I’ve been working on the warning passages in Hebrews for quite a while; when I got asked to preach on them in our series at Grace Community Church, I had to stop thinking and produce! The sermon worried me because while most sermons are pretty encouraging, even when they call people to action or change, the warnings are very serious (6:4-6: it is impossible to be renewed to repentance) and severe (10:26-27: nothing remains but a fury of fire that consumes). Even if that comes in an encouraging context (6:8 in your case, beloved, we think better things), it is still a warning of hard things.
A key to understanding is to put things in context.
To understand Hebrews 6, go back to Numbers 13-14 and Deuteronomy 1. To understand Hebrews 10, go back to Babylon. Kadesh Barnea tells us Israel had seen the hand of God but refused to believe His promise that He had given them the Land. They rebelled and refused to enter the Land after sending in spies. They believed “The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” God forgave their sin, but in His anger swore they would never enter the Land. The people “repented,” again ignoring God’s promise, and arrogantly entered the Land but were defeated. No amount of weeping or religious ritual cancelled the consequence. God protected them from enemies, provided manna, and provided water. Even their shoes did not wear out. But they died in the desert, not in the land.
Similarly, if believers who shared in His enriching provision, His enabling Spirit, His incomparable Word, and His strengthening power then fall away, it is impossible for them to be brought back to repentance. While they are still His children with His acceptance and provision, they lose specific blessing of the LORD now and forever. Who knows exactly what that lost blessing might be? It might be the intimacy with God or the sense of His presence and comfort.
The congregation became serious when I suggested we might lose a level of intimacy with God forever. Somehow everyone has the view that we may mess up now, but Jesus will make it all good when we see Him. He will renew us and we will all be equal before Him. American egalitarianism runs deep. But Jesus’ life suggests differently. There were many disciples, but only 12 were chosen to be Apostles. Among the Apostles, there were 3 who were closer, who were there for special events like the transfiguration and the Garden. Among the three, Peter was the closest. Similarly, the rewards passages like Luke 19 suggest that those who return more get more in the kingdom. Ten minas means 10 cities and five means 5 cities, where ruling cities refers to opportunities to do more cool things with Jesus.
Hebrews 10 shows us that those who deliberately and defiantly sin may have God respond with severe punishment, like that of the Israelites being sent to Babylon. The widespread lie that God does not punish His children is partly true: He does not work out his anger on His children. He does not punish people who are really trying or ones who make mistakes. But He does punish rebellion.
The outcome is that the call for all to draw near and enjoy the lavish banquet He provides freely is a wonderful opportunity. Jesus will never reject the one who comes to Him (John 3:16; 6:37; Psa. 102:17; Isa. 1:18-19; Matt. Matt. 11:28-30), but something is seriously wrong with those who don’t want His salvation, whether that’s justification or the fullness of His intimacy. It’s dangerous when we are OK with ignorance or immaturity. I think a lot of the fear of drawing near comes from Satan’s story that God isn’t trustworthy. He accuses, “what kind of God would make you lose your job?” When Satan reminds me of the trouble in my life and suggests God doesn’t care, I look at the Cross and remember how much He cares. That One is God Himself. There’s no way a God who doesn’t care would do that. So we draw near to the beauty of Jesus.
Listen to the sermon here or go to gracecc.net to listen to the Hebrews series.
About Gerry Breshears
Dr. Breshears is a Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary. In addition to his three decades of educational ministry at Western, Dr. Breshears has taught at numerous Bible colleges and seminaries around the world, such as Lebanon, Ukraine, Netherlands, Taiwan, Poland, Canada, and the Philippines. He has also been published in numerous magazines and scholarly journals, including the Journal of Psychology & Theology and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Breshears is also the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and continues to serve on the regional executive committee of that organization. Dr. Breshears serves as a preaching elder at Grace Community Church. He and his wife, Sherry, have been married since 1968, have two sons, one daughter, and are enjoying their season of life as grandparents.