Can We Lose Our Salvation? An Exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31

Hebrews 10:26-31 is one of the most commonly cited passages people use to try to prove that we can lose our salvation. Is that what it teaches? If not, then what is it saying?

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 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? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (NIV)

The Nature of the Warning

The passage opens with a condition: “if we deliberately keep on sinning . . .” First, we should note that the continuous aspect of sinning here, while grammatically possible, is probably an improper translation. The KJV better renders these words “if we sin wilfully.” The rendering of the NIV, NASB, and others seems to come from a theological concern. Everyone sins, and whatever the penalty described in this passage is, it is certainly harsh. Thus, since the verb used in the Greek can carry a continuous aspect, then these translations have chosen to see it in that light, thus softening the warning. The passage is not, in this view, warning against sin, but rather it is warning against continuous sin.

The passage itself does not support this view. In the first place, the text speaks of “deliberate” or “willful” sin. We may well ask the difference in a single deliberate sin and multiple deliberate sins. When we choose to sin, in full knowledge of the fact that what we are doing is wrong, there is little difference. Further, in the immediate context, the author of Hebrews warned against “wavering” (10:23) and later against casting away our confidence. These ideas are singular and should be treated as such in our translation of our verse.

The second half of the condition is directed at those who “have received the knowledge of the truth.” Three facts prove that true Christians are in view. First, author includes himself in this warning with the word “we,” and his salvation cannot be questioned. Second, he speaks of receiving rather than simply hearing. Third, what is received is knowledge of the truth, not simply the truth. Nothing can properly be said to be knowledge—especially not received knowledge—if it is not accepted.

Thus, the conditional aspect of the warning may be summed up this way: “If a Christian deliberately sins . . .”

The result of the condition is that “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” The lack of sacrifice is consistent with the theme of the entire chapter. Heb. 10:1-14 deals with the inability of the old Levitical system to finally deal with sins. Heb. 10:15-25 explains that because Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient, we may have the boldness to walk intimately with God. The entire section, then, is dealing with the importance of the removal of sin if anyone, Jew or Gentile, is to have proper fellowship with God. The Christians’ deliberate sin is particularly heinous, then, because there is no further sacrifice to be made.

Thus, he continues, if there is no sacrifice, there can only be judgment, which is described by as a “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” There is no warrant for taking this as a reference to Hell as is commonly assumed. Fire is often used to picture tribulation or God’s judgment (cf. Deut. 32:33; Isa. 48:10). We will look more at the nature of the judgment below. In any case, we may summarize the warning this way: “If a Christian deliberately sins, since there is no further sacrifice, there is only judgment.”

The Nature of the Sin

But since all Christians sin, it seems hard to accept the author of Hebrews just had general sin in mind. Otherwise, every Christian would spend every minute of every day under harsh judgment (or, alternately, all would be in Hell!). Likely, general sin is not in view. Apostasy is. That is, the author is warning the reader against losing his faith. This is evident throughout the entire book of Hebrews. The main point of the book is to prove the supremacy of Jesus over Judaism and encourage Jewish Christians to maintain their faith. This is even stated directly twice in our context (Heb. 10:23, 35-36).

Another confirming clue for this idea is found in the word “deliberately.” This same idea can be found in Num. 15:17-36. There, God distinguishes between sins committed in ignorance and those considered deliberately (lit. “with a high hand”). Those guilty of the former were forgiven. Those guilty of the latter were executed. Given that Hebrews goes on to say “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” seems to confirm the connection. The deliberate sin the book is consistently warning against is the rejection of one’s faith in Christ.

The Nature of the Judgment

The text does not explicitly state what the judgment will be. Whatever it is, it is worse than mere death. This, again, has caused many to suggest that Hell is in view, but it must be admitted that such a view is at best simply an interpretation. Experience, however, tells us that there are many things worse than death! Being given over to Satan for the destruction of our flesh (1 Cor. 5:5), being flogged by God (Heb. 12:6), being denied by Jesus before the Father (Matt. 10:33), and losing our eternal rewards (Matt. 25:28) all may be far worse!

Again, this all confirms that believers are in view, for the author quotes the OT: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  Whatever the judgment is, it is seen as God avenging Himself by judging His people in their rejection of Him.

In conclusion, this passage is not teaching that salvation can be lost. It is teaching that if a believer loses his or her faith, that they will come under extreme judgment, both in this life and in the next. It truly is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! While this passage, then, gives us confidence that we may stand before God secure in our salvation, it also serves to remind us how seriously we are to take our faith.

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2 thoughts on “Can We Lose Our Salvation? An Exegesis of Hebrews 10:26-31

  1. We can not lose our salvation. That is an absolute truth. It continues to boggle my mind that people have the idea that having sin in their lives will keep them out of heaven. These same people, which are huge in numbers, also buy into the “big sin, little sin” idea. I wonder what ever happened to people understanding that God is holy and can look on NO sin. He took on the form of man to become the Sacrifice that would cover all sin . . . not just the big ones. I mean, how would we determine what is a big sin or little sin, anyway? Would it be up to man’s justification? Or would we hope that we made it just under the line that determines the difference? Maybe some explanation needs to be made as to why there needed to be blood sacrifices, and why Jesus was the final blood sacrifice to cover all sin from the time of His crucifixion to the end of time. Maybe part of the problem is that people don’t understand that basic concept. Then there’s the point of the Lamb’s Book of Life. You know the one . . . there are lots of songs written about it – “There is a new name written down in glory, and it’s mine, oh yes it’s mine.” So what, then? Is there an angel writing down and erasing names? Here today, gone tomorrow. Is the idea that we get saved and then we do the best we can, but one day, we fall from grace and just screw up so terribly and we become . . . unsaved. Then do we repent and get saved again? Then sin again and become . . . unsaved? Poor angel, or whoever is writing and erasing the names in that that book. Here’s what I know for sure. Whoever believes has everlasting life. It has been said over and over. Not, whoever does not sin. The two are completely different issues. By believing that very statement – that belief is what saves us – we gain the knowledge of knowing that Hebrews 10, which is SO TOO OFTEN used to say we can lose salvation, has nothing to do with eternal life.

    Thanks for all your wise words and for allowing us to comment here.

  2. I have been in a debate with a brother in Christ over this topic .I know by personal experience that Gods grace has always brought me back from a backslidden state. In my struggle with addiction and gang lifestyle i have found myself in prison for weapons and drug possession 6xs.And it has always been because of my choice to do my will and not Gods.But every time HE has been faithful to keep me and walk with me in that darkness,HE has never left me..I’m still saved even in the darkness.The brother thinks “if I die in the backslidden state I will awake in hell…..What a debate…He uses OT scriptures isolated to prove this out..But proper interpretation rules when used show a whole different and richer story.This is an age old argument,the fact is I’m still walking with the Lord and HIS grace has taught me that the life I was living was a lie when I look at the ransom that payed my dept this life I now live I live for CHRIST…

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