Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a faraway place. All of the people of his little village knew one another and they watched out for one another’s well being. From the time a child was old enough to follow instructions, the elders of the village cautioned them never to enter the Overwhelming Forrest. According to the elders, the Forrest was unforgiving of anyone who ventured into its eerie environment. The elders of generations past had said that the Overwhelming Forrest would engulf the little village one day. They said the Forrest possessed a power that was unconquerable, a wrath that was unquenchable, and a fury that would one day visit the little village. The elders passed on the stories of those who had gone before them and they cautioned the villagers to heed their warnings. The people listened to the stories in horror. The wondered what they could do to turn the fury of the Forrest, but their questions were soon replaced by their daily activities.
One day all of the villagers stood in disbelief as a stranger stepped out of the Overwhelming Forrest and walked across the road that led to the village square. The villagers couldn’t believe their eyes. They stopped and stared. Some gasped wondering whether the stranger was a man, or a god, who had stepped from the unknown into their little village.
Someone worked up the courage to approach the stranger and asked him where he had come from and where he was going? The man said, “I have come from the other side of the Overwhelming Forrest where the Water of Life quenches the longing of every soul and the Light of Life illuminates every darkened heart.” The man scanned the huddle of those who were hanging on his every word and said, “I have come to show you the way through the narrow passage that leads to eternity if you will only follow me on the road to redemption.” The people stepped back at the man’s words and shook their heads in utter disbelief. No one had ever been foolish enough to venture into the Overwhelming Forrest. Stories had circulated about some foolish villagers who had long ago ventured into the Forrest, but no one had ever heard from them again. The Forrest consumed those who even stepped into its shadow.
The man said, “You must trust me. Disaster is certain to come upon your village – the village that you think is secure and hides you from the coming destruction. Disaster is coming, but salvation rests beyond the Overwhelming Forrest if you will but follow me through the narrow passage.” One person spoke up and asked how long the journey would take? Another person spoke up and said, “You are a fool! You are only trying to lure us from the security of our village so that we might be destroyed.” Another voice rang out, “How do we know that you know the way? How do we know that you are telling us the truth?” The man said, “I am the way! I am the truth! I will not lead you astray and I will not leave you if you will just follow me.”
One villager stepped out from the ranks of the others and stood beside the man. Then another. Some mocked the villagers who turned against their elder’s advice and placed their trust in the stranger. A tiny group of villagers aligned themselves with the stranger and left everything behind as they timidly, cautiously, tip toed behind the stranger to the edge of the Forrest. As the stranger and the tiny group of villagers reached the edge of the Forrest, the stranger turned around and cried out, “Come with me! I will show you the way to the road of redemption so that you might escape the destruction that is to come.” No one moved. The villagers clung to the words of the elders and sought security in their own little village. The stranger and small group of villagers who had chosen to follow him disappeared into the Forrest never to be seen by those who had chosen to stay behind.
The Day came when the Forrest erupted. Fire, heavy smoke, and deafening thunder shook the little village. Some villagers cried out for mercy, but their cries fell on deaf ears. Others questioned the elders who had told them never to enter the Forrest. Some said, “We should have listened to the stranger! We should have followed him to the road of redemption, but now we are doomed!” The little village and all of its inhabitants were consumed. On the other side of the Forrest the Water of Life nourished those who had heeded the call of the stranger. The Light of Life shone brightly into the hearts of those who were once destined for destruction. The road of redemption was filled with those who had sought shelter underneath the wings of the One who was able to destroy or to deliver.
What was the difference between the villagers who found deliverance and those who suffered destruction? Was it that some had lived a “good” life while others lived “poorly?” Not at all. Did the difference rest in the fact that some were privileged, pedigreed people who were given greater opportunities in life? Not at all. The difference between those who experienced deliverance and those who suffered destruction rested solely in their response to the stranger’s invitation to follow him on the road to redemption. What will you do?
In the Scripture that we will study this morning we find a similar warning, a similar invitation, and the hour has come for us to decide. What will you do? Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning.
26 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. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV)
I was sharing this Scripture with Joe Morgan this past week and I told Joe, “I know why the Lord has convicted me to preach through whole books of the Bible. This is not one of the Scriptures that a preacher focused on putting big numbers in the pews would willingly choose to teach when there are so many wonderfully encouraging passages of Scripture for us to choose from in God’s Word.” It is so much easier for me, as well as other preachers and Bible teachers, to focus on the tender, gracious, encouraging passages of God’s Word, but the truth of the matter is – we need the whole counsel of God’s Word. Hebrews 10:26-31 is every bit as important for us to study and understand as John 3:16 or Philippians 4:13 or any number of other sections of God’s Word that are so popular today.
This passage from Hebrews teaches us, with no reservations, no “hem-hawing around,” and no apologies that God isn’t playing around. God is serious about our sin. He is serious about our turning from death to life. He is serious about us seeking Him with a passionate heart and an unrelenting faith. Put in the modern-day vernacular, “God don’t play!”
This seriousness of God is the antithesis of most American’s faith today. Today, in our country where there is a church on every street corner, a Christian bookstore in every city, and numerous Bibles in every home – faith is a matter of convenience. Faith, for most people, is like their commitment to the Rotary Club, Bridge Club, or Columbia House CD and Tape Club. Our faith gives us a sense of belonging, but we can come and go as we please, we can pick and choose what parts are comfortable to us and leave out whatever makes us uncomfortable. God is not amused with our tepid trust, our lackadaisical love, or our careless commitment.
“Denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus” is more than “fire insurance” or trying something different since what we’ve already tried hasn’t “worked.” Jesus doesn’t work! God is not Anthony Robbins or Richard Simmons – He is Lord, He is Master, and He is the Sovereign God who has paid the ultimate price for those He has claimed as His own. God is not playing around!
Let me ask you a question. “Why should He wink at our sin? Why should He pat us on the head when we knowingly use Him to try and further our own agenda in life? Why should He forgive us when we willfully go ahead and do what we know He would never have us do, and we do it because we have resolved in our minds – God will forgive me?” What kind of God do you think we are serving?
Do you think God wore a party hat and handed out party favors in heaven as He watched His Son writhe in anguish upon Calvary’s Cross? Do you think that God, in His omniscience, saw our puny faith, our commitment by convenience, while His only Son was being beaten, tortured, and mocked and somehow delighted in our indifference? Oh, you are not kidding anyone but yourself my friend. God took our sin so much more seriously than we take our sin and that is why He willingly, unreservedly gave His only begotten Son as the remedy for what was certain to destroy us – our sin.
God did this willingly. No one twisted His arm. No one handed Him a ransom note and demanded the death of His Son. Nobody manipulated Him into offering His Son for sinners like me. God did it willingly, of His own volition.
Jesus is the Bridge that you can I can travel to move from destruction to deliverance. Jesus is the means by which we can move from darkness into God’s glorious light. Jesus is the road that leads from city of sin to the reign of redemption. Jesus is the only means, the only road, the only remedy for what is destroying us. If we will not surrender to Jesus, if we turn our backs on Him, then what hope is left for us? That is the message of our Scripture for today.
I want to clarify a couple of things for you as move deeper into our study. Take a look with me at verse 26-27.
26 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.
This Scripture has led to many misunderstandings that are unnecessary. I want you to understand what the writer of Hebrews is saying so that you are not deceived as some have been. For us to understand we need to take a look at two words: the word “deliberate” and the word “knowledge.” The Greek word for “deliberate” is the word, “~Ekousi,wj” (hekousios). The word means, “voluntarily, willingly, of one’s own accord, to sin willfully as opposed to sins committed inconsiderately, and from ignorance or from weakness.” John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Hebrews,
Willfully carries the idea of deliberate intention that is habitual. The reference here is not to sins of ignorance or weakness, but to those that are planned out, determined, done with forethought. The difference between sins of ignorance and sinning willfully is much like the difference between involuntary manslaughter and first-degree murder. ‘Hekousios’ is habitual. It not only is deliberate, but is an established way of thinking and believing. It is the permanent renunciation of the gospel, the permanent forsaking of God’s grace. (John MacArthur, Hebrews, p.273.)
The key for us to understand this passage is to know that “deliberate” is referring to what has been called “apostasy” throughout the ages. Apostasy is an intentional turning away from the Lord. The Bible speaks of many things that would seek to turn our attention away from God, but that we are to endure to the end knowing that God will never let us go. There is a great difference between turning away from God and succumbing to sin or experiencing a weak faith. Let me make it clear to you that what is not being taught in this passage is that a weak faith, moral failure, or falling into sin brings rejection by God. There are many Scriptures in God’s Word that back me up.
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 NIV)
We have been delivered from death to life. We have been unshackled from sin’s captivity so that we might not go back to our former life. This is the truth of God. At the same time we war against our flesh and when our flesh wins and we fall into sin we know that we have an Advocate, Christ Jesus, who intercedes on our behalf before the Father.
Our God is faithful to us. He has promised that He will never let us go. He has provided His Spirit to show us when we sin so that we might turn back to the Father. When our life demonstrates a lack of faith and we fall, we need to know that God remains faithful. Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13 NIV)
Did you notice that Paul says, “If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful…” All of the followers of Jesus throughout the ages have struggled with sin, but it is when we give up the struggle and turn to our ways forsaking the ways of God that we have become an apostate and the sacrifice of Christ is not available for us.
Who is this Scripture directed towards? Is the writer of Hebrews addressing those who have been claimed by God as His very own? Is he writing about those who have truly surrendered their lives to Christ and have died to themselves? Is he writing about someone else? I will tell you that I believe Scripture teaches that a person who are genuinely surrendered their life to Christ will not fall away and renounce God’s work on their behalf. This doesn’t mean that we will not sin any longer. It doesn’t mean that we will not struggle with our faith, stray away from God, or fall to the Enemies temptations. For those who are secure in Christ and struggle – God will bring them back. Paul wrote to the Romans and said,
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25 NIV)
The struggle with sin is real, more real than most of us recognize, but God wins the victory through our lives as we turn to Him in our struggle.
John MacArthur says, “Every apostate is an unbeliever, but not every unbeliever is an apostate.” There are many people who do not know the gospel, they have never had anyone explain to them the saving message of Jesus Christ. This is not true of an apostate. An apostate knows the truth intellectually. They can quote chapter and verse. They may even attend a local church, but their hearts are far from God. They know the truth, but they have refused to receive the truth so that it might transform their lives. Let me show you how well they know the truth of God.
The Greek word for “knowledge” used in Hebrews 10:26 is “epignosin.” The word means, “to know with a degree of thoroughness or competence, to know about, to know definitely about, or knowledge about.” The word is used several times in the New Testament. Let me show you some of the ways this powerful and thorough little word is used. Jesus said,
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 NIV)
In the letter to Philemon, Paul prays for Philemon to have a full understanding of everything he possesses in Christ.
6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 6 NIV)
In 1 Timothy, Paul counters the teachings of those who have abandoned the faith with the teaching of those who know the truth.
1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3 NIV)
Paul uses the same word again in Colossians 1. In this instance he is praying for those in Colossae to grow in their knowledge of God. Read along with me.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… (Colossians 1:9-10 NIV)
In Romans, Paul shows us how we can disregard the knowledge of God and suffer the consequences of God handing us over to our own devices.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 NIV)
Simply having knowledge of God is not enough. Knowing that Jesus has died for our sins will not save us. Simply gaining knowledge will not gain us entrance into God’s presence. We must surrender to the knowledge made available to us as our only hope. I hope you are beginning to understand that we who come to church as merely something to do when there is nothing on TV on Sunday morning are in great danger. I hope you are beginning to see that we who read God’s Word so that we can converse with people of faith are in great peril. God makes knowledge of His ways available to us in order to turn us from our ways, to rescue us from the penalty that we have earned – eternal separation from God.
Many years ago there was a man named Jonathan Edwards who preached a sermon called, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” I have read many accounts of what transpired when Pastor Edwards preached this powerful sermon and I have tell you that I long for such a thing to take place today. The stories paint for us a picture of people running to the front of the sanctuary and pleading with the Pastor to pray with them for salvation before Pastor Edwards would even finish his sermon. What was it about the sermon that impacted people so powerfully? Let me read you an excerpt from Pastor Edwards’ sermon.
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies… And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. (Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” Enfield, Connecticut, July 8, 1741)
What Pastor Edwards is describing in such vivid detail is the Scriptural declaration that all of humanity has turned away from God and that there is nothing in any person that could move God to holding back His hand of judgment upon all people. Take a look at the following verses.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- (Romans 5:12 NIV)
The penalty for our sin’s is death and eternal separation from God. There has never been any remedy for our predicament within us. We do not have a checkbook thick enough to write a sufficient check. We do not possess enough accomplishments to impress God. There is not a speech eloquent enough to move God to dismiss all charges. We are guilty as charged. The Bible says that apart from God’s remedy we are hostile towards God. Read along with me in Romans 8,
6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8 NIV)
In reaction to this Jonathan Edwards writes,
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment. (Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” Enfield, Connecticut, July 8, 1741)
The good news is that there is hope for our hopeless state! There is salvation for all who would this very morning confess their sins and turn to the Savior. Won’t you consider your hopeless state apart from Christ and this morning cry out to Him for forgiveness? Won’t you invite Him in to your heart?