:32-39 

Notice that the inspired writer is not admonishing them to gain confidence (i.e. believe the gospel and be converted), but to keep the confidence that they already have. They are being told to endure in their faith which plainly assumes that their present faith is genuine. In fact, their faith has been proven so by the way they had responded to prior trials. However, they cannot rest on what they had done in the past but must continue to press on in the face of present trials to gain the promised reward of final salvation. They “have need of endurance.” The inspired writer never questions whether or not his readers have genuine faith. He only questions whether or not that faith will last. This is the main concern of the entire epistle.

Scot Mcknight writes,

Second, if the exhortation is to continue or persevere, how can a person with non-genuine faith be exhorted to continue? In what, their non-genuine faith? The only answer here is that the non-genuine faith person should be urged to repent and to believe or to enter deeper from a spurious and inadequate non-saving faith into a real, genuine saving faith. When this topic arises at the end of Hebrews 5 and the beginning of Hebrews 6 there’s no evidence the author thinks of these people of having spurious faith, but instead of having faith that needs perseverance. In other words, it’s just how the author says it: immaturity (or the “elementary”; 6:1) needs to move onto maturity. The elementary is not “spurious” but an immature version of the real thing. Grade school math is not spurious but immature, especially if the aim is mathematical physics.

The exhortation to continue then can only apply for O’Brien to the genuine saving-faith person (in which case the whole conditionality issue becomes hypothetical or only rhetorical and not real — an issue that needs a different discussion). In O’Brien’s sketch the warning passages are working with their eyes on two different faiths: genuine-faith people and non-genuine-faith people. I contend this is impossible to prove apart from one’s already-at-work Calvinistic assumptions. I see no evidence for two groups until the final day; at the moment of writing they are believers. The writer of Hebrews never suggests anyone has spurious faith; he worries those with faith will not persevere.

From: Warning Passages Ahead: Brief Response

Related Posts:

Category: Warning Passages in Hebrews

Never Really Saved to Begin With?

Never Really Saved to Begin With? (Part 2)

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

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Does Scripture Describe Two Types of Apostasy?

In my series on perseverance I dealt with the warning passages in Hebrews.  I have changed my views on certain aspects of apostasy while studying the subject.  However, my view that apostasy from true saving faith is possible has never changed.  I just can’t read the Bible honestly and deny such a reality, even if it would be far more pleasant to believe that true believers can never forsake the faith.  My series on perseverance presented much of the exegetical basis for my strong conviction that true believers can forsake the faith and perish everlastingly.  I will not be covering that ground again here, but would direct anyone interested to those posts to examine the strong exegetical evidence.

In dealing with the Hebrews passages one will easily come to the conclusion that the apostasy described there seems to be of an irremediable nature.  Robert Picirilli and F. Leroy Forlines (among many other scholars) make a strong case that apostasy is irremediable based on the warnings in Hebrews.  In reading them I was swayed from my previous position that an apostate can always be restored to faith.  However, in looking at the context and considering other passages of Scripture, I came to the conclusion that there may be two types of apostasy, one irremediable and one from which a person may yet recover.  I described that possible distinction in this post.  The basic idea is that the apostasy described in Hebrews is the most severe form of apostasy possible.  It is a heartfelt repudiation of the faith and the full spiritual experience once enjoyed by the Spirit filled believer.  From such an apostasy the writer of Hebrews informs us that “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.”  This is the sort of apostasy that the Jews of Hebrews would likely be facing in being tempted to return to Judaism after becoming Christians.  In such a return it is likely that the former believer would have to publicly repudiate Christ as an imposter and false Messiah who rightly suffered death for His blaspheme as a common criminal.  This makes sense of the specific language describing the apostate as one who has crucified to themselves again the Son of God and put Him to open shame (6:6, cf. Hebrews 10:29, where the apostate is said to have “trampled under foot the Son of God and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified”).

The lesser form of apostasy would not involve a heartfelt repudiation of faith in Christ.  Rather, it would involve a slip into an attitude of practical unbelief where one is no longer concerned about the things of God and begins to live a life characterized by rebellion and sin.  Such a person may even believe that they are still a Christian, while living like the devil.  This apostasy would be no different than the other in the result that a vital relationship with Christ would cease to exist, resulting in spiritual death.  It would differ only in the extent to which one has walked away from Christ, not yet coming to a point of full heartfelt repudiation of Christ and the Christian experience.  It would be like those who claim to know God, but their actions deny Him.  They would not deny Christ fully, but have no concern about living for God or maintaining a relationship with Christ.  Spiritual death would result from either degree of apostasy, but the lesser degree may yet have hope of a return to a saving relationship with Christ.  However, over time this lesser form of apostasy, if not dealt with, will lead to such a hardened heart that it will inevitably lead to total irremediable apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10.

Some hold to a similar view but would call what I have described as a lesser apostasy as “backsliding” and maintain that the backslider is still saved (this is the view of Free Will Baptists Robert Picirilli and F. Leroy Forlines).  My view basically sees the backslider as unsaved while still in a position where recovery is possible.  I had never really heard my view expressed before, but was pleased to find that Henry H. Halley came to essentially the same view in his “Halley’s Bible Handbook.”  The only difference would be that he seems to see a possible description of a partial and total apostasy in Hebrews 6, where I see the passage as describing only the most severe apostasy.  Under Hebrews chapter 6 (pp. 650, 651) he writes,

The Fall of a Christian, spoken of in verse 6 may be Partial or Total; as a person may fall from the top of a building to a projecting ledge, or all the way to the bottom.  As long as the Apostasy is Partial, there may be Hope.  When it becomes Total, Recovery may be impossible. 

The Sin here spoken of  may be similar to the Unpardonable Sin mentioned by Jesus (Matthew 12:31, 32, and Mark 3:28-30), where the implication is that that Sin consisted in attributing the Miracles of Jesus to Satan, and which, in Luke 12:9-10, is connected with Denial of Jesus.  It could be committed by a person outside the Church.  The Sin here referred to is the Fall of a Christian.  The Essence of the Fatal Sin, whether by a Christian or by One Outside, is the Deliberate and Final Rejection of Christ.  It is as if a person in the bottom of a well, to whom a rope is let down, slashes the rope above his reach, thus cutting off his only hope of escape.  For those who Reject Christ, there will Never Be Another Sacrifice for Sin (10:26-31).  They will have to suffer for their own sin.

Over against this Fearful Warning against Falling Away from Christ, the writer is very positive that, for those who remain Faithful and True to Christ, the Hope of Eternal Salvation is Absolutely Sure and Steadfast, based on the immutability of God’s Promises to those who Trust Him (9-20).  (Frequent caps his, bold emphasis mine)

I find that my view is practically and theologically superior to the view of Forlines and Picirilli in that it leaves no room for the possibility of antinomianism that may result from a view of “backsliding” that maintains that the backslider is still saved.  Forlines and Picirilli maintain that as long as one is saved, sanctification is taking place, but this is hard to fit with their insistence that a backslider is still saved.  Maybe we just have different views of what backsliding is, but if a backslider is still in the process of sanctification it is hard to understand why he or she could be considered a backslider.  Sanctification is a forward process.  As long as one is in that forward process I do not see how one can call him or her a “backslider.”  That seems like a contradiction in terms.  It may also be that my view sees backsliding as more serious.  I would not consider frequent struggles with sin backsliding.  One can struggle with sin and still be in the process of sanctification.  That the believer is “struggling” is evidence enough that sanctification is taking place.  The “backsliding” or “lesser apostasy” I am describing is characterized by an attitude of unconcern about struggling against sin or repenting.

My view also holds that unbelief is what ultimately severs a relationship with Christ.  The difference has to do with the degree of unbelief.  One is a practical unbelief where a lifestyle of sin and rebellion results.  The other is a practical and total unbelief, characterized not only by sin and a lifestyle devoid of fruit, but a heartfelt repudiation of Christ and the Christian experience.  It would be similar to the difference between unbelief and rejection.  An unbeliever can be anyone who does not have faith in Christ.  However, there is a difference between an unbeliever who has not yet heard the gospel and an unbeliever who has heard and rejected the gospel.  Likewise, there is a difference between an unbeliever whose life is no longer characterized by a living faith relationship with Christ that results in sanctification and one who has coupled that practical unbelief with an outright heartfelt rejection of Christ and the fullness of spiritual blessings once experienced.

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For a solid alternative view from an Arminian scholar, see Brian Abasciano, My Argument for Apostasy Not Being Irremediable in Hebrews 6

New Articles Recently Added

There have been several new articles and on-line books added to the side bar in the last month or so.  If you haven’t check them out in a while you might want to see if there is anything new that may interest you.  A few recent additions are:

Laurence Womock, The Result of False Principles: or, Error Convicted by its Own Evidence

Good Comments on Divine Hardening of the Human Heart by the NET Bible: Isaiah 6:10 and 63:17

Daniel Whitby, Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace (Part 1): Grace- Defining the Question

Daniel Whitby, Arguments Against Irresistible Grace (Part 2)

Daniel Whitby, Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace (Part 3)

Prevenient Grace Explained

The Calvinist Mitigation of the Divine Warnings Given to the Saints

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

Perseverance of the Saints Part 11: Can Apostates Be Restored?

[revised on 7/17/08]

Is Restoration Really Impossible?

After studying the warning passages in Hebrews the question naturally arises: can an apostate ever be restored again to salvation?  Is the repudiation of saving faith irrevocable and the condition of the apostate permanent?

In this series we have attempted to let exegesis guide our theology.  I would like for the doctrine of eternal security to be true for many reasons just as I would prefer to believe that there is no place of eternal fire waiting for all those who reject Christ.  However, I believe that hell is a terrifying reality and that genuine believers can fall away from the faith to their own eternal ruin because I find that careful exegesis force these truths upon us.  In dealing with the question of whether or not apostates can be restored, we must look beyond what we would most like to believe and concern ourselves only with what the word of God teaches.

We have found in Hebrews 6:4 that it is impossible for the apostate to be renewed again to repentance.  The Bible is clear that only through repentance can one be saved (Acts 2:38; 11:18).  Hebrews 10:26 tells us that there is “no sacrifice for sins” remaining for the apostate.  “The apostate has sins but no available sacrifice for his sins.  Having rejected the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, there is no other sacrifice to which to turn.”  (F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth, pg. 281)

Some have focused on the part of the warning which states, “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and exposed him to an open shame.”  Robert Picirilli notes that the “seeing” is provided by the translator as a transition showing cause and effect.  The literal meaning of the passage is “(they) re-crucifying to (or, for) themselves the Son of God and exposing (Him) to public shame.” (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 222)  He later notes that some see in this passage the possibility of restoration from said apostasy.  He makes reference to Robert Shank’s suggestion that the passage should be understood as “It is impossible to renew them to repentance so long as they are crucifying…and publicly shaming Him.” (ibid. 223- emphasis mine).  Picirilli rightly points out that this view turns the warning into meaningless tautology:

Shank’s interpretation winds up saying that it is impossible to renew them to repentance so long as he persists in rejection- which is not much of a point since it is always impossible to bring anyone to repentance so long as he persists in rejection. (ibid. 224)

He then goes on to quote F.F. Bruce who calls this interpretation “a truism hardly worth putting into words.”  It makes far more sense to see the passage as speaking of the causal relationship between the act of apostasy and the result of that act (re-crucifying the Son of God and putting Him to open shame).

Apostasy and the Presumptuous sin of Numbers 15:30, 31

It is important to remember that the sin of apostasy described in Hebrews is an “eyes wide open” type of sin.  It is done with an attitude of arrogance and disbelief.  It is not a matter of doubting the truth of the gospel, but actively and deliberately repudiating that truth.  It is not an issue of struggling with sin and failing in that struggle, but fully and rebelliously surrendering to sin in a deliberate act of defiance towards God.  There is no way to accidentally slip into such an act and not realize it.  It is done deliberately and is an outright act of unbelief.

Forlines sees a connection between the sin of the apostate and the presumptuous sin that is described in Numbers 15:30, 31.  He writes:

I do not think there is any doubt that the writer of Hebrews meant to say that the ‘willful sin’ of Hebrews 10:26 was the same kind of sin as the presumptuous sin in Numbers 15:30, 31.  There was no sacrifice for the presumptuous sin.  There is an obvious connection between the words ‘There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins’ (verse 26) and the fact that there was no sacrifice for sins in the case of the presumptuous sins in Numbers 15:30, 31…Presumptuous sins were committed with a ‘high hand.’  They came from an attitude of arrogant, defiant, unbelief.  According to Numbers 15:30, 31, there was no sacrifice for presumptuous sins.  If, in fact, the sin of apostasy mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29 is to be equated with the presumptuous sin of Numbers 15:30, 31, that should settle forever the question of whether apostasy is without remedy. (The Quest for Truth, pg. 282)

Forlines is careful to distinguish between the presumptuous sin and “sins of ignorance”:

The Old Testament makes a clear distinction between sins of ignorance and presumptuous sins.  Sins of ignorance (also called “unintentional sins”) were basically sins of weakness.  The person who committed such a sin had better desires, but these desires were defeated.  The one committing such a sin was to offer a sacrifice (Num. 15:27-29)…Once we see the distinction between presumptuous sins and sins of ignorance in the Old Testament, it is clear that this distinction comes over in the New Testament.  It is evident that when Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34), He was considering the sins of those who crucified Him to be in the category of sins of ignorance.  In Acts 3:17, Peter said that the Jews had crucified Jesus through ignorance.  For that reason, they could be forgiven (Acts 3:19).  In describing himself before his conversion, Paul said, ‘Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.’  In explaining how it was that he could be forgiven, he said, ‘But I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief’ (1 Tim. 1:13).  It is clear that Paul was placing his sins of blasphemy and his persecution of the church in the category of sins of ignorance.  It was for that reason that they could be forgiven. (ibid. 282, 283)

And in the case of Peter he writes:

I believe that if Paul’s persecution of the church could be considered a sin of ignorance that surely Peter’s denial of Christ on the night of the betrayal of Christ should be considered a sin of ignorance (or weakness).  If that be true, the case of Peter would have no bearing on the question of whether there is or is not a remedy for apostasy. (ibid. 283)

We will return to the case of Peter shortly.  Forlines finds further evidence for the connection between presumptuous sins and apostasy in the description of the apostate teachers of 2 Peter 2:

Verse 10 of 2 Peter 2 sheds more light on the subject.  In this verse Peter describes these apostates teachers as tolmetes.  The KJV translates tolmetesas “presumptuous.”  The NASB renders it as “daring.”  The NIV translates it as “arrogant.”  Tolmetesoccurs only here in the New Testament.  Concerning its use here, J.A. Moyter explains, ‘The single occurrence of the noun (tolmetes) is clearly in the bad sense…, the arrogant man of 2 Peter 2:10 who brooks no restriction on self-will and recognizes no authority to which he will be answerable.’

It is clear that Peter is considering these false teachers to be guilty of the presumptuous sin of Numbers 15:30, 31.  The arrogant, defiance of these apostates gives a finality to their action.  Before they were saved they did not have this finality about their lost condition.  The presumptuous, daring, arrogant decision with which they committed apostasy means that it was done with finality.  This puts them in worse condition then they were before they were saved. (ibid. 284)

Practical Implications

I believe that Forlines has correctly identified apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10 with the unforgivable presumptuous sin of Num.15:30, 31 (though in the OT presumptuous sins might be any sin that is done in arrogant rebellion, whereas in Hebrews such a “sin” would pertain only to outright rejection of saving faith).  It would also be correct then to identify apostasy with the unpardonable sin described by Jesus in the Gospels. The important Biblical distinction between presumptuous sin and sins of ignorance will help us better understand what apostasy entails and what it does not entail:

I believe that we can rest assured that the person who comes to talk to us about his or her fears of having committed the unpardonable sin does not fit the description of the people described in 2 Peter 2:20, 21; Hebrews 6:4-6; and 10:26-29.  If there is concern to be restored to a right relationship with God, such a person has not committed apostasy. (ibid.)

It seems certain that the “sin unto death” described by John in 1 John 5:16-17 is the unforgivable sin of apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10.  This would suggest that one can, in certain situations, know that someone is an apostate without any hope of renewal since John instructs us not to pray for such types.  There is no need to pray for those who have sinned in such a way since there is no possibility for renewal.  Our prayers would therefore be a waste of time and would be better served towards those who have not yet committed apostasy.  This does not, however, mean that we can always tell when someone has committed irrevocable apostasy.  It only means that there are cases in which the apostasy could be obvious enough that we should not waste time praying for that person.  We need, however, to be careful not to make rash judgments concerning those who may seem to have committed apostasy.  Forlines gives us some good practical advice along these lines:

The people in the U.S. who have come to me with their fears have not said that, in their past, they had made a decision to denounce their faith in Christ.  The situation in Russia presented a different problem.  When I spoke on this subject there, some real concerns were expressed.  In a discussion period, someone said that he had known someone who under persecution had renounced his faith in Christ.  Later on the person had repented.

In order to evaluate a case like that we need to keep I mind the distinction between presumptuous sins and sins of ignorance.  It is not simply what a person does or says that determines the case.  Attitude is a decisive factor.  In explaining how he was able to get forgiveness for persecuting the church, Paul is certainly implying that if he had done what he had done “presumptuously,” there would have been no forgiveness.

We cannot imagine the suffering inflicted, in times past, upon some people in Russia [not to mention the early Christians] to get them to deny their faith.  Death was merciful in light of the severe torture to which some were subjected.  I think we should have to say that it was certainly possible for the lips to utter the words of a denial of faith that did not represent an arrogant, defiant, unbelief toward God.  If that be the case, the words of denial that the person uttered would not be equivalent to apostasy or shipwreck of faith.  It appears that there were some who spoke words of denial that did not in fact commit apostasy.  But I do not think that we can explain all cases that way…based on my experience in talking with people, I would caution preachers about jumping too quickly to the conclusion that the person who talks with them about having committed apostasy has, indeed done so.  I think it would be better to take it as a plea for help. (ibid. 284, 285)

Is There Another Type of Apostasy?

But is there perhaps a type of apostasy that can be remedied; an apostasy that does not constitute an outright repudiation of the faith from the heart?  There are several passages which speak plainly of the fact that those who live in sin will reap death and have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God (Rom. 8:12-13; Eph. 5:-7; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-8).  These warnings are directed toward believers.  Is it possible that one can fall into a pattern of sin and rebellion without fully repudiating the Lord in their heart?

I think that the evidence is clear that believers are warned against living in sin with the consequence of such lifestyles being spiritual death and being cut off from God’s Kingdom.  Would such a lifestyle only be possible after one finally apostatizes from the faith?  The writer of Hebrews again and again warns his readers of the deceitfulness and terrible hardening affects of continued sin.  This hardening, if left unchecked, will ultimately lead to that dreadful act of apostasy from which there is no possibility of restoration.

The case of Peter may serve as an example.  We have determined that Peter did not commit apostasy as described in Hebrews, but it seems clear that Peter did commit some form of apostasy since Jesus speaks of when he shall be again “converted” or “turned back.” (Luke 22:31, 32).  There was a sense, then, in which Peter turned from the Lord.  Why else should he need to be converted again?

Perhaps there is an apostasy from which one can be restored.  But it may be that these passages are warning against a life characterized by sin because such a life will soon lead to apostasy.  So when Paul speaks of not inheriting the Kingdom of God, he is speaking of what will happen if sinful living persists to the point of apostasy.  One who sows to please the flesh will surely reap spiritual death and eternal destruction, but only if one does not repent. Therefore, the dreadful consequence looks ahead to what will inevitably transpire if sin is not dealt with.  Sin is extremely dangerous because if one persists in it and does not fight against it, apostasy and spiritual death lie just around the corner.

James reminds his Christian readers [brothers] that, “if one should wander from the truth and someone bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)  What does James mean here?  Is he suggesting that one who wanders away from the truth can experience a spiritual death and yet be restored again?  Or is he merely saying that the wandering saint is being rescued from the spiritual death that surely awaits him if he persists in sin and continues to wander to the point of outright apostasy?  Either interpretation seems possible.

And what of 1 John 2:11, 15?  John plainly tells us that anyone who hates his brother is in darkness and does not possess eternal life.  Is it impossible then for a Christian to ever hate?  Such a conclusion seems very unlikely.  Don’t these passages then tell us that spiritual death results when a believer hates his brother? But again, John may only be speaking of persistence in hate which is characteristic of unbelief.   While a Christian may hate his brother, he will not persist in that hatred unto spiritual death.  Rather, he will yield to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, confess his sin and be cleansed from all unrighteousness.  Persistence in hatred would then indicate that one has become an unbeliever.

In Romans 11:23 we are told that the unbelieving Jews (branches) may yet be grafted in again if they do not persist in unbelief.  Many have concluded from this that apostasy can be remedied.  However, it may be that these Jews would fall into the same category as Paul before his conversion.  They had been broken off due to their rejection of the Christ but that rejection may be the result of ignorance which would therefore make restoration possible.  However, Paul does not hold out hope for those Gentile believers who have been grafted in by faith in Jesus Christ.  He tells them that they should not be arrogant, but afraid because if they fail to continue in God’s grace they too will be broken off.  Paul says nothing of the possibility of their being grafted in again.  Perhaps this is because for them being broken off could only result from outright apostasy from which there is no possibility of restoration.

What then of Peter’s second “conversion?” His turning back may simply be a description of his repentance.  If what we have concluded about the nature of apostasy is true, then this would further confirm that Peter’s denials did not constitute apostasy.  If he had committed apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10, it would have been impossible for him to “turn back.”

But what about those who have gradually stopped living according to their faith without outright repudiation of that faith?  Is it still possible to become an apostate of sorts without repudiating the faith in quite the same prideful way as described in Hebrews 6 and 10?  Some of the passages above could fit comfortably with such a concept and at least two more passages come to mind that might make room for such an apostasy:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you- unless indeed you failed the test? (1 Cor. 13:5)

Paul’s words seem to suggest that one could abandon saving faith without being fully aware of it.  For this reason, we need to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.  It seems possible then that a believer can slowly slip away from the faith while clinging to the false hope that he or she is still saved.  In other words, a believer may begin to cling to the world and indulge the sinful nature more and more until his faith is no longer characterized by true trust and surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior.  For this reason, we are admonished to examine ourselves and be sure that we are living in faith.  If our lives do not reflect the walk of faith, then we have no grounds for presuming to be in saving relationship with Christ (Rom. 8:12-14).  We cannot assume that Christ’s grace continues for those who desire to live for themselves, even while claiming to believe on Christ (Titus 2:11-14).  To be in the faith means more than just head belief.  It is a faith that affects our lives and attitudes.  It is dangerous business to assume that the grace of God allows for us to live any way we want as long as we continue to give lip service to the Lord:

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)

If we examine ourselves and find that our profession of faith is nothing more than mere profession, then we have “failed the test” and as a result, Christ is not in us.  If Christ is not in us then we are surely lost (Rom. 8:9).  Is there any hope of restoration from such an abandonment of saving faith?  Paul does not explicitly affirm the possibility of restoration, but his words seem to suggest the possibility.  There is reason to examine ourselves.   The reason would seem to be for the purpose of returning to the faith and re-committing ourselves fully to the Lord.

So perhaps this would constitute an apostasy that can yet be remedied.  This would then not be the same as the apostasy described in Hebrews 6 and 10 which seems to be characterized by an attitude of arrogance and deliberate unbelief.  In either case we need to guard ourselves against complacency in our walk with the Lord.  If we begin to take God’s grace for granted and make room for sin and rebellion in our lives, there is no guarantee that we will not continue down that path to our own destruction, and even to a point of making restoration impossible.  We should heed well the words of the inspired apostle:

Grace and knowledge be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence…Now for this reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification form his former sins.  Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:2-11-emphasis mine).

There are several things to note in this passage.  First, God gives us the power we need to persevere in saving faith.  It is not something we can do of our own strength.  Second, the walk of faith should not be stagnant.  It should be a walk of continual growth and maturity.  If we are not maturing in our faith then we are putting ourselves at risk of falling away from that faith.  Third, Peter makes it clear that those who do not persevere and mature in their faith were truly forgiven of their past sins though they have forgotten the significance of their initial cleansing.  Therefore, Peter is not just speaking of false professors who had never experienced saving faith.  Fourth, only by continuing in the maturity of faith does one make his calling and election sure, avoid stumbling [falling] and gain the certainty of entering the eternal kingdom of Christ.

It may be wise then to make a distinction between apostasy and irrevocable apostasy based on these passages.  There is certainly an apostasy that cannot be remedied if our exegesis of the Hebrews warning passages is correct.  However, it also seems that there may be a lesser apostasy.  This apostasy is not lesser because spiritual death does not result, but because there may still be hope of restoration through repentance and re-commitment to Christ in saving faith.

Conclusion:  The evidence seems clear that apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10 is a deliberate act of rebellious unbelief.  It is done with all the heart in an attitude of arrogance and defiance.  Occasional doubts or struggles with sin do not constitute such apostasy.  Rather, it is the act of willfully walking away from Christ and completely rejecting the truth of the gospel once embraced.  This apostasy is without remedy since “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.”

There are passages that seem to suggest that there is a type of apostasy from which one may yet be restored.  However, some of these passages may also be understood as warnings against the sinful lifestyles that will inevitably result in apostasy if those sins are not dealt with through confession and repentance.  They may be emphasizing the dangers of sin by looking ahead to the most dreadful of consequences if that sin is persistently ignored and surrendered to.  Still, there are a few passages that may yet describe an apostasy from which one may be restored again to faith and salvation.  This apostasy could be described as no longer living according to the faith one professes (1 Cor. 13:5; Titus 1:16).  It would, for this reason, fall short of the outright rebellious abandonment of faith described in Hebrews 6 and 10.

Sin can lead to apostasy by hardening the heart to the point of unbelief.  That is why sin is such a dangerous thing and should never be trivialized in the life of the believer.  If believers persist in sinful living and refuse to repent, irrevocable apostasy may be just around the corner.  This “sinning” could be the unrepentant indulgence of the flesh, or the gradual tolerance of false teaching.  There is still hope of restoration and repentance prior to the decisive act of willful unbelief.  We can therefore be sure that if one desires to repent and be restored to right relationship with the Lord that irrevocable apostasy has not yet occurred.

While there will be cases of outright apostasy that we can observe and conclude with certainty that apostasy has occurred, there are other times where it will not be so easy to determine whether irrevocable apostasy has taken place.  We should hold out hope for the one who appears to have committed such apostasy as long as some doubt remains concerning the genuineness of the act.

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Related Post: Does Scripture Describe Two Types of Apostasy?

For a solid alternative view from an Arminian scholar, see Brian Abasciano, My Argument for Apostasy Not Being Irremediable in Hebrews 6

Perseverance of the Saints Part 10: Examining Wilderness Typology in Hebrews

Some Calvinists have argued that the frequent references to the wandering Israelites in the desert suggest that the writer of Hebrews is not addressing apostasy from true faith.  It is assumed that the wandering generation who failed to enter the Promised Land never had a saving faith relationship with the Lord.  Since the writer of Hebrews uses the wandering generation as an example or object lesson for the situation being addressed among his readers, it is argued that this indicates that he does not consider those he warns of apostasy to be truly regenerated believers.  In other words, if we have good reason to doubt that the wilderness generation of Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land was saved, then we have reason to doubt that those the writer of Hebrews warns, while holding up those Israelites as an example, were really saved either.  I believe this approach fails for the following reasons:

Whose Hearts Were in Danger of Being Hardened?

The writer of Hebrews sees apostasy as the end result of a hardened heart.  This is especially emphasized in Hebrews chapter 3 which is also the primary chapter that makes frequent references to the wilderness generation of Israelites.  Who then is being warned not to harden their hearts and to heed the voice of God in chapter 3?  In the first verse of Hebrews 3 the inspired writer makes clear that his warning is directed to “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” who have confessed Christ.  We have already determined that the writer of Hebrews sees holiness in terms of the soul cleansing benefits of the atonement, and we have no reason to believe that he considers their confession of Christ to be anything less than genuine.  Therefore, we have very good reason for concluding that the writer of Hebrews sees the very ones that he has determined to warn, while using the illustration of the wilderness Israelites, as truly saved.  There is no indication that he shifts his attention away from these “holy brethren” to some potential converts, who have not yet embraced the gospel, in the admonitions that directly follow.  In verse 12 he ties the warning directly to these same “brethren”:

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (verses 12, 13)

What sense would it make to say to unbelievers, “Take care…that there not be in any one of you an evil unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God?”  Why shouldn’t unbelievers have an evil and unbelieving heart?  Does it make sense to warn unbelievers against falling away from God?  This is not a call to conversion but a warning to those who are already converted.  We can plainly see this in the fact that the writer of Hebrews then calls on them to “encourage one another day after day…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  Are unbelievers to encourage each other?  Are they to encourage each other in unbelief or in a faith that they do not yet possess?  Verse 16 then returns to the example of the wilderness generation, “For who provoked Him when they heard?  Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?”  It would be wise for us to consider carefully why the writer of Hebrews makes such a statement.  I believe it is an important clue for how we should understand the intended parallel between the wilderness generation and those being addressed in this letter which leads us to the second problem with the Calvinist appeal to this OT parallel:

The Parallel of Deliverance and Redemption

We need to notice two things that the writer of Hebrews wants us to focus on in verse 16 (above).  First, we see that these Israelites “came out of Egypt.”  How does this relate to his present audience?  It seems quite clear throughout the epistle that the writer of Hebrews sees his audience as those who, like the Israelites in the desert, have “come out of Egypt.”  They have experienced a very real deliverance.  The Israelites experienced deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and the intended audience of Hebrews have experienced deliverance from the bondage of sin (and perhaps Jewish ritual as well if we hold to the view that it is primarily Jews that are being addressed).  The other important feature of this passage is that these Israelites were “led by Moses.”  Just as the Israelites of the Exodus followed Moses out of the bondage of Egypt, so have these present believers escaped the bondage of sin and law by becoming followers of Jesus Christ, Who has been proclaimed Moses’ superior in every way (3:1-6).

The writer of Hebrews never questions the initial deliverance of his audience; rather, he plainly assumes it throughout his epistle.   His main concern is that they continue to follow and obey Christ so they will not fail to enter that eternal rest which belongs only to those who endure to the end in saving faith (3:6, 14).  The lesson that needs to be learned is that the Israelites initial deliverance did not guarantee them the rest of the promised land, and the initial deliverance of these believers does not guarantee them the eternal rest of the Messianic Kingdom.  If these believers cease to heed the voice of God and begin to give way to sin and disobedience then they are in danger of missing the goal of their faith.  This is as far as the parallel was intended to be understood.  We see further confirmation of this in Chapter 11 where the heroes of faith are held up as examples for these believers to emulate:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

These were commended for dying in the faith without yet fully receiving the promise and for not returning to the country that they left behind (which seems to mean only that they did not fall back into unbelief but held to the promises of God by faith).  By faith they continued towards the goal and refused to return in their hearts to that “country” from which they had been led.  We see again that the issue is not whether or not they had experienced initial faith but whether or not they continued in their faith journey towards the ultimate goal of their faith.  This was the case of the wandering generation of Israelites as well.  They had left Egypt in faith but later returned to Egypt in their hearts.  It was these same delivered Israelites who later provoked God’s anger in the wilderness through disobedience and unbelief and were therefore denied access into the Promised Land (3:17-19).  There is a greater promise for the believers that the writer of Hebrews is addressing to attain, but they too will fall short of receiving that promise if, after being delivered, they return again to Egypt (Judaism?) in their hearts.  Like the wandering Israelites they are in a state “between” initial deliverance and final rest (which in their case is the reception of an eternal rest rather than the temporal possession of a promised land).  For this reason they are being encouraged to continue in their faith and lay hold of the promise because they have not yet arrived and may, like the Israelites of old, tragically fall short of the promised rest that awaits them (4:1).  As believers in Jesus Christ they are in the process of entering that rest, but that process can fail to reach fruition if faith is not ultimately maintained (4:2-11).  Grant R. Osborne gives us a concise summary of how the wilderness typology is being used by the writer of Hebrews:

Wilderness typology was quite prevalent in the early church as illustrative of both judgment and reward.  Both 1 Cor. 10:1-13 and Jude 5 make it a warning against the dangers of sin.  The obvious inference in all three passages is that one dare not trust his original “deliverance” from sin and lapse into apathy, but must persevere in his walk with Christ.  Ps. 95:7b-11, used by the writer as the basis for his splendid midrash here, was sung by Jews as part of their Sabbath worship in the temple.  The readers probably understood it in this fashion, especially since verses 1-7a of the psalm consist of a call to worship.  The obvious inference is that one must listen to God- “Today if you hear His voice” (vv. 7, 15)- and that listening includes obedience. (Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock)

Exactly.  Apathy towards sin, immaturity, and disobedience are all closely connected and will eventually lead to outright unbelief and rejection (2:1-4; 3:17-19; 4:6, 11; 6:1-8; 10:26; 121-2, 15-17, 25).  Hebrews 5:11 states that his readers have “become dull of hearing” and verse 12 rebukes them for their lack of maturity which leads to the dreadful warning in Hebrews 6:4-8 concerning those who have “fallen away.”  Hence the repeated imperative: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (3:7, 8, 13, 15; 4:7)  This is the same thing being expressed by the metaphor of the field (6:7, 8).  The land that is being described does not begin in a hardened state but begins in a softened and broken state which can absorb the rain and yield good fruit, and is therefore speaking of those who are already believers (vs. 7).  However, if the land becomes hardened (due to apathy towards sin and continual disobedience), then that field can no longer soak in sufficient rain for producing useful vegetation (vs. 8).  Instead it can only produce weeds and thistles.  The hardened land represents those believers who have hardened their hearts to God’s voice to the point of “falling away” from the living God.  The thorns and thistles are the evidence of apostasy and evokes the curse of God.  There is grave danger for the believer in becoming apathetic towards sin for it can lead to the most dreadful of all spiritual consequences.  This is one of the main themes of the entire epistle.

The Wandering Israelites had Experienced True Faith

We need to also point out that there is strong Biblical evidence that the Israelites who had been delivered from Egypt had indeed entered into covenant relationship with God through faith (even though the illustration would still pose no difficulty for the Arminian view if it could be shown that the entire generation had never experienced saving faith).  It would be quite the stretch to think that the Israelites putting blood on their doorposts in obedience to Moses’ command was anything less than an act of faith (Exodus 12:28, cf. Hebrews 11:28).  They trusted that God was about to deliver them and that He would provide for them since they did not make provisions for their exodus from Egypt (Ex. 12:39).  Should we really believe that the Israelites observed the Passover in unbelief (especially since unbelief is correlated with disobedience in Hebrews 3:18 and 19)?  They were obedient and they trusted God and God redeemed them as a result (notice especially that in Hebrews 11:29 we are told that, “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land…”).

So we see that the Israelites began their journey in faith; but is there any reason to believe that they exercised faith again after their initial deliverance?  After God destroyed the Egyptians in the Red Sea we read:

When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31)

And in the song of Moses and Israel we read, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God and I will praise Him; my father’s God and I will exalt Him.” (Ex. 15:2)

We also find that the people affirmed their commitment to the Lord and His covenant in Ex. 19:7-9; 24:3, 7-8.  What then do we make of Hebrews 3:10 and 11?

Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know my ways’; as I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’

It would seem that the Lord is speaking of a general pattern of rebellion that hardened the hearts of the Israelites to the point of outright unbelief. They refused to believe that God could give them the land of Canaan because there were giants in the land (Num. 13:26-14:10).  They were therefore denied access into that land.  This does not mean that these Israelites never exercised genuine faith in God.  Rather it illustrates the importance of resisting the deceitfulness of sin and continually heeding the voice of God.  If we continue to spurn his voice we will harden our hearts and make it harder for us to trust and obey God to the point of unbelief and apostasy.  That is what the writer of Hebrews is warning his readers about.  We need to be careful not to draw too much from the example of the wandering generation since even though they were denied access into the Promised Land and died in the wilderness (Num. 14:30-35); they were still forgiven by God for their sin (Num. 14:20).  Failure to enter the Promised Land did not necessarily constitute loss of salvation (since both Moses and Aaron were denied access), while failure to enter God’s eternal rest certainly does.

Conclusion:  The use of OT parallel between the wilderness generation of Israelites and the intended audience of the epistle to the Hebrews poses no threat to the Arminian interpretation.  In fact, the Arminian position is supported by the specific way that the writer of Hebrews uses the example of the wandering generation.  The intended audience of the epistle had been redeemed from sin just as the Israelites of the exodus had been redeemed from Egypt.  They, like the wilderness generation, are considered God’s chosen covenant people who have heard and responded to God’s voice but must continue to hear and respond to God’s voice in order to reach the ultimate goal of their faith: eternal rest in God’s Kingdom.

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Perseverance of the Saints Part 9: Hebrews 10:32-39

We finish our exegetical examination of the warning passage in Hebrews 10 with verses 32-39:

[32] But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, [33] partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. [34] For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have a better possession and a lasting one.  [35] Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [36] For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [37] ‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [38] But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  [39] But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (NASB)

Verse 32:  “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.”

Here we encounter the word “enlightened” again.  Grudem argued that the term was used only of hearing the gospel in Hebrews 6:4, and therefore had no reference to any saving experience.  Verse 32, however would strongly suggest otherwise.  Here the writer of Hebrews uses the same word to describe those who were truly saved and the fact that they were “enlightened” seems to have reference to conversion rather than just hearing the gospel message.  His audience is instructed to remember that after they had been “enlightened” they “endured a great conflict of sufferings.”  Verses 33 and 34 give us more information regarding what these “sufferings” entailed.  They suffered by being made a “public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” and they accepted “joyfully” the seizure of property, “knowing that [they had] a better possession and a lasting one.”

These had suffered joyfully for the sake of the gospel and yet we are to believe that this enlightening had reference to only hearing the gospel?  Such a shallow concept of “enlightened” simply does not fit the description that immediately follows.  It makes no sense to say that as the result of merely “hearing the gospel” they endured a great suffering.  Many hear the gospel, reject it, and suffer nothing for it.  It is only those who embrace and appropriate the gospel by faith that are willing to suffer for it.

It should be clear, based on the context, that “enlightened” means far more than just “hearing the gospel” to the inspired writer of Hebrews.  It has reference to conversion itself which only reinforces the contention that the “enlightened” apostates of Hebrews 6:4 were truly saved prior to having “fallen away.”  We also find that these “enlightened” ones gladly suffered the seizure of their property because they knew that they had a “better possession and a lasting one.” (verse 34b)  That can only mean that they were looking forward to the heavenly reward of their faith and proves that they were indeed in the faith since faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)  They had already passed one test of faith and were now being called on to pass yet another.  The reminder of their past success is for the purpose of strengthening their resolve that they might not “shrink back” from the faith they began with (see comments on verse 38 below).

Verses 35 and 36: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you will have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

Notice that the inspired writer is not admonishing them to gain confidence (i.e. believe the gospel and be converted), but to keep the confidence that they already have.  They are being told to endure in their faith which plainly assumes that their present faith is genuine.  In fact, their faith has been proven so by the way they had responded to prior trials.  However, they cannot rest on what they had done in the past but must continue to press on in the face of present trials to gain the promised reward of final salvation.  They “have need of endurance.”  The inspired writer never questions whether or not his readers have genuine faith.  He only questions whether or not that faith will last.  This is the main concern of the entire epistle.  Verses 37-39 decisively drive this truth home:

‘For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Just as Hebrews 6:7-8 conclude as a further description of the apostates in verses 4-6 so do verses 10:37-38 conclude as a further description of the apostate spoken of in verses 26-31.  The point that is very important here is that the servant who “shrinks back” in verse 38b is not a different servant from the one who lives by faith in verse 38a.  It is the same servant, “and if he [that same servant] shrinks back [from the faith that made him righteous], my soul has no pleasure in him.”  Robert Shank quotes Franz Delitzsch:

The subject in both clauses is the same- the just man, the man who is justified by faith; and in the sense in which hupostellesthai is here used is that of not keeping faith, wavering in faith, forsaking the path of faith and the community of the faithful.  The just man, the man accepted before God, lives by faith; but if he loses his faith, and faithlessly draws back from the right path, his acceptance is forfeited.  That such apostasy is possible even for those who have been truly justified, i.e., for Christians who have more than a superficial experience of divine grace, is one of the main points of instruction in this epistle. [Life in The Son, 163]

It cannot be overstated that the servant is described in verse 38a as “righteous” by God Himself.  It will not do to say that the servant only appeared righteous, for the Lord Himself confirms the servant’s justification.  This righteousness is due to a life of faith.  However, if that same righteous servant were to shrink back from the faith that justified him, then the Lord would no longer take pleasure in him.  And why not? Because “without faith it is impossible to please Him”(Heb. 11:6).  What happens to those who shrink back?  Verse 39 tells us that they shrink back “to destruction.”

Adam Clarke is even more frank with his comments concerning the servant mentioned in this passage as well as the erroneous translation of the KJV:

But if any man draw back] kai ean uposteilhtai. But if he draw back; he, the man who is justified by faith; for it is of him, and none other,that the text speaks. The insertion of the words any man, if done to servethe purpose of a particular creed, is a wicked perversion of the words ofGod. They were evidently intended to turn away the relative from the antecedent, in order to save the doctrine of final and unconditional perseverance; which doctrine this text destroys.  (Commentary: Hebrews pg. 209, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

This is detrimental to Grudem’s exegesis.  If Heb. 10:37-38 speaks of the same servant, then we have even more reason to believe that Hebrews 6:7-8 has reference to the same land.  The servant of 10:37-38 shrinks back from the faith which had made him righteous, and the land which once bore fruitful vegetation in 6:7-8 later bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  These are not descriptions of irrevocable reprobates who rejected the gospel message upon hearing it; these are descriptions of true believers who have turned away from the truth that they had once fully embraced.

It is significant that the writer of Hebrews altered the text from which he drew this warning.  The LXX reference in Habakkuk speaks of one who is puffed up in pride shrinking back contrasted with the righteous one who lives by faith, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-[Septuagint: And if he shrinks back I will not be pleased with him.] but the righteous will live by faith.” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Hebrews, pg. 302)

Donald A. Hagner explains the significance of the altered reference:

The author also transposes the clause of Hab. 2:4 (which the LXX begins with the words, ‘but if any of them shrinks back’) so that it is the righteous one who must directly confront the possibility of turning back and experiencing the displeasure of the Lord.  The author thus accepts the messianic understanding of the passage (as in the LXX) but applies Heb. 2:4 to the Christian believer (despite the singular, my righteous one). (NIBC Hebrews, pg. 176, emphasis his)

If the writer of Hebrews was trying to express what Grudem believes he was trying to express (that the apostate never had justifying faith) then the Habakkuk text would have better served the author’s purpose left as it was originally penned.  Instead, the author of Hebrews deliberately changed [inverted] the reference to describe a single servant who shrinks from the faith which had previously justified him before God.  That the writer of Hebrews changed the reference in such a way further demonstrates that he understands and defines apostasy as the decisive repudiation of justifying faith once held.

In verse 39 the author expresses confidence that his intended audience has not presently abandoned the faith and is given as positive encouragement in order to complement the negative encouragement of the previous warnings.  The inspired author is not expressing infallible confidence that they will persevere since even in Calvinism no such infallible assurance can be given to another.  While he is supremely hopeful that these “justified servants” will not shrink back, he cannot be certain.  Such uncertainty is the basis for the dire warnings and urgent encouragements which preceded verse 39.

Conclusion:

We have found in verses 32-39 further confirmation that our exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31 was accurate.  One who is both justified by faith and sanctified by the blood of Christ can yet shrink back from the faith and face eternal punishment as an enemy of God.  We also gained further insight into the warnings expressed in Hebrews 6:4-8 by confirming that “enlightened” has reference to the experience of conversion and not just exposure to the gospel message.

We have also discovered that the metaphor of the land in Hebrews 6:7-8 parallels the description of the righteous servant who shrinks back from the faith in Hebrews 10:38.  This undermines Grudem’s main thesis which was built on the errant assumption that the metaphor in 6:7-8 had reference to two lands rather than one.  Just as it is the same justified servant who shrinks back from saving faith in Heb. 10:38; so it is the same productive land which ceases to bear fruitful vegetation and instead bears thorns and thistles upon “falling away” from the faith.  The servant (10:28 ) and the land (6:7-8 ) are both “destroyed” and “burned” as the result of  falling away from faith once held.

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Perseverance of the Saints Part 8: What Kind of Sanctification is Being Described in Hebrews 10:29?

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.

Go to Part 9

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