Here’s a whopper of a verse:
Hebrews 10:26–27 (NASB95)
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
I can’t tell you how many times that verse was used from the pulpit to put fear into me. Oh what a happy day when I took the responsibility upon myself to study and understand the letter of Hebrews – it was then that I saw how this verse means the opposite of what I had been taught.
We all sin. We don’t stop sinning when we become Christians, though we do stop pursuing sin.
When I was younger, I was taught that the Holy Spirit leaves me when I sin. The question put to me was “Can a holy God dwell in the presence of sin?” It made sense at the time.
I had already abandoned the pursuit of sin, but was stuck in what is called by some “The Romans 7 Experience” – where I lingered in the frustrating experience of realizing I do what I don’t want to do… or that I “don’t do” what I want. I want to serve God perfectly but realized I couldn’t.
The point of Romans 7 (and Romans 8) is that the believer, along with all creation is stuck in futility – SO THAT his or her hope will be in Christ, not in themselves. But I didn’t understand that back then.
Now, when I think back on my younger days, I’m amazed that a fellow Christian would tell me that God’s spirit leaves me when I sin. Listen, there are some whose lives are all about the pursuit of sin and they call themselves Christians – these people are liars – spots and stains in the fellowship. But the overwhelming majority of those who come to know the “free grace” of God are those who were at one time stuck in the Romans 7 experience. They tried hard to get it right and were bombarded by the self-righteous with condemnation and fear. And the frustration of that experience compelled them to dig deeper.
What happens when we dig deeper in Hebrews? We see that the verse quoted above isn’t about the one going through the Romans 7 experience. It’s about those who stop walking by faith after being “converted”. It’s about those who trust in their own ongoing works instead of the one-time, finished work of Jesus Christ. The “sin” of this verse (and of the whole letter to the Hebrews) is the sin of “unbelief”… of abandoning God’s new way (in Christ) and returning to the old way, the way which God Himself had abandoned. God was saying in Christ, “I’m finished with the old way – the way where you earned your favor before me through your good works. Here – this is my Son – He earned your favor for you. Depend on Him and His righteousness”. <– This is good news for you, friend!
The writer is saying, “Look my Jewish brother, you can try to go back to that old way of having your sins cleansed, but God is not working in that system any more, so if you return to it, you’re returning to NOTHING. So your sins won’t be dealt with and all you can expect – after abandoning the finished work of Christ – is judgment and fury.”
Can God’s Spirit dwell in the body of believers going through the Romans 7 experience – even when they sin? Yes and no. The legalist is right – God can’t dwell in the presence of sin because He is holy. But the legalist is also wrong because he doesn’t realize that God removed sin from the believer once and for all time by the blood of Christ. The payment of death for sin was made by Christ, one time, on the cross – and that payment is enough! And it is available for all who desire it – freely.
The big irony here? That Hebrews says the opposite of what was told to me as a young Christian. The point of Hebrews is summed up here:
Hebrews 10:18–22 (NASB95)
Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
… and since we have a great priest over the house of God, …
… let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
The point is that we can draw near in faith now – we can be fully assured that the blood of Christ is the final payment for all our wrongdoings and we can boldly access God in heaven – we can talk to him like friends talk to one another.
Dear believer, God is not in the business of dealing with your sins anymore. He did this one time, in Christ. You are free to move on from the Romans 7 experience.