Dear Sir: What is your interpretation of Hebrews chapter 10, specifically in the case of a born again Christian who may renounce Christ and His work on the cross and then go back to living an ungodly life? Does he lose his salvation? Thank you in advance.
Thanks for your e-mail. This is, as you probably know, a long debated question in true Christian circles. My opinion, to which I was led by scripture and firmly believe to be the biblical position, is that we as believers are responsible to the Lord to walk all the way through this life with our faith intact. That is to say, believers are those who believe in the Lord, who have faith in and are faithful to Him. No organizational affiliation, no past experience, no misunderstanding of scripture (ignorance is not a defense) can excuse us from this requirement of "keeping the faith". In reformed circles, the way this problem is reconciled with the false concept of "eternal security" is generally to claim that a person who behaves in the way you suggest was never really saved in the first place. I believe that is very hard to square with the parable of the sower, to take but one example, where our Lord very clearly posits plants that there are some people who accept the Word, and whose faith initially springs up in joy, but later dies on account of a lack of staying power when it is pressured by the tribulations of this life (Matt.13:5-6 with Matt.13:20-21).
We are here in the world to demonstrate to all, ourselves, the Lord, and all the men and angels who observe us, whether or not we really want the Lord, whether or not He is really the most important thing to us. That is not, could never be a once and for all thing (if it were, then the question of why we are here after salvation would be one which would really resonate). There are many scriptures which, in my view, clearly teach the principle of the necessity of staying faithful to the Lord as a requirement for salvation (cf. Matt.10:33; Lk.14:34-35; Jn.15:5-6; Rom.11:17-23; 1Cor.6:9-11; 10:6-12; 15:2; 2Cor.13:5; Gal.5:19-21; Eph.5:3-7; Col.1:21-23; 1Tim.6:9; 6:20-21; 2Tim.2:12; Heb.2:1-3; 3:6-19; 10:35-39; 2Jn.1:8-9). Please see the links below for several detailed discussions of this issue with exegesis of appropriate scriptures.
But as to the specifics of the hypothetical case you suggest, I always try to be careful when answering this question for the following reason: no one really knows the heart of another person. Only the Lord truly knows where an individual believer is "at" spiritually speaking. So that there may well be many in the Body of Christ who seem to me or to you to be walking decently, but who are in real spiritual trouble. On the other hand there may be some who are walking in a visibly shameful way whose behavior is so atrocious that you and I find it hard to believe that they could still be Christians. In this second case, it is, of course, not for you or me to say who is and who is not a member of the Body of Christ. That is the Lord's prerogative, and even in egregious cases, there are instance of repentance. For example, how could someone deny Christ and yet be saved? Matthew 10:33 would seem to suggest that the answer is "no!" But Peter did just that (for he repented and returned to his faith; cf. Lk.22:32). And there are cases where the Lord removes from this life believers whose conduct is so sinful that it is potentially fatal to faith (cf. 1Cor.5:5). So I cannot tell you how far afield from the Lord it is possible for a person to go and still be a child of God. Like the prodigal son, many of us do wander very far away indeed and yet return. What I can tell you is something I know for certain: it is better to stay close to Him in the first place than be in need of return in the second.
Another reason I try to be very careful in answering this question is that while this principle of all genuine believers maintaining faith and faithfulness is true in my reading of scripture, it is not at all meant to produce panic or terror as if it were an easy thing or a quick thing or an accidental thing to fall away from the Lord - far from it. The patience, mercy, grace and forgiveness of our Lord are wonderful and truly beyond expression. He works with us, helps us, forgives us, warns us, guides us, prunes us, directs us, gives us everything we need to seek Him and abundantly so (cf. 2Pet.1:3). It is safe to say that He has done so much for us - even dying for us when we were His enemies - that only those who have firmly and willfully determined to reject Him (even if they once received Him) have anything to worry about, and that only after repeated, personal warnings of discipline from Him. Often this discipline is so severe that, as I say, only someone absolutely determined to reject Him will persevere in their apostasy (cf. 1Cor.5:4-5; 1Jn.5:16ff.).
Concerning the specific passage you quote, it is often mistranslated in the various versions. Here is the way I render the pertinent verses:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence in this access of ours into the [heavenly] holy of holies by the blood of Jesus, an entryway, so to speak, through the veil (which is His flesh), an entrance which is new and alive and which He has consecrated, and since we have [this] great high priest over the household of God, let us pray with a truthful heart in complete faith, our hearts sprinkled [clean] of [any] bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water [of the Word]. Let us hold on without turning [to the right or to the left] to the hope we have professed - for the One who has promised us [eternal life] is faithful. And let us give careful attention to one another['s ministries] as motivation for [our own] love and good works, not abandoning your mutual assembling (as some have made it their practice to do [and which makes this impossible]), but rather encouraging each other [to persevere in this work of the Lord], and doing so to an ever greater degree to the extent that you see the day [of the Lord] drawing [ever] closer. For if we willfully continue in the life of sin after accepting and recognizing the truth [of the gospel], there remains no further sacrifice we can make for our sins, but only a terrible expectation of judgment, and a burning fire, ready to devour those who oppose [His will]. For anyone who set aside the law of Moses perished without mercy on the [testimony] of two or three witnesses. How much greater punishment do you suppose will justly come to someone who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, and who has considered His blood of the covenant to be unclean (the very blood by which you were sanctified), and who has violently insulted the Spirit of grace?
The key to this particular passage is the phrase I have rendered "continue in the life of sin", usually translated "sinning". This is a present participle in the Greek, and indicates contemporaneous action (as present participles always do). That is to say, as long as one continue to sin willfully, one cannot be restored. The "sinning" in the context was on the part of Jewish believers in Jerusalem who had lapsed back into participation in the temple rites. There were all sorts of pressures to do so, of course. The problem is that by doing so they were saying by their actions that what Jesus did on the cross had not been sufficient to forgive sin (for these rites and sacrifices were shadows of the One to come - if they were still necessary, then by definition He had not come). This is what is meant by their "trampling the Son of God under foot". This really gets to the heart of your question. For, you see, these believers had, for reasons of personal fear and security concerns, turned away from their witness to Christ and were by their actions denying Christ. The prodigal son came back and was restored into his family. Peter denied Christ, but later repented and was restored to great service. But willful, purposeful continuation in sin of any kind, and especially any activity that hardens the heart against Him, results in damage to faith, and, if one refuses to repent under the discipline which is sure to come, will indeed eventually result in the death of faith (cf. Jas.1:14-15).
For if after having escaped the defilements of this world by recognizing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ they should be overcome [spiritually] by becoming involved again in these foul things, then they have become worse off than they were before. For it would have been better for them not to have accepted the Righteous Way in the first place, rather than - once having accepted this holy command [for faith in Christ] committed to them - to now turn their backs on it. And so in their case this proverb is true: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow, though washed, to her muddy sty".
2nd Peter 2:20-22
Please see also the links below for more detailed answers to this involved topic:
Apostasy and the sin unto death.
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security.
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II.
Combating Legalism VI
Combating Legalism V
Combating Legalism IV
Combating Legalism III
Combating Legalism II
Combating Legalism I
Eternal security 1
Eternal security 2
Peter #27 - "Positional Security"
In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,