Soteriolology, the Study of Salvation
by James T. Bartsch
"But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." Hebrews 10:39
An Examination of Hebrews 10:26-31 and its Larger Context
By James T. Bartsch
A. The Purpose of the Book of Hebrews. We must understand that the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers. We know this because of the title, but also because so much of the book is explained by the understanding that the readers were Jewish. The writer refers to angels (Heb. 1:4 - 2:8), to Moses (Heb. 3:1-6), to the priesthood (Heb. 4:14 - 5:10; Heb. 7:1 - 8:6), to the covenant (Heb. 8:7 - 9:28), to the sacrificial system (Heb. 10:1-18), and to many Hebrew examples of faith (Heb. 11). These Jewish Christians were evidently being pressured to give up their Christianity and return to pure Judaism. The letter to the Hebrews was written to persuade them to go on to maturity in Christ (Heb. 6:1), for there is no means of salvation other than Jesus (Heb. 6:1-8).
B. The Broader Context of Hebrews 10:1-39. When considering whether or not Hebrews 10:26-31 conveys the notion that Christians exist in mortal danger of losing their salvation, one must be made aware of the utter folly of taking any Scripture out of its context. As we examine the broader context of the whole of chapter ten of Hebrews, the thoughtful believer in Jesus should come away from this study with a conviction of his own eternal security in Jesus, not his insecurity! Let us begin our examination of Heb. 10:1-39!
1. The writer begins this chapter by stating that it is impossible for the Law, which is the embodiment of the Old Covenant, to bring to a stage of complete forgiveness those who offer sacrifices year by year. This is so because the Law is but a shadow of the good things that were to come, not the essence. In fact, it is logically and theologically impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to remove human sin! Since these sacrifices had to be offered every year they could never fully relieve the stricken conscience (suneidesis) of the worshipers bringing their sacrificial offerings (Heb. 10:1-4).
2. The writer quotes Psalm 40:6-8 to prove that God had preauthorized Jesus' body to be the ultimate, once for all sacrifice which would actually bring sanctification to those who approach God on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood (Heb. 10:5-10). Sanctification here (Heb. 10:10) means “a state of being set apart to God” (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Heb. 10:10, 14, 29). This state of sanctification can be further defined as having been justified (Rom. 4:25; 5:18), which means “having been declared legally righteous or acquitted” on the basis of Christ’s blood having been shed and one’s having accepted that forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Those who are sanctified exist in a state absent any condemnation, for they exist “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). The sanctified group the writer referred to in Heb. 10:10 is simply a way of designating all believers in Christ. Sanctification is a legally acquitted standing in Jesus Christ which all believers in Jesus have because of their having placed their faith in Jesus, who died to satisfy God’s righteous demands for punishment for their sins. The sanctified status of believers exists without reference to their actual deportment or practice of righteousness, which is always in process in this life. The Corinthian believers were designated as having been sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11) despite their past practice and their present carnality or fleshliness (1 Cor. 3:1-3), which included divisions over leaders (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 1 Cor. 3:1-5), failure to exercise church discipline in the case of an incestuous church member (1 Cor. 5), suing one another in courts of law (1 Cor. 6:1-11), visiting prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:12-20), participating in factionalism in observing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), denying even the existence of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-19), and questioning the authority of the Apostle Paul himself (2 Cor. 10:1 – 13:10).
a. Please observe that the writer counted both himself and his readers as being among those who presently exist as having already been set apart or sanctified (Heb. 10:10)! The writer combined two words, esmen, we presently are or exist, (a present tense verb) and hegiasmenoi, “the ones having been set apart,” a perfect passive participle. A perfect verb form refers to an action done in the past with results accruing up to the present. The passive form of the verb here means that someone else sanctified or set apart the writer and his readers. Combining these two words, the author is stating that both he and his readers presently exist in a state of having been sanctified by the will of God. It is God who had sanctified them – they had not sanctified themselves!
b. Through what means was it the will of God to sanctify these Hebrew Christians? It was through the means of the offering of the body of Christ Jesus once for all (Heb. 10:10)! It was not through any righteous acts that the readers had done, but through the one righteous act that Jesus performed in obedience to the will of God. There can hardly be a stronger statement that these Hebrews are believers in Jesus who have not lost their salvation!
3. The writer goes on to contrast the ineffective offerings of the priests with Jesus' supremely effective offering of Himself (Heb. 10:11-14). The daily, repetitive sacrifices the priests offered under the old order could never actually remove human sins. Jesus sacrifice, on the other hand, was so effective that, after his one-time offering of Himself for sins, He sat down at God’s right hand, where He waits until His kingdom can be effectively established on the earth over all His enemies. Here, the writer quotes from the first verse of Psalm 110. This psalm, the most oft-quoted psalm in the New Testament, presents Jesus as God’s King/Priest seated at Yahweh’s right hand in heaven, there awaiting the signal for Him to vanquish His foes on earth from Mount Zion. Jesus has been designated by Yahweh’s oath as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, himself the prototype King/Priest of Jerusalem (Psalm 110:4; Gen. 14:18-20). The writer of Hebrews ends this paragraph by stating unequivocally about Jesus, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
a. The word perfected (teleioo) means “brought to a state of completion.” It appears here in the perfect tense, which refers to an action performed in the past with results accruing up into the present.
b. But the writer doesn’t leave this state of completion in the present with any uncertainty about the future. Jesus has brought to a state of completion a certain group of people for how long? – for all time! The words “for all time” translate the word dienekes, which means, literally, “stretched the whole length.” It is a Greek way of saying “for eternity”!
c. Who are these people whom Jesus has brought to a state of completion? They are “the ones being sanctified,” literally, “the ones being set apart,” a present passive participle of the common Greek verb hagiazo, to make holy. It is the same group of people the writer referred to in Heb. 10:10.
4. The writer went on to support from Scripture the legitimacy of his statement that he and his readers are completely forgiven (Heb. 10:15-18). He quotes from Jer. 31:33-34 the terms of the New Covenant that God made with Israel (Jer. 31:31-32). The Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) could never transform the hearts of people to follow God. But under God’s New Covenant, He would put His Law within them and write His law on their hearts, not on stone tablets. His New Covenant would be so effective that all would know Him, and their sins would be forgiven! Jesus, through His life’s blood shed on the cross, has become the mediator of that New Covenant (Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15; 12:24). Furthermore the New Covenant has been advanced to include not only Jewish people, but also Gentiles, as is demonstrated by Paul’s use of the New Covenant among Gentile audiences (1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6).
5. The writer states that he and his readers have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19-20). He identifies with them as fellow-believers, for he calls them “brethren.”
6. The writer acknowledges that he and his readers have a great priest over the house of God (Heb. 10:21). This priest is none other than Jesus.
7. He urges his readers to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). He is concerned that their faith is wavering.
8. The author states that drawing near must be accompanied by “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” and “bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
a. The people of Israel were sprinkled with the blood of sacrificial animals to inaugurate the Old Covenant (Exod. 24:4-8). The death of the animals was a substitutionary death on behalf of the people (Heb. 9:16-22). We New Covenant believers have a clear conscience because we have been sprinkled with the infinitely more effective blood of Christ (Heb. 9:11-15; 1 Pet. 1:1-2). The washing of our bodies with clear water may refer to baptism, an outward testimony of inner transformation (1 Pet. 3:21) (Dr. Constable’s Notes on Hebrews, p. 91).
b. It is my personal conviction that some believers in Jesus toil under the oppression of a guilty conscience because they fail to distinguish between “Legal Forgiveness” and “Family Forgiveness.” The Scriptures teach clearly that anyone who has placed his faith in Jesus is no longer in the realm of death, but in the realm of eternal life. This is so because Jesus on the cross bore all the guilt of each believer, past, present, and future. The believer is eternally secure in his position with Christ not because of his own faithfulness, but because of God’s faithfulness and Christ’s successful payment for sin (John 1:10-13; 3:1‑8; 3:16‑18; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:24-29; 11:25‑26; 20:30‑31; Rom. 8:1, 28-39; 1 John 5:1, 10‑13). The believer in Jesus stands Legally Forgiven because Jesus through His death and resurrection is the propitiation (legal satisfaction) for his sins (1 John 2:1-2). So when I as a believer sin against God, I damage not my Legal Forgiveness, but my Family Forgiveness. I have sinned against my Heavenly Father, and I have moved out of Fellowship (not out of Relationship) with Him. Just as disobedience in a human family damages the fellowship in that family, so disobedience in the Family of God damages our fellowship with our heavenly Father. That can be rectified only by an honest admission that we have sinned (1 John 1:9). That grants us the Family cleansing and restoration to Fellowship we crave. Of course a mere mechanical recitation of sins without a sincere desire to repent and obey will not fool us ourselves or God either. That is why we are urged to draw near with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22).
9. The writer urges his readers to hold fast the confession of their faith in Jesus, not because they are faithful, but because God, who has made the promises of salvation, is faithful: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
10. He urges his readers to motivate one another toward love and good works: “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
11. This process of mutual stimulation cannot occur if we do not meet together regularly, so he states further, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
12. Now we arrive at the paragraph that has caused so much angst for so many Christians. Let us make certain who the subjects are and what they are contemplating. They are Jewish Christians who are undergoing hardship. They have been lobbied by Jewish people who are not Christians to leave Jesus and return to pure Judaism. What are the consequences of leaving Christianity and going back to Judaism under fear of persecution? The writer of the book of Hebrews warns that the consequences are anything but comforting:
a. If we do not follow Jesus, there is no other sacrifice for sins. “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26). This willful sin is not some generic sin, but the sin of turning one’s back on Jesus to revert to Judaism.
b. If we leave Jesus, there is only the expectation of judgment: “but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). We know what that judgment is and we know what that fire is. All unbelievers will one day appear before the judge seated on The Great White Throne. Their works will be evaluated and the severity of their punishment will be adjusted. But all, not having their names written in the Book of Life, will be plunged into the Lake of Fire, which amounts to the Second Death (Rev. 20:11-15).
c. Under the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant, punishment was severe: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Heb. 10:28). This punishment was physical death.
d. If we leave Jesus, the author of the New Covenant, how much more severe will the punishment be (Heb. 10:29-31)?
1) Heb. 10:29. “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” If anyone turns his back on Jesus, and thus treats with contempt Jesus’ sacrificial death for his own sins, what other sacrifice is left? To reject with full knowledge Jesus’ sacrifice and to treat Him and His gracious Spirit with contempt will result in the most horrific experience in Hell that can be imagined. Those who reject Jesus with little knowledge of Him will undergo unimaginable torment. But how much more severe will the torment be for those who have full knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done, yet reject Him anyway?
2) Heb. 10:30-31. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Anyone contemplating leaving Jesus had better think carefully about the awful implications of that decision.
13. Now the writer encourages his readers to remember the former days. When his readers had first trusted in Jesus, they had endured many sufferings (Heb. 10:32-33). They had already endured “a great conflict of sufferings.” They had been made a “public spectacle.” They had endured “reproaches and tribulations.” They had empathized with and actively supported other believers who were being so treated.
14. He reminds them that they had joyfully accepted the seizure of their property because they knew they had a better and lasting possession (Heb. 10:34).
15. He urges them not to throw away their confidence, which has a great reward (Heb. 10:35). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Faith in Jesus is what enables us to access forgiveness and eternal life. If we cast aside our faith in Jesus, there is no other alternative. Only in His name is salvation to be found (Acts 4:12)!
16. They need to have endurance in their Christian lives so they can do the will of God in their lives and then receive the reward God has promised them (Heb. 10:36).
17. The writer quotes from Hab. 2:3-4 and applies the passage to remind his readers that Jesus is coming back quickly to this earth; that righteous people are commanded to live by faith; and that God has no pleasure in those who shrink back from following Jesus (Heb. 10:37-38).
18. This is important: The writer is convinced that his readers are not among those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of their souls (Heb. 10:39)!
1. In summary, it is safe to say that the writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers, no matter how difficult the persecution they faced, to continue to follow Jesus and mature in Him, because there is no other means of salvation outside of Jesus. He was also convinced his readers would continue to follow Jesus.
2. The title of this essay is “Does Hebrews 10:26-31 teach that Christians can lose their salvation?” The answer to that question is, “No.” If anything, it teaches that genuine believers WILL NOT lose their salvation. The believers here were among those who had reached a state of completion because God had sanctified them through Christ’s one-time offering of Himself for their sins. They had accepted this payment. But we as Christians all live in the present. And our faith can and will be tested. There is a real Adversary out there who is the father of all lies, a murderer and destroyer, the deceiver of the entire world, and the accuser of the brethren (John 8:44; Rev. 12:9-10). He would like nothing better than to make a Christian contemplate turning his back on Jesus. He would like nothing better than to cripple a believer with doubts and fears and misgivings.
3. So in real life, the Christian life is an interminable war against deadly, evil spiritual forces (Eph. 6:10-12; 1 Pet. 5:8-9), and it is a life-long marathon during which we must cast aside every practice and thought that saps our energy and every besetting sin which so easily trips us flat on our faces (Heb. 12:1-3). We must strive against sin even to the point of shedding our own blood (Heb. 12:4).
4. There is a phrase which accurately describes the Christian experience. It is a phrase to be found in the beliefs of Reformed Theology – “The Perseverance of the Saints.” Believers in Jesus will battle through temptations and doubts and fears. They may stumble and fall, but the loving discipline of their Heavenly Father will raise them up and propel them on the way toward the Finish Line (Heb. 12:5-17). “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). Will there be some, like Judas, who turn their backs on Jesus? Yes, but Judas evidently never truly believed in Jesus, not having been chosen by Jesus in a saving sense (John 13:10-11, 18; 17:12; Acts 1:24-25). Jesus identified Judas not as a child of God (John 1:12), but as “the son of destruction” (John 17:12). There will be others who to us look for all the world like Christians. Yet they are not. Among them are false prophets (Matt. 7:15-23), to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me!” (See also Luke 13:23-30.) But there is absolutely nothing than can separate the child of God from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:26-39)!
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
See also, Can a Christian Lose His Salvation?
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
Originally published February, 2009.
This study is based on, and the upcoming links will reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. (www.Lockman.org)
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Used by Permission.)
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Updated May 24, 2020