I want to begin in 1 John. In chapter 1:5, John begins with an absolute: ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all’. Verse 6 logically follows: ‘if we say’ (in other words, if we profess to be a Christian), but ‘walk in darkness’ – this is not a slip or a fall, but a continuing manner of life – then the character of our lives reveals our profession to be false. We have not been born again in the first place, and are not saved. We are still on the broad road that leads to destruction. It is these false professors that the Lord speaks of in Matthew 7:21-23, and false profession is certainly a real danger, and I believe Christendom today is full of false professors, some whom have been presented with a false Gospel of cheap grace that does not insist upon repentance.
Verse 7 then gives us the opposite, someone whose profession is real – they ‘walk in the light’ – and who enjoys the blessed result of Christ’s death upon the cross – ‘all sin‘ cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, does this mean that having had ‘all sin’ cleansed, we are now free of sin? Does it mean we will no longer sin? Not at all! Of course, we should not sin, but while we live we are continually struggling against ‘the old man’ (Eph 4:22), ‘the flesh’ (Gal 5:19), and we must proactively ‘put off’ or ‘crucify’ that old nature that is drawn to sin. However, if we ever get to a point that ‘we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8)
Indeed, even the Apostle Paul could admit to sinning: ‘If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me’ (Roms 7:16,17) We are no different. Sadly at times, when we ought not sin, we fall, but John goes on to tell us that ‘if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 2:1,2). There is no thought here of losing your salvation because of your sin. Rather we are encouraged by two truths:
a] ‘we have an advocate’, because,
b] ‘he is the propitiation’
I would encourage all to consider what this phrase ‘he is the propitiation’ means, for it is central to our salvation. Note that both phrases are in the present tense. They are current realities enjoyed by the Christian.
From here in John’s epistle, John begins to emphasise the importance of keeping the commandments, and loving the brethren, and walking as Christ walked. We could summarise all of this in the phrase ‘the character of our lives’, and the point John is driving at through this whole letter is given in v.3, ‘and hereby we do know that we know him’. So we have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know it is real? How can we have confidence we are saved/born again? In summary, John says: look at the overall general character of your life. Yes, there will be occasions sadly when we sin, but if the desire of our hearts, and the action of our lives generally on a day to day basis shows a growing obedience to God’s Word, a deepening love for others etc, then this is the proof of the Spirit of God at work in your heart; that we are saved by God’s grace.
Now, let’s go to Hebrews 10. This is a passage often quote by those who would assert that a Christian can lose their salvation: ‘For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins’ (v.26). Who are these people who ‘sin wilfully’? And what does that mean?
Let’s begin at verse 10, where we read that ‘we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once’. Sanctification is a setting apart as holy for the Lord, and we may ask, who are the sanctified? In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul states ‘and such were some of you (referring to sin), but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified …’. Therefore we see that those who are sanctified are those who are saved (washed from their sin, and justified – declared to be innocent). Now we are not sanctified through our own efforts, but ‘through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ’. This is a work that is finished (Hebs 10:12), and has eternal effect: ‘for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ (Hebs 10:14). Does this not give us eternal assurance of our salvation?
If this is not enough, the writer to Hebrews goes on to remind us of the witness of the Holy Spirit, bringing to memory the unchanging Word of the Lord in the covenant He has made with us: ‘I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin’ (Hebs 10:16-18). And so, I can rejoice and rest in the fact that not only is my salvation grounded upon a righteous basis – the finished work of the cross – but is grounded upon the faithful character of God, who says that because of the work of Christ, my guilt and sin has been completely removed, and is never going to be brought to remembrance, and therefore we have ‘boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus’ (v.19). I don’t see how there is any room in this for the idea that I can lose my salvation, especially when I recognise that ‘salvation is of the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9), but let’s move on …
From v22-25, the writer now elucidates three practical steps that are incumbent upon us to take as a response to these precious truths regarding the certainty of our salvation.
1) ‘Let us draw near’ – this is the Godward response – and we are reminded again of the ‘full assurance’ we should have regarding our salvation and sanctification, because of two acts: sprinkling of the blood (this links with propitiation, and is spiritual and heavenly), and the washing of water (alluding to baptism, and is practical and earthly). Note that both verbs are in the perfect tense, implying that both acts have been completed, and need never be done again, and therefore give us this ‘full assurance’ whereby we can ‘draw near’ into the presence of Almighty God.
2) ‘Let us hold fast’ – this is the selfward response – we might waver in our faith because of our own failures, but we are here exhorted to ‘hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering‘. How is this possible? Well, because ‘He is faithful that promised’!! Our salvation is not a matter of our own effort (that was the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law), but wholly a matter of divine promise.
3) ‘Let us consider one another’ – this is the manward response – and is the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the only right response from us to the work that God has done through Christ in saving us.
Nevertheless, the natural man would always seek to go his own way, and therefore we need to ‘provoke unto love’ and ‘exhorting’ to not be ‘forsaking the assembling of ourselves together’. At this point, we need to pause and remind ourselves of the audience to whom the writer of Hebrews is addressing. It is clear that he has before him not only the saved, but a mixed company of those who are truly saved, the false professors, and certainly some who are among the company but have never made a profession of salvation (see ch2:3). The majority of these were Jews who had been impressed by the message of the Gospel of Christ enough to leave the synagogue/temple and begin attending the Christian gatherings.
However, as pressure mounts upon the Christian community from the Jewish leaders, some of these Jews who had made a profession of faith in Christ were ‘wavering’ and thinking they had made a mistake leaving all the God-given aspects of Judaism: Moses, the priesthood, the law, the temple and sacrifices etc. Had they made a mistake? This is why the writer spends the majority of the book showing how that Christ is greater than all these things, and now as he comes towards the conclusion, he warns these Jews that ‘if we sin wilfully’ – and he makes it clear what exactly he is talking about. This is not just any wilful sin being referred to, but a wilful ‘forsaking’ of the company of believers – ‘after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, then there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins’ (Hebs 10:26).
What the writer is saying is that these people had heard the Gospel of Christ and understood its claim, that Christ’s death alone atoned for sin, and salvation was available through trusting in the risen Saviour. These people had shown understanding of this message because we are told they had ‘received the knowledge of the truth’. Now, if these professing Christians decide to leave and go back to the Jewish fold, they would have to denounce the deity of Christ, and the work of the cross, and in the words of ch.6:6, ‘seeing they crucify to themselves again the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame’, ‘wilfully’ turning away from Christ in such a defiant manner, ‘it is impossible … to renew them again unto repentance’. (This is not so much a testimony to the unwillingness of God to forgive, but the unwillingness of the the people to repent). This is not something a true believer who loves the Lord could ever do, and shows they were false professors all along.
However, the writer is concerned for them and wants to warn them of the consequences of choosing this path, one of which is that they will be turning away from the only available ‘sacrifice for sins’, and ‘there remaineth no more (or no other) sacrifice for sins’. And if they turn away from the only available way of salvation, treading ‘under foot the Son of God’, and counting ‘the blood of the covenant … an unholy thing’ (v.29), there is only left ‘a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation’ (v.27).
Now, what does all this mean for us today?
Well, it certainly does not mean that if true believers in Christ fall morally into sin, they will lose their salvation. Rather, it means that for those who profess to be Christians but then deliberately turn from Christ, and take a stand against Him, there is no longer any hope of salvation. When I consider this in the context of the assurance and confidence given earlier in the chapter, and when I examine the language of chapter 6 as well, I am convinced that these people being referred to where never saved; never born again; never filled with the Spirit of God. They were false professors.
And so, while I am 100% confident that my salvation in Christ is assured eternally, I am also clear of the very real danger of false profession.