Agonizomai: Heb 10: 28-31 - Christ - Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Heb 10: 28-31 - Christ - Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some

Heb 10 - 28-31 - Christ - Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some

Heb 10:28-31 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

All Israel was called out of Egypt, but not all Israel entered the Promised Land. The whole nation was sanctified (set apart), but the whole nation was not saved. These are important distinctions because, if we fail to make them, we shall fall into the error of thinking that the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement to save all men necessarily means that all men are indeed saved. We might even add to that the erroneous idea that a person once saved can lose that salvation because he was "sanctified" but later incurs the same wrath as unbelievers. Or that all people professing to be saved are, in fact, saved. But all of these are errors when balanced reading of the scripture is allowed to inform the reason.

There is a sense in which God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ but obviously, since everyone in the world is not and has not been experientially reconciled to God, it cannot be speaking of an effectual reconciliation, but only a potential one. God is propitious towards all in Christ. In Christ God is saying "Peace, goodwill toward men." God is, on some level, desirous of being reconciled, but only those whom he effectually calls actually experience that reconciliation. Men are culpable for the rejection of Christ, but God alone is credited when they receive him.

Just as in the exodus, there were many in Israel who did not believe God, and who were ultimately exposed for what they were through tribulation, temptation and testing, so also in the visible church there are many who profess, many who came out of Egypt in a physical way, but out of whom Egypt was never removed. They are often indistinguishable from believers. Many times they have deceived themselves, as well as others. But God is not deceived. Such people, though living continually in light, never have the light living in them and so add to their condemnation. It is more terrible to have heard the truth and never truly embraced it than never to have heard it at all. The wrath of God abides in both cases, but that wrath is magnified to the one who had the greater light.

And so, our understanding of references to those having been sanctified then becoming lost, must be informed by the whole counsel of God. Just as all Israel passed through the sea {1Co 10:1-12} and was baptized into Moses and ate the manna and drank from the rock, so many in the visible church are baptized and take communion and sit under preaching and teaching. In this sense they are “sanctified”. They believe themselves set apart for holy use. But the example and warning of Israel exists so that we do not make the error that they did of putting Christ to the test. Only those in whom regeneration has actually occurred - the effectually called will be sanctified to the end.

The Lord will judge His people and “His people” in this context probably means the visible church. There will be many in that day who say, "Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your Name?" and he will answer to them, "Depart from me you workers of iniquity, for I never, ever knew you." {Mt 7:21-23}

Once one begins to get an inkling of his own depravity, and of the fact that salvation is entirely of the Lord, then some light begins to shine on verse 31 ... "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. " We cannot be saved unless He saves us, and He will only save those whom He has chosen to save. We cannot please him of ourselves, but unless he is pleased in us we shall suffer the eternal torments of hell. We can jump through hoops, observe liturgies and ceremonies, memorize scripture, join prayer groups, sing hymns, serve in the church, give money, be nice, help little old ladies, feed the hungry, go on missions and so on, and so on - but none of this is of any avail unless it is wrought in Christ. You can do all that and go to hell - and do it with a greater condemnation than someone who never heard or never professed to accept Christ. Yet when it is wrought in Christ, then that is fruit which only evidences what God has done. This is fearful indeed.

But this fear is for our good - so that we might cast ourselves upon the one who never turns away those who come to Him. Or that we might be caused to abide in the One whom we profess to trust.

As an end note, I have to confess that this is a difficult passage. I have read commentators who have had quite differing views of whether the ones spoken of here are true believers who will endure severe discipline, or are false professors who will ultimately perish. There are points in favour of both views. For example, the writer addresses these remarks to "brothers" (v19) and yet he ends his remarks with a contrast between those who shrink back and are destroyed, and those who have faith and preserve their souls. (v39) In the end, believing that none can be lost whom the Father has given to the Son, I can only conclude that these warnings are themselves the very means appointed by God through which He preserves His elect people by the faithful exercise of their human responsibility. God knows who will endure and how, but we must receive our own perseverance through faith and not through sight. This in turn implies that, though none can lose his salvation if he truly has it, each believer has a responsibility to persevere with the faith that God gifts and works in him. Ultimately it is God who will bring to completion in us the good work he started unto the day of Jesus Christ. {Php 1:6} And ultimately we must persevere to the end through faith.


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