The Fork in the Road: A Reply to John, Part 1 (Regarding Hebrews 10)

[A comment I made yesterday, edited a tad, and moved to be a main post.]

John wrote,

Jay,

[His laws of pardon are] [r]epentance of sin, confession of fault, and prayer to God for forgiveness. 1 John 1.7 is a passage of great comfort, and it seems there is some covering going on there. But, at some point, there has to be a line that when crossed requires a specific response on my part. If it is not there, then anything I may do, anything whatever, is covered. I could not fall. I don’t understand the Bible to teach that I cannot fall. I do not know precisely where that line is. I do the best I can and trust God to take care of me. The fact that I can’t precisely identify the line, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Here lies a dead man. Something caused him to die. I may not know what the cause was, but he’s still dead.

John,

I struggled with exactly this question for years. Here’s where I came down.

1. That question is so important that God must give an answer.

2. If I have to meet all three standards to be forgiven — repentance of sin, confession of fault, and prayer to God for forgiveness — then I’m hopelessly damned. I’m not even aware of all my sins. I can’t confess what I’m unaware of.

And how likely is it that I die after I’ve prayed for forgiveness and before I’ve committed even a single further sin?

I mean, we teach — correctly, I believe — that there are sins of omission as well as commission. How long may I omit to do good before having to say a prayer for forgiveness? How many prayers before I’m not really penitent?

3. That theory contradicts 1 John 1:7 (among other passages). Hebrews teaches we’re forgiven “once for all” and “made perfect forever” while also teaching we can fall away.

If that’s so, then we’re saved until we fall away. But when do we fall away?

And that led me to read Hebrews very carefully. Here’s the conclusion of it all —

(Heb 10:14) because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

We aren’t perfect, but we are growing in Him. We are “being made” holy by the hand of God himself.

(Heb 10:15-17) The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

We are not forgiven occasionally. Rather, we are “made perfect forever.” The forgiveness we receive at baptism lasts. As John writes, we are continuously forgiven of all our sins.

(Heb 10:18) And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

We need no further sacrifice because we need no further forgiveness. Rather, our forgiveness is “once for all.”

(Heb 10:10) And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Oh, wow! Reading this for the first time was one of the most moving, incredible experiences of my life.

But then there’s this —

(Heb 10:26-27) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

If we rebel (Heb 3) by deliberately continuing in sin, there’s no more God can do for us. He made us perfect forever! But we can throw it away.

We throw it away not by being less than perfect. We are, after all, being made holy — but not yet fully holy. Rather, we throw it away by intentionally continuing to sin — by turning our faithfulness away from God and no longer seeking to honor him with our lives.

Do that and you’re damned.

That’s what Hebrews, Romans, and 1 John all teach. And it makes a lot better sense than what I grew up with.

But it makes no sense at all without 10:15-17. God has to be working in our hearts to make us obedient. That moves us from life under law to life in the Spirit.

There are a couple of posts at GraceConversation where I laid out more of the thought in Hebrews —

What the Bible actually says about apostasy: Hebrews, Penitence, and Rebellion, by Jay Guin

What the Bible actually says about apostasy: Hebrews 11, by Jay Guin

It takes a little getting used to, but I don’t know another way to read it.

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16 Responses

  1. Okay, I have a question for Jay (or anyone else).

    In my Life Group this afternoon, we were discussing the morning’s sermon (Salt and Light). We discussed “not letting our light shine”, and we talked about how one can see the light of another (I’d say this is the Spirit moving in this person).

    But it causes me to question, where does the Light (Spirit) go for some people? I suppose the easy answer is that they never truly repented and never truly got the Spirit. But I’d say we’d all agree that thats not always the case. Sometimes a good, righteous Christian falls away (his Light appears to have blown out….or in the least, is very, very dim).

    So what has happened? Has the Spirit “left” that person? Has the person “left” the Spirit? How do we explain one that is deeply rutted in legalism and DENIES that the Holy Spirit works from within him? Does that in-and-of-itself exclude the HS from acting within him (denial)?

    ***I’d like to give a shout out to Brian Bergman if he is still reading/responding to these blogs…..Brian, look at one of your “Nu” yearbook photos, “JMF” are my initials, you can figure out who this is. 🙂 Good to see you around, Brother.

  2. I am not sure how far one has to fall before losing God’s grace forever and hope I never find out. I believe there have been periods of time that God disapproved of my actions and I saddened him. I hurt myself because I did not have the joy or the abundant life that comes from loving his two most important commandments. But upon my conversion there was that thing that God gave me that wasn’t there before. That thing, the precious gift of the holy Spirit always seemed to spark me back to
    his light. I have become a very tolerant father to my children so that nothing they can or will ever do will cause me not to love them.

    On another matter, I know a lot of very angry Church people. Not all are COC but many are those would try to work their way into righteousness by following a set of rules that are made into church law. They are unhappy because they can not completely follow and obey a set of rules, especially when the rules keep changing or are nor defined. I worry about those folks and I pray that they finally will let the the holy Spirit work in them. I believe that these folks are in danger of losing their souls because they neglect God’s Grace as a free gift and ignore the pulling of the Holy Spirit. These folks do not have the abundant life but are burdened with guilt.

    There are two great commandments, love God and all men. Everything else, like worship will fall in place because of your gratitude over what he is doing for you all the time.

    Love to all and may His Spirit give you peace.

    Bob

  3. JMF,

    I can grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30 KJV) and resist him (Acts 7:51). I can even quench him (1 Thes. 5:19 KJV). The word translated “quench” does not mean “quench” a thirst where the thirst quickly returns. “Quench” is like dousing a campfire. It’s not doused until the fire is entirely gone. Hence, the NIV says “Put out the Spirit’s fire.”

    But just as is true for a campfire, it can look doused and yet return to burn down a forest. I don’t think anyone but God can say for sure when the fire is truly dead. But we can certainly tell when it’s flickering or subsiding — which is when we need to intervene in our brother’s life and seek to restore him to his original passion for Jesus.

    I can’t prove this from the scriptures, but it’s my observation that the Spirit works most effectively with those who are aware of the Spirit’s work in their lives. There’s just something about knowing God is in you helping you to make it to the end that allows God to be all-the-more effective.

    But I’ve seen Spirit-deniers who were powerfully influenced by the Spirit. It’s just much less likely to happen that way, in my experience.

  4. Bob,

    Amen.

  5. I am wondering if there are mothers or fathers here that would give up even one of their children as lost forever? You love them with all your heart but the point comes when, b/c of their behavior, you just have to turn your back on them and walk away. Some say that if it were within their power they would do anything, anything at all, to bring their children to a saving knowledge of, and obedience to the Father, in Christ. Others may say that they would not want to impinge on the free will of their child and would ultimately leave that decision up to their child, even if it meant losing them for all eternity. I wonder how many would fall off on one side of the decision and how many would fall off on the other side?

    I wonder if there are little altars to free will we could buy and send to those who might wish to buy down and worship at them 😉

    We like the song Amazing Grace but we don’t agree with the lyrics – certainly not as written and intended to be understood by the the author.

  6. Randall

    “How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed”

    I can’t imagine how the man, John Newton, standing on the deck of a slave ship in the middle of the Atlantic ocean must have grieved over what he was doing to those poor wretches in the hold of that slave ship. His heart was torn apart. I struggle trying to sing parts of that song that was created out of sorrow for the misery John Newton and others like him had caused. We sing that song time and time again but somehow miss the meaning of “the hour I first believed.”

    Also, our oldest son died of alcohol addiction ten years ago. His life was one of turmoil and constant trouble. Anyone else would have given up on him but his mother never did, For the last three years of his life we tried to study every week with him and his friend, a reformed alcoholic but old and broken, unable to work. By the grace of God they are both in heaven. Our son’s friend died Sept 13, 2001 of cancer caused from smoking. But on September 11, 201 when the first trade center collapsed Ben our son’s friend said turn the TV off and read to me. I read Romans 8, assured Ben that nothing will seperate you from your Father and his son.Ben smiled, went into a coma and died two days later. We later discovered that our son Stephen was Bi-Polar. He was self medicating.

    So we should never abandon anyone, especially our own children over bad behavior just as God never gives up on us.

    Life as a Christian is not easy. There will be trials.

    Bob

  7. I’d like to point out a passage that I think we may not be applying fully (this goes to Randall and Jay’s points about intervening in a brother’s life and free will). I’d like to propose a differing perception on the Parable Of The Lost Sheep.

    I’ve always read this and heard this parable told in sermons in a way that makes me imagine a kind, heartfelt shepherd going and finding a little lost lamb and rescuing it. Perhaps he kneels down next to the lamb, feeds him some grain, and then carries the lamb over his shoulders back to the herd. You know, a showing of humility by the shepherd.

    Please allow me to offer a unique take. Any of you guys ever grow up doing any ranching/farming? As a child, I had the gift of being able to help out on my grandpa’s farm. He had cattle. Growing up in a rural farming area in the Midwest, I had other experiences with friend’s farms, etc. and dealing with cattle. I’ve never dealt with sheep, but being livestock, I can’t see them behaving much more differently than cattle.

    So here is the deal: When a cow escapes and gets away from the herd, you can be sure of a couple of things. 1) The cow had a reason for leaving (go be with a bull, find it’s calf, better grass, etc), and (2) the cow won’t want to go back. To get it back in it’s correct place with the herd, you have to poke, prod, bait, fool, etc. to try and get that cow to cooperate.

    Back to our parable. Is it possible that in our current state of soft, warm “comfort Christianity” we’ve neglected to draw a correct meaning from this parable? I think it could mean that sometimes when a brother strays from the herd, sometimes you need to grab him by the scruff of the neck, hogtie him, and drag him back to the fold!!! Maybe he fights to get away again, but this time you keep a close eye and don’t let him get far!

    This is just a thought I’ve had recently. Obviously, I’ve written this to sound fairly extreme. But is this something we maybe should consider to some extent?

  8. Hi Jay,

    Surely God covers us for sins of ignorance. Hopefully He gives us turn-around time to repent of sins we know we have committed. Is it a few seconds, a few hours, a few days…? I don’t know. But, hopefully there is some time.

    I have always understood the “once for all” texts in Hebrews 7.27, 9.12, and 10.10 to refer to Jesus’ sacrifice being offered one time, which was good for all time, in contrast to the Mosaic animal sacrifices. Please compare Romans 6.10, “He died to sin once for all.” I do not understand it to refer directly to our salvation but to His sin offering. The two are clearly related, but they are not the same thing.

    The Hebrews 10.10-18 texts also, in my understanding, refer to the forgiveness sticking. Once God forgives a sin/s, they stay forgiven. Please compare Hebrews 10.3, “in those sins there is a reminder of sins every year” (NKJV). The KJV and ASV have “remembrance” here. This refers to the situation under Moses. You may wish to comment on the Greek here. I am (unfortunately) not a master of Greek. I do not understand these texts to refer to our being forgiven of new sins day by day, but to a sin, once forgiven, staying forgiven, in contrast to Moses where there was an annual remembrance. If I understand you correctly, you understand these Hebrews texts to be parallel to 1 John 1.7. I do understand 1 John 1.7 to be some kind of continuous cleansing, but not the Hebrews passages.

    I am not sure what all the Holy Spirit does for the Christian. Coincidentally, I even talked about this in the lesson tonight at church. I do know this: 1) He indwells the Christian, 2) He does not give the Christian any miraculous powers today, 3) He does good for the Christian, and 4) He will do what He is supposed to do. It seems there is a danger that the more we emphasize relying on the Holy Spirit, the less we emphasize personal accountability. It is simpler to say, as I believe Guy N. Woods did, that the Holy Spirit does His work through the word.

    If one reverts to a life dominated by sin, it is clear that he will be lost, barring repentance. When one does that brings up again the question of the threshold line. I must make my controlling purpose to grow as a Christian. If God commands us to grow, then, I would assume, He allows us to grow. But there is always the challenge/warning: Am I doing my best to grow?

  9. John wrote:
    “It seems there is a danger that the more we emphasize relying on the Holy Spirit, the less we emphasize personal accountability. It is simpler to say, as I believe Guy N. Woods did, that the Holy Spirit does His work through the word.”

    John, the absolute truth is our personal accountability is HIGHER because of the Spirit. With Jesus LIVING INSIDE US, we have no excuses for mediocrity. When we sin, we can’t say, “Well, I guess the Holy Spirit let me down there…”

    And to your second point, the promise of the New Covenant was that it WOULD ***NOT BE WRITTEN**** on tablets or paper, but that it would be WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS. The contrast of the MEDIA (tablets of stone vs. hearts) is pervasive. Heb. 8-10, 2 Cor. 3, Galatians. Is written rules easier? For our flesh. It gives us something we can measure ourselves with and harshly judge others with. But the way of the Spirit is the way of dependence, moment by moment… it feels more vulnerable but it is where TRUE FREEDOM is found.

  10. You nailed it again pilgrim the holy spirit is personal responsibility when we listen to him. He is our only hope. We cannot love or act on our own without his help.

    Bob

  11. JMF,

    I agree that sometimes it takes a little tough love to bring someone back — even disfellowshipping someone in the right circumstance. Reproving and rebuking are part of what we’ve been taught — but only where a congregation is bound together in love. It’s the love makes tough love possible.

  12. JMF,
    You wrote: “Back to our parable. Is it possible that in our current state of soft, warm “comfort Christianity” we’ve neglected to draw a correct meaning from this parable? I think it could mean that sometimes when a brother strays from the herd, sometimes you need to grab him by the scruff of the neck, hogtie him, and drag him back to the fold!!! Maybe he fights to get away again, but this time you keep a close eye and don’t let him get far!”

    Yes, I would agree that God (the loving shepherd) exercises a great deal of discipline towards His sheep. He certainly has in my life. If one has not felt the Lord’s discipline maybe that person should question whether they are really His. There may be comfort to be found in the discipline of a parent.

    Your ranching analogy has a great deal of merit. The point is that the sheep was valuable to the shepherd and he was not willing to give it up. He knew it was a dumb smelly animal that was prone to wander and fall prey to predators. That’s why we are in such need of a real shepherd.

    Had it not been the LORD that was on my side – you know that song? it speaks of His unfailing love and His unwillingness to give me up.
    Peace,
    Randall

  13. John,

    I’m working up a reply, but time is such a problem. I’ve got 26 more comments to read. But it’ll show up … in time.

  14. My plan is to meet my son Eric in Tuscaloosa on Friday, February 12 when he is coming this way. We can all get together, if you like.

  15. John,

    I am glad you are here. the points you make are valid indeed.

  16. Hank,

    Here is my email if you want to visit. I am also on FB.
    jwbrown_dluATyahooDOTcom
    Click my name and go to my blog, at which I am a novice.

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