Summary: Jesus assured us in the Parable of the Sower that people falling away from the faith would be a regular part of our experience. However, we certainly don't want it to be our personal experience! An oft-ignored & challenging warning tells us how we can prevent that possibility.
As we have made our way through the book of Hebrews, the single New Testament book devoted to the topic of Christians who are tempted or actually do fall away from the faith, I naturally have been led to sadly contemplate those Christians I have known who have fallen away.
These, tragically, were people I loved, whom I greatly valued, and who often had a profound impact on my own faith.
For instance, I think of Mark, the friend who sincerely, in my own interest, pursued for Jesus Christ, and won me to Christ along with hundreds of others. I often find myself wondering if I could return the favor somehow, if I could somehow restore him to Christ. And I wonder what he could have done, what could anyone have done to prevent the tragic shipwreck of his faith, and his family as a result.
I think of Jim, a co-pastor, who at that time I regarded as my very best friend, a man of highest character. How could he have fallen from grace, how could have abandoned Christ—what could he or anyone have done to have prevented his fall?
And I think of an extremely bright and talented young youth pastor, and leader in our church, who had such a wonderful family, What could have been in his case.
And other leaders in our church, one I led to Christ, who served shoulder-to-shoulder with me, who was a great encouragement in his spiritual growth, but who has now turned aside.
And sometimes, I wonder, whose next?
And what can I do, what could they do to prevent this tragic outcome to the spiritual lives?
It’s to that end that the Holy Spirit has written this sobering book of Hebrews, and we come this morning to the most severe of the perhaps five warning passages we find in the book, the section from Hebrews 10:26-39. And it’s clear what the Holy Spirit wants me to do to prevent that from happening to any of you this morning—He wants me to preach this difficult passage. He wants me to tell you that there are three things you ought to do to prevent this awful outcome for your spiritual and eternal lives:
Consider the consequences, remember the joy, and keep the faith.
Now before we jump into the passage this morning, I’d like you to imagine what kind of circumstance might cause you to question your faith—what kind of awful circumstances might lead you to abandon your faith in Christ.
After all, Jesus, in the Parable of the Sower, admits that apostasy, or people falling away from the faith would be a regular experience of the Christian life. And he gives five different reasons why people will be falling away from the faith: the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the desire for other things, affliction, or persecution because of the Word. What kind of terrible thing—the loss of a mate, the loss of children, terrible disease, unanswered prayer, what desires for other things might cause you to abandon your faith in Christ?
And then consider the antidote. First, Consider the consequences. And the consequences are dire.
The writer tells us not to fall away or you’ll pay on Judgment Day.
The reason these Jewish believers in Christ were considering falling away was persecution. Remember, they were thinking about reverting to Judaism, and the Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats which could never take away sins. But the writer has already made the point, only Christ’s sacrifice pays for sins once and for all people and all time.
And so he says in verse 26, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
Now the first thing we need to notice here is exactly what kind of falling away we’re talking about here. It is no temporary departure from the faith. It is not a Christian who has merely backslidden for a while. The kind of falling away or apostasy that the writer is talking about is a full, willful, permanent decision to abandon both the profession and the practice of following Christ.
First, the use of the present tense here indicates that this is a continuous, persistent and repeated decision to fall away from Christ. It is permanent. “If we go one sinning” indicates the person refuses to repent, he is determined to continue in his abandonment of Christ.
Second, especially emphasized in the original is that it is an intentional, or willful sin. It is not accidental or unintentional. The person who is being talked about here willfully, deliberately determines he is not going to follow Christ any longer. In the Old Testament, in Number 15:29-31 there were two kinds of sins. There were unintentional sins, and there were sacrifices to cover those sins. And then there were defiant sins, intentional sins, and there was no sacrifice for them. This is that kind of sin. The person being described here doesn’t just fall into falling way, he intentionally, deliberately and defiantly decides to abandon Christ and the sacrifice He made for sins. As this verse indicates, there is no sacrifice for sins, that, therefore remains for him to claim.