Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries(KJV).”
This verse has caused many people undue anxiety. J. Vernon McGee says, that this verse should cause the hair on the back of our necks to stand up, but not in the same way it does for many who read it out of context. If we were to look at this verse by itself we would assume that if we sin after we are saved we are without hope and should simply await judgment, but does the author of Hebrews mean any sin or does he have a specific sin in mind?
The first thing we need to do with this scripture is to check the context in which we find it. First, according to Henry Virkler in his book on hermeneutics, we need to find out some basic information about the book in which we find the statement. We should start by asking, “to whom is this book written?” When studying scripture, the best place to start looking for answers to questions like these is scripture itself, because it is infallible unlike external sources. Without much effort we will find that it is written to people familiar with the Jewish sacrificial system, who have converted to Christianity or at least have made some commitment to it. This is quickly apparent because according to Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, the author of Hebrews speaks about Jewish customs without any explanation. It is apparent that the audience was Jewish or at least had practiced the customs and knew what they were and what they represented.
Another question we should ask is, “why is this book being written?” As we study the book we find that it has a general purpose, first it describes what Christ has done for them as the only true sacrifice for sin and then warns them against falling away. The concern about falling away was not due to persecution but to many who were tempted to go back to the old sacrifices which were only symbols of the true sacrifice which is Christ (Heb. 10:14).
After we have the overall argument of the book the next question we should ask is, “how do these verses of scripture fit into the overall argument of the book?” As we read the book we see that chapter 10 seems to bring the first and major section of the book to a close. Chapter 10 starts by showing that Christ is and was the only sacrifice by which any person will ever be saved. The author in verses 19-25 lays out the “new and living way”, which indicates that the old method of sacrifices are no longer of any value and to continue in them is sin.
It is in this context that we find our text. When the author says, “if we willingly sin” he is clearly speaking of willfully rejecting the sacrifice of Christ and going back to the old symbols which can never actually cleansed anyone from sin. If a believer does this then there is no sacrifice for their sins and they can only await judgment. In a broader sense the sin that the author is speaking of is apostasy, which is when a member of the visible church walks away, and as John indicates “were never really of us”. Therefore as J. Vernon McGee said, it should cause the hair on our neck to stand up, because this is a strong warning to keep us from ever letting anyone lead us away from trusting in the only true sacrifice that can cleanse us from our sins; Jesus Christ.
If the book of Hebrews’ internal evidence is not enough to comfort a trembling soul who thinks they are forever lost because they have willfully sinned, then we must always remember that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” In them we will find no contradictions. If we ever have trouble with a difficult verse that is not immediately clear to us then we need to go check the scriptures that are clear, for Scripture is it best interpreter. In doing this we will find a verse like 1 John 2:1, which is crystal clear and says, “and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In a quick study of the context we see that John is speaking to believers. We also have the story of David being a man after God’s own heart even after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having Uriah killed. There is also the encouragement found in the account of Peter’s three denials and the forgiveness he receives from Christ, or of Paul in Romans 7 struggling with the flesh and committing sins that he hates. All of these are ample evidence that the two verses in Hebrews 10 are not saying that if you willfully commit a sin you are lost and no longer have hope. It is saying that if you reject the sacrifice of Christ you have no hope.