Willful Sin? Out-sin God's Grace? Hebrews 10:26?

If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. (Hebrews 10:26)

Does this verse mean that we can out-sin God’s forgiveness? Well, Romans 5:20 clearly says this cannot happen: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What does this passage mean?

Once again, context is our friend. Before we look at this passage and the surrounding verses, it’s critical to know who the writer of Hebrews is talking to in this section.

Hebrews 10:27 says that God will consume His adversaries or enemies. Also, in verse 39 of the same chapter, the writer says, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” If you’re in Christ, then you do not shrink back because God will both finish what He started in you (Philippians 1:6) and present you blameless before Him (Jude 24). It seems clear then that the writer is addressing those who are not saved.

The only sin mentioned in Hebrews from chapters 1–10 is the sin of unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). The present participle of “willful” suggests the continuation of sin with no belief in Jesus.[i] Thus, the writer of Hebrews is writing to those who are continually rejecting God, which is why verse 27 says that they’re God’s enemies. For this reason, there is no sacrifice remaining for them (10:26), because they’re rejecting the only sacrifice that can save them.

It’s important to note that believers commit willful sin. All sin is willful. We choose to sin. I’ve never accidentally sinned. What the writer is talking about in this passage is the willful rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The writer then compares the punishment between the law and the new covenant by asking a rhetorical question to all the audience. The writer says,

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)

This isn’t meant to scare Christians, as if we could lose what God has given us. But this is a rhetorical question to contrast what those who willfully reject Christ deserve compared to those who rejected the law. Further, it’s important to note that sanctified means set apart and does not necessarily mean saved. For example, the nation of Israel was set apart for God, but this doesn’t mean they were all individually saved.

That’s why context is our friend in understanding what sanctified means in this verse. For example, Paul says, “The unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:14). This means that he has the appearance of being set apart while still being an unbeliever.

In other places like Hebrews 10:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:11, the word “sanctified” does refer to what happened to believers at salvation. That’s why we have to look at Hebrews 10 as a whole and let context help us interpret this passage. This person was in the church flirting with Jesus (as in Hebrews 6:4‑6), which means they would have appeared sanctified but rejected Jesus and His sacrifice.

Another translation says, “How much more severe a punishment do you think that person deserves who tramples on God’s Son, treats as common the blood of the covenant by which it was sanctified, and insults the Spirit of grace?”

In the original language, covenant in this verse is the subject of the word sanctified. The covenant has been set apart by Christ's blood. And the unbelieving person in view says the blood is simply “common,” and not enough to forgive and save.

In summary, you cannot lose your salvation. You commit willful sins, but the willful sin in this passage speaks of the sin of rejecting Jesus. This passage is speaking to unbelievers, not believers.

[i] P. Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press. 1993.), 490.

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