The Epistle to the Hebrews issues a further warning against falling away from Christ in chapter 10 vv.26-31. Here, believers are warned not to “sin wilfully” after having received the knowledge of the truth, i.e. the gospel (v.26). This is the sin of intentionally having “trodden under foot the Son of God,” and if counting his sanctifying “blood of the covenant” (i.e. the New Covenant) as an “unholy thing,” and of “do[ing] despite to the Spirit of grace” (v.29).
Such wickedness, we are warned, deserves a “much surer punishment” than the capital punishment for despising the law of Moses (v.28)—indeed an eternal punishment that would be measured out by the living God himself—his “judgment and fiery indignation” against this particular sin (vv.27,30-31).
The purpose of this epistle is to explain and contrast the superiority of Christ over Moses, Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, his sacrifice over that of bulls and goats and other animals, his true salvation over these typological “figures” that could not save (Hebrews 9 and 10).
For the author’s original intended Hebrew Christian readership to turn away from the Messiah—after all they had learned about him and received from him, their Saviour—would be a great wickedness, as v.29 forcefully expresses it. It would mean turning away from the only sacrifice that can take away sins (implied in v.26), to go back to the types and shadows, and to count those as the real thing instead of the Messiah, and what he has accomplished in the “sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9.26).
What the apostle Paul said about the dietary laws and festivals of Moses can also be said about these animal sacrifices: they were a “shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2.17).
The Hebrews 10 warning clearly goes further than the Hebrews 6 warning1. For whereas in Hebrews 6 the author warns about the falling away of “those” of whom he was not persuaded that they possessed “things that accompany salvation,” here in Hebrews 10 he warns “we” (v.26)—we Christians, a category in which he includes himself. This “we” are those about whom he had written: “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…Having therefore, [we] brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus…” (vv.10,19).
The author holds his fellow-Hebrew Christians close to his own heart, calling them his “brethren.” The warning against that sin of “willingly” turning away from the Son of God to Moses again (vv.26-29) comes after a string of exhortations to remain faithful, and to contribute toward keeping other Christians faithful: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering…And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: exhorting one another” (vv.22-25).
Let us true Christians, together, be doing all these things—these Christian things—for if we sin that sin of wilfully turning our backs on the Lord Jesus Christ, then “there remains no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation…” (v.27).
The author had repeatedly stated previously that animal sacrifices do not cleanse, do not sanctify, do not save the soul (see Hebrews 9.13; and then read through chapter 10 until this passage we are now discussing). And now he argues: why turn back from the one and only Saviour to animal sacrifices? Why place your hope in animal blood, after coming to faith in Christ’s blood which has actually saved you? Don’t you see how offended God would be by that apostasy (v.29)?
So, is it implied in Hebrews 10.26-31 that born-again Christians can lose their salvation? Are eternal-security deniers correct when they point to such warnings as proof that Christians can actually apostatize from Christ? No. For the true Christians are those people who, upon reading these warnings and grasping their meaning, are stirred up to greater desire to keep close to Christ—and to repent of all their lack of closeness with him.
We know well that “The Lord shall judge his people,” and that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v.30-31).
True Christians reason these things through and, believing in this one and only salvation by Christ’s sacrifice, and believing that God’s judgment and fiery indignation is the final destination of every other way—therefore, true Christians take such warnings as this very seriously.
The epistle’s author was persuaded that those Hebrew Christians to whom he was writing really possessed “things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6.9), even though he gives them such stark warnings. And now, following on from his Hebrews 10 warning, he calls them to remember how much they have already suffered in “reproaches and afflictions” for their conversion, their turning to Christ, and how much they had financially and physically supported him during his imprisonment for being a preacher of the gospel (Hebrews 10.33-34). As they look back upon their own persecutions, he reminds them that they, being true Christians, certainly know that they have an “enduring substance” awaiting them in Heaven, and that this is their “confidence” (vv.34-35).
Finally, he is himself confident enough of their salvation to embrace them all in this statement: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we [including both himself and his intended readers] are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (vv.38-39). This affirmation confirms that the Hebrews 10 warning does not deny that God preserves his saints.