What is your view of Hebrews 10:26-35 ("If we deliberately keep on
sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice
for sins is left ... etc.") as to whether it means that a Christian can
lose his or her salvation or not. What does the passage mean? Thank You.
Response: It is my firm belief that scripture is very clear about the need for maintaining our faith faithfully until the end God has appointed us as essential for the "deliverance of our lives" (1Pet.1:9). The notion that a person can do absolutely anything after professing faith in our Lord and not get into the most serious spiritual trouble is a dangerous and an unbiblical one (see Peter #27 "Three False Doctrines that Threaten Faith"). For, clearly, there is some seed which falls upon the rocky ground which will fall away under pressure (see Peter #12 "The Parable of the Sower"). And there is "sin unto death" for which we are not even encouraged to pray (1Jn.5:16-17).
Let me give you my understanding of this issue in overview: to be a believer, a person has to believe in Jesus Christ; belief, however, is not just an intellectual assessment (cf. Jas.2:19); on the contrary, true faith always produces results (Jas.1:4-26). When a person turns away from God, faith suffers, dims, and eventually, if the apostasy is prolonged and extreme, faith can be quenched. Through sin and self-indulgence and refusal to live for God or respond to God and repent at His inevitable discipline, a person can, as horrible as it is to contemplate, turn away from Jesus in his/her heart, and, if taken to extremes, such sin can "bring forth death", the death of faith (Jas.1:14).
The passage you ask about here is a perfect example of what we are discussing, for it is written in a broad context of an entire book devoted primarily to those in Jerusalem who were losing their faith under the pressure of events (compare the issue made of faith in chapter eleven), and who were getting drawn back into the Jewish temple ritual. This was a problem for several reasons. For one thing, such practice would inevitably lead them back into the society of non-believing Israel, with no apparent difference in behavior between themselves and the unbelievers. But even more important, the rituals of the temple were shadows that looked forward to the coming Messiah (Heb.8:5; 10:1). But the Messiah had already come . . . and had already died for them! Continuing to represent that the blessed death of God's Chosen One was still in the future was to throw contempt on what Christ had actually and already done. It was to say, in effect, that Christ's suffering and sacrifice were not the real thing, that the real thing hadn't yet happened. And as long as these Jewish believers persisted in such horrible behavior, repentance was impossible. That is what it means in Hebrews 6:4-6 when it says that "it is impossible to restore . . . those who have fallen as long as they keep crucifying the Son of God afresh and exposing Him to open shame." Such behavior is the very opposite of faith, for it is essentially denying Christ and denying His work. And it is not the denial itself that is the biggest problem (Matt.10:23; Lk.12:9), as awful as that is, but the fact that someone who truly loves Jesus Christ, who truly believes in Him and is truly still trusting in Him for eternal life will not be likely to do such a terrible thing as to engage in behavior that is tantamount to denial of Him (but would likely face death before doing so – if said person were a true believer). That the sin these believers had fallen into was in fact the evil of reverting to a system of behavior which in effect denied that Christ had come and denied the efficacy of His work on the cross is clear from verse 29 of the passage you ask about:
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Hebrews 10:29 NASB
A person who continues in conduct, thoughts, and words that by their nature deny Christ, reject grace, spurn redemption, and push away the Holy Spirit is certainly flirting with spiritual disaster of the most severe kind. Sin, of course, does all these things, but sin lays us all low – who could stand before Him if He kept a record of our transgressions (Ps.130:3)? Therefore I always try to maintain hope in the cases of those who seem to have pitched the Lord entirely behind their backs and are now acting, talking and thinking like unbelievers. Who knows? Perhaps God will be patient with them in spite of themselves. But for myself and for those of us who are trying to follow Him, I am grateful to have this reason to fear Him whom I love so much, to know that this is no game, that we are responsible before Him for everything, and that there is indeed great benefit in striving to walk in His ways in all things and at all times. He knows the ways of the righteous, but what will become of the wicked (Ps.2; 1Pet.4:17-18)?
So it is not sin per se that causes a person who was once a believer to be completely, ultimately and eternally estranged from God. Rather it is surrender to sin to such a degree that faith and faithfulness progressively dim and eventually are extinguished, that is the process or hardening of the heart (see in Peter #26, "the hardening of the heart"), which eventually results in apostasy (see in BB 3B: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"). Sin itself does estrange us from God, but it is our choice to persevere in sin, to ignore divine discipline (Heb.12), to refuse to repent and return to Him that puts us in this most severe danger of apostasy. And if a person persists long and strong enough in rebellion towards the One who bought him/her, then spiritual death eventually follows – the death of faith, and hence of all hope, for it is through faith that we enjoy this grace in which we stand (Eph.2:8-9).
Clearly, the author of Hebrews was giving these believers the sternest possible warning – but he was convinced, he was hopeful that through his ministering, through his divinely inspired warning, they would return, repent, give up their terrible ways, and give themselves back to Jesus Christ with a full and unreserved heart (Heb.10:32-39). He was convinced that his audience was truly "of faith to the preservation of their [eternal] lives" (v.39), but was also constrained to tell them God's truth, namely, that He will not accept those who "turn back" from Him (vv.37-38).
Remember the days gone by, when you first saw the light, when you persevered through that terrible trial of abuse. For you were publicly exposed to humiliation and persecution, and shared the lot of others who experienced the same. You supported those in prison, and accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew you possessed a more valuable estate, and a more lasting one. So don't throw away this conviction of yours – it leads to a great reward. You need to keep persevering so that you may carry off in victory what has been promised – after you have accomplished God's will. For yet a little while, how short, how [short the wait], and He who is coming shall come, nor will He delay. "Then shall my righteous one live by his faith, but if he shrinks back, My heart takes no pleasure in him." Now we are not possessed of cowardly apostasy which leads to destruction, but we have faith which leads to [eternal] life.
What a loving and righteous God we have! He has reached down and sacrificed for us the most precious gift that could be given, His own Son our Lord, that we might be saved. But He will not, no, given His perfect righteousness, He cannot grant eternal life to those who reject that gift and spurn that sacrifice. Only those who are truly believers in Jesus Christ are saved.
Please see also the following links:
Hebrews 10:26 again.
Apostasy and the Sin unto Death (in BB 3B: Hamartiology: the study of sin)
Faith: What is it?
Hope this helps to answer your question. For more on saving faith, see the link "Faith Dynamics" in Peter #24.
Yours in Him who is the Rock of our faith, the source of our hope, and the object of our love, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.