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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Willful Sin--Can Anyone Be Saved

The text for this article is Heb. 10:26-27, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.  But a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries." (NKJV)

These verses, when read in the King James and the New King James versions of the Bible, have probably caused Christians about as much anguish as any you will find in the pages of the New Testament.  Make no mistake about it the verses are directed at Christians as is the whole book of Hebrews.  Each of us knows we are guilty of having committed willful sin and this passage troubles us.  When we read the verses in the larger context of verses 24 through 31 it is very easy to become fearful and feel it is hopeless, we are lost without remedy.  We are sorry about our sins but we feel it is too late. 

However, there are things we ought to consider before reaching that conclusion.  When we take a look at verse 26 in the New American Standard version we readily see that the verse is not talking about a single act of willful sin.  It reads as follows, "For if we go on sinning willfully," thus the sin of verse 26 is a way of life rather than an individual act of sin.  (See also the NIV which reads, “If we deliberately keep on sinning.”)

All sin other than sins of ignorance is willful sin.  One may struggle mightily before committing the sin that has enticed him/her but nevertheless, it was their decision to take the leap and commit it.  It was a willful sin in that sense, a sin of personal choice. 

If a willful sin of that kind necessarily led to condemnation without hope then who could be saved?  Would it be Peter? 

Peter, according to Paul, stood condemned (Gal. 2:11).  Why?  Because "he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12 NAS) refusing to eat with the Gentile Christians.  Barnabas did the same thing.  Do you think this was a sin of ignorance?  Paul gives the cause which was not ignorance but fear of the circumcision party.  It was a willful sin in the sense that Peter knew what he was doing.  It was a sin committed out of fear, weakness of the flesh, we might say weak knees. 

How about the man in 1 Cor. 5:1, "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." (NAS)  Did this man who was doing this not know it was a sin?  You know he did.  Yet, in 2 Cor. 2:7 Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive the man as he had repented.  I remind the reader Paul wrote and spoke by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

2 Cor. 12:21 clinches the meaning of Heb. 10:26 for me.  It reads as follows, "I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced." (NAS)  What do we have here?  Christians practicing sin.  That implies certainly that we are not talking of one-time acts.  Are they lost?

Yes, if they do not repent but please note that is the very thing Paul is saying they can do.  Why is Paul fearful that he may end up mourning?  Because they have not repented but that implies they could if they would and thus would be forgiven.  We also understand they knew what they were doing.  The word translated "immorality" in this verse in the NAS is translated in the NKJV and others as "fornication".  It is the Greek word "porneia."  Do you really believe these people did not know fornication was sinful?  They were committing willful sin and yet we see they could be forgiven if they would but repent. 

What then is the meaning of Heb. 10:26-27?  Any sin you knowingly commit and continue is a willful sin as long as you continue in it and fail (refuse) to repent.  While involved in that there is no sacrifice for that sin that can save you as a willful practicing sinner.  When you repent that is another matter. 

I believe verse 27 bears the truth of this interpretation.  It says of such a person (a Christian involved in a sin on a continual basis willfully) that there is "a certain fearful expectation of judgment." (NKJV)  Why would you fear judgment if you were a complete apostate who no longer believed?  What you are is a man who believes but willing persists in sin.  Such a man fears judgment. 

Do not despair because you knowingly did that which was wrong even if you engaged in such a sin over a period of time.  Do not despair but rather repent and turn back to God. 

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