“With Your Shield, Or On It” Hebrews 10: 26-39

As Hebrews gets ready to move into a discussion about faith, it gives a warning and an encouragement in the second half of chapter 10. Today is the warning; next week is the encouragement.  For context: we will read next week, “Remember all these things, and do not abandon your confidence, which will lead to rich rewards.” 

The imagery has to do with the admonition Greek wives would give to their husbands and sons going to war: “Come back with your shield, or on it.” It was a call to bravery. Never run from the battle – and there will be a battle. Next week is about how to come back with your shield. This week is about how we won’t. We must remember all these things. 

26 Now if we willfully and deliberately persist in sin after receiving such knowledge of the truth, then there is no sacrifice left for those sins, because there is not other provision— 27 only the fearful prospect of judgment and a fierce fire[1]that will consume God’s adversaries. 28 Remember that those who depart from the law of Moses are put to death without mercy based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.[2]

 29 Just think how much more severe the punishment will be for those who have turned their backs on the Son of God, trampled on the blood of the covenant by which He made them holy, and outraged the Spirit of grace with their contempt. 30 For we know the God who said, “Vengeance belongs to Me—I will repay,”also said, “The Eternal One will judge His people.” 31 It is truly a frightening thing to be on the wrong side of the living God.

 What does it mean there is no sacrifice left for the sins of those who persist in sin after receiving the truth? 

“…must refer to a deliberate act, where a man means to abandon his religion,and to turn away from God.”- Barnes’ Notes On The Bible

 “A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless; no case is hopeless but that of the deliberate apostate, who rejects the whole Gospel system… to him there remains no more sacrifice for sin; for there was but the One, Jesus, and this he has utterly rejected.”– Adam Clarke

“The word “wilfully” stands in contrast with sins of weakness, ignorance and error in Hebrews 5:2… He is alluding not only to those sins which the Jews described as being committed presumptuously “with uplifted hand” (Numbers 15:30Psalm 19:13Hebrews 6:4-8Hebrews 12:16-17), but to the deliberate continuity of such sins as a self-chosen law of life; as for instance when a man has closed against himself the door of repentance and said “Evil be thou my good.”–Cambridge Bible For Schools And Colleges 

So,does this mean someone who is saved can fall away?[3]It’s probably no surprise that Calvinists and Arminians disagree on what to do with this verse because of their disagreement over eternal security. One thing on which they would both agree: the deliberate continuity and embrace of sin as a self-chosen law of life, the deliberate claiming of evil over good as we proudly shake our fists and turn our backs, will put us on the wrong side of God, and that is a fearful thing.

The Calvinist will say it’s a sign that someone was never truly saved; the Arminian will say it’s a sign that someone has walked away. They both agree that people in this situation are walking under the wrath of God rather than the grace of God, and that is a fearful thing. 

I suspect that the author of Hebrews wants us to see that willfully and deliberately committing ourselves to lifestyles of sin and turning our back on God are connected. I don’t know which one is the cart and which one is the horse, but if you have one, you have the other. [4] 

* * * * * *

“Sin,” as used in this passage, is “missing the mark.” The imagery here involves archery, so let’s use this imagery to build a picture of what’s happening here.

God has a good and purposeful design for the world, a “mark,” the center of a target for which we aim. We see it made clear in the Bible. God’s righteous commands for living are for our good, our flourishing. If it’s true that the glory of God is a person who fully alive (Iranaeus), God’s design is intended to lead us into full living, the ultimate experience of bearing His image (as a human being) and being an ambassador (representing the presence of Jesus to the world). Good, then, is the fulfillment and celebration of God’s purposeful and good design for the world. 

When we sin, we “miss the mark”, and evil enters the world. Evil has been described as ‘the privation of good’ (Augustine) and ‘the deprivation of purpose’ (Zacharias). It is any distortion or rejection of God’s design. When we miss the mark, we contribute to the evil in the world.

The biblical image in this section also implies that someone is injured when we miss the target. It’s one thing to aim for the center, miss, and hit someone. That’s bad enough. But if you just start aiming at bystanders, it’s a whole different level of problems. 

 It’s like when your kid picks up a cat by the tail accidently because their tiny hands jus slide down the cat until they get to the tail vs. when they look you in the eye and slowly reach down, grab the tail, and YANK. Oh, it’s on now. 

 If you add to that deliberation a habit of repeating this kind of disobedience and damage, this is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. The archery range is littered with dead bodies and you are okay with that. You might even be pleased. It’s an ugly scenario.

The warning that accompanies this is one of the most stark in Scripture. Wrath against evil is part of God’s nature; justice will be done, either to you or to the One who has stood in for you. You can embrace your Savior or experience God’s wrath poured out on you. 

The Bible is clear that God’s holiness cannot abide the corruption of sin; however, I think God’s wrath has a lot to do with the damage that our sin does to God’s good world, God’s image bearers, and God’s children. God’s righteous anger is the right response to the destruction of goodness.

As the writer of Hebrews has been pointing out, Jesus has paid the eternal penalty that we deserve for our destructiveness; he has absorbed God’s wrath, and while we may reap what we have sowed in this life, God incarnated in Jesus so that the righteous and wrathful Lawgiver Himself absorbed the punishment for us Lawbreakers. It’s an incredible thing. 

But this part of Hebrews – the warning before the encouragement - makes clear that we can reject or move out from under or even desecrate that grace. 

There are times in my house that I say, “Boys, I love you, and I love what is happening in your lives. Well done.” There are other times I say, “Not in my house.” This is a “not in my house” kind of passage from God to us, so it’s also that kind of morning. 

This is a call for clarity and repentance. We can’t afford to not think seriously about this. As your pastor, I have to warn you of God’s wrath even as I look forward to talking about God’s love and forgiveness.   

I am conscious of two ways this can go wrong: I can so overstatethe wrath of God against sin that I diminish the power of grace, OR I can so understatehow God views sin that… I diminish the power of grace. Nobody’s excited about a cleaner that takes care of a light film of dust. But the inside of an oven where a casserole went volcanic – that’s a cleaner. The unbelievable cleansing power of the grace given through the blood of Christ is only understood when we see our sin – and our capacity for sin – as the noxious, corrosive mess that it is.  

Are there places in our lives where we have not only stopped pursuing God’s good design but we have started to settle into a deliberate, continual pattern of missing the mark? 

Speech

The biblical ‘mark’ for us is wholesome language full of grace and truth that builds the world and the Kingdom of God. 

·      Have we settled for gossip, for hurtful sarcasm, for passive aggressive comments, harsh criticism, sharp anger, insults and meanness? 

·      Do other people experience our tongue as a fire? 

·      Does the fountain of our speech bring forth fresh water and bitter? (James 3)

 Money

The biblical ‘mark’ is faithful, generous, responsible stewardship in which we take care of what God has given us and take care of those around us. Have we settled for greed and selfishness? Are we looking for ways to be generous or is money “our precious” (to use LOTR language)?How much of your money do you give away?  

·      On average, Christians give 2.5% of their income to their church. 

·      During the Great Depression, it was 3.3%. 

·      Only 10% to 25% of the average congregation gives at all. 

·      Religious giving is down 50% since 1990

·      People with a salary of less than $20,000 are 8x more likely to give than those who make over $75,000.[5] 

Friends, we have a mammon problem. The Bible speaks more about money than any other topic besides God.  The third place topic is distant. This is probably because God knows our hearts will incline toward what we treasure.  

Do we lack financial contentment even in the midst of having our needs met? Do we really believe that God’s grace is sufficient wealth for us, or have we settled for anxiety and stress in the midst of actually having enough?

Sex and Purity

Sex is the only act we can do with our bodies that is inherently covenantal. God intends it as an initiation and renewal of marital covenant; it’s also one of the Bible’s metaphors for the covenantal relationship between Christ and the church. The biblical “mark” for sexual activity is clear: faithful, loving, joyful monogamy in marriage; 

Is that mark our goal? Is that what we are striving for, praying for, fighting for even in the midst of weakness and struggles? 

The biblical ‘mark’ is purity of thoughts. Have we settled for pornography, or are we genuinely fighting it? Have we really settled for objectifying others for our pleasure? 

Attitudes

·      Jesus died as an act of forgiveness; God empowers us, through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive others. Have we given up on someone? Have we settled into resentment, anger, and bitterness? 

·      We are to honor others. Do we know that when we look at someone a certain way, or sit like this, or give the silent treatment, or bring up sore spots, we are hurting and shaming someone close to us, and we just don’t care enough to surrender ourselves to Jesus for healing and goodness?  

·      Envy" is resentment and even anger towards someone who has something we want. This is in contrast to contentment and peace. Do we envy another’s house? Vacations? Cars? Spouses? Job? Health? Friendships/popularity?

Soon we will read, “My friends, we are not those who give up hope and so are lost; but we are of the company who live by faith and so are saved.” It’s how to carry the shield of faith into the battle against sin and come back with it, not without it or even on it.

 The next verse presents a contrast with a different kind of person:

32 Instead, think back to the days after you were first enlightened and understood who Jesus was.

 This is different than knowledge. This is to fill with savingknowledgeof the gospel. It’s more than receiving facts and knowing with our heads. It’s experiential;it’s ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ If we experience this, we understand who Jesus is and what He has done in a way that may begin in our heads but filters into our souls. This experience has an impact on our life. It changes us.  

32  Instead, remember the days after you were first enlightened and understood who Jesus was, when you endured “a great combat of sufferings”[9] in the name of the Lord,  33 when people held you up for public scorn and ridicule (exhibited like wild beasts; assaulted your honor and good name),  when they abused your partners and companions in the faith in the same way.

34 Remember how you had compassion for those in prison and how you accepted the pillaging of your possessions with calm delight and even gladness[10], knowing that you have a far greater and more enduring possession.

If I am reading this correctly, those how have been enlightened and understand who Jesus is will do the following:

·      endure immense suffering for Christ

·      be scorned, ridiculed and dishonored publicly

·      watch our friends endure the same

·      have our stuff pillaged

·      and yet still be compassionate and joyful endurance in the midst of suffering for Christ.” 

In the previous paragraphs, the writer described the ones who fall away because head knowledge never sank into their heart. This is what it looks like when it does. We not only endure, we can endure with gladness in the midst of suffering. 

Christians who are easily offended when people insult our faith or insult us because of our faith don’t understand who Jesus is.  When we get defensive, angry and belligerent in the face of ridicule or hardship imposed because of our faith, it’s a sign that we don’t understand Jesus like we thought we did.  

The principle of “turning the other cheek” is relevant here. A Roman would strike a Jewish person backhanded. It was a message of inferiority - “You aren’t worth a real blow.”  When Jesus said, “Offer them the other side,” it wasn’t suggesting his followers become gluttons for punishment. It was a subversive way of saying, “If you are going to hit me, hit me like an equal.” 

You never see Jesus tell his disciples to express how offended they are or attack in return. They were to absorb the disdain, and then calmly use the opportunity to challenge the person to see them as a full fellow human being. [11 

·      When someone scorns us or dishonors us, do we attack or get really defensive? 

·      If it’s in a public venue, do we try to ‘give what we got’ and humiliate them? 

·      Would we “accept the pillaging of our possessions with calm delight and even gladness[12], knowing that we have a far greater and more enduring possession”? If someone were to fine us for not using your business in a way that violated our conscience, would our response show that we are capable of doing this?

 Don’t misunderstand. These are opportunities to say, “I don’t think that’s fair. Are you willing to engage with me in such a way that we honor each other?” Paul, as a Roman citizen, was not reluctant to use the rights given to him by Rome to avoid unjust punishment. So I’m not talking about using what legal protection is available. We aren’t called to be gluttons for punishment for Christ. 

Do we know and understand Jesus? Are we so in tune with our Savior that we can use opportunities of suffering as a means of conveying the reality of the life-changing grace of God to a watching world?
We are called to compassionate and joyful endurance in the midst of suffering for Christ.And we can do this because we have something from Christ that endures and is far more important than any of these things.  

I love this possibility. 

·      It means that I don’t have to be emotionally manipulated by a manipulative world. 

·      It means I don’t have to worry about how insults or shaming or hardship will impact my soul. 

·      It means slander or meanness or mockery only gets the time from me that it takes me to shrug (at least emotionally). 

·      My life might get harder because of my commitment to Christ, but my heart doesn’t have to. 

 

OUR ENDURING POSSESSION

The writer of Hebrews ways we can do this because of this “enduring possession” we have. Many places in scripture talk about the fact that we have Jesus, or that heaven awaits. This passage focuses on something different – and this was news to me. The most probable translation [is], “perceiving that you have your own selves for a better possession…’” [13]I quote at length from McLaren to make this point more clearly:

“Under all other circumstances and forms of life, the true self is domineered over and brought into slavery and dragged away from its proper bearings by storms and swarms of lusts and passions and inclinations and ambitions and senses. A man’s flesh is his master, or his pride is his master, or some fraction of his nature is his master, and he himself is an oppressed slave… 

 The only way to get the mastery of yourselves, to be able to keep a tight hand upon all inferior parts of your nature, and to have that self-command and self-possession without which there is nothing noble in life, is to go to God and say, ‘Oh, Lord! I cannot rule this anarchic being of mine. Do Thou take it into Thine hands. Here are the reins: do with me what Thou wilt…’ 

 Then you will own yourselves; till then, the devil and the world and the flesh, and the pomps and prides and passions and lusts and lazinesses that are in your nature will own you. But if we have exercised the faith which casts itself wholly upon God, we therein and thereby win God and our own selves also, and that is one of the meanings of ‘saving our own souls.’” – MacLaren’s Expositions

So, back to the passage. 

·      We can endure because we know who we are in Christ. 

·      Our plan was never to gain the whole world; it was to gain Christ and, in the process, keep our souls. 

·      The more we understand who Jesus is and who we are in light of that reality, the less we care about the insults, attacks, and derision of others. We can cheerfully accept financial harm for the sake of Christ; we can endure a “great combat” of suffering related to our reputation and our pride. 

·      Christ in us is our hope, our peace, our stability in life. The work God has done in us is so meaningful – and we see it – that there is no way we are walking away.

35 Remember all these things,and do not abandon your confidence, which will lead to rich rewards. 

I mentioned last week that Greek women presented shields to their sons going to battle and said, "Either bring this back, or be brought back upon it." Sometimes they would give them their fathers' shields and say, "Your father always preserved this shield; preserve it, or perish."[14]Either one was a proof that a soldier had faithfully persevered until the end. You may die, but you will never run.

 So when the writer of Hebrews says, “Don’t abandon your confidence,” he is saying, “Don’t abandon your faith. It is your shield.” This is not the only time we see this language in the New Testament. “Above all, take the shield of faith.” (Ephesians 6:16) 

 36 Simply endure, for when you have done as God requires of you, you will receive the promise. 37 As the prophet Habakkuk said,[15]‘In a little while, only a little longer,the One who is coming will come without delay.38 But the righteous ones, the just, must live by continual, faithful confidence in the object of their faith, Jesus, for if they give up their commitment and place their confidence in themselves, My soul will have no pleasure in them’ (“their soul is not upright in them,” says Habakkuk).[16] 39 My friends, we are not those who give up hope and so are lost; but we are of the company who live by faith and so are saved.

When we live by faith, we are saved.[17]We endure. We can make it, and we can do more than just survive.  This is the big finish here – the importance of faith, which in this passage has something to do with understanding who Jesus is, enduring in the midst of suffering for our faith, and being obedient. But…that’s for next week in Hebrews 11. 

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[1]Isaiah 26:11; Psalm 79:5; Hebrews 12:29

[2]The only crime for which this was mandated was premeditated murder. See “Capital Crimes And Punishment.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/capital-crimes-and-punishment/The allowable maximal penalty was God’s way of conveying the extent of the damage done to the community of His people: physically, morally, spiritually, psychologically, relationally.

[3]You are going to see in the next section that the author of Hebrews talks about those who were enlightened and understood who Jesus was. It’s different language than what we see here- simply receiving knowledge of the truth. It may well be that the author is deliberately making a distinction between knowing vs. believing;on the other hand, it may just be a writer’s license to say the same thing in different ways. 

[4]If you are worried that you might be someone for whom there is ‘no sacrifice left for your sins’ – that you have committed what the Bible calls the ‘unpardonable sin’ and have trampled on the blood of the cross – be at peace.  I don’t think this passage is talking about that; besides, the fact that you are concerned is a good sign. Your conscience is not so hardened as to be unaware of God’s conviction.

[5]“Church Giving Statistics, 2019 Edition.” https://pushpay.com/blog/church-giving-statistics/

[6]Isaiah 26:11; Psalm 79:5; Hebrews 12:29

[7]The only crime for which this was mandated was premeditated murder. See “Capital Crimes And Punishment.” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/capital-crimes-and-punishment/The allowable maximal penalty was God’s way of conveying the extent of the damage done to the community of His people: physically, morally, spiritually, psychologically, relationally.

[8]https://biblehub.com/greek/1922.htm

[10]Adam Clarke’s language

[11]“Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” is ultimately a call to peaceful resistance. It is the mantra of reformers inspired (at least in part) by Jesus like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Elsewhere in the Bible the books of Proverbs and Romans call it “heaping burning coals upon your enemy’s head.” That expression is an ancient Near Eastern mourning ritual. People put ashes on their head to express deep sorrow or regret. The apostle Paul’s call to “overcome evil with good” and thereby “heap burning coals on an enemy’s head” is a call to shame evil people into repentance. It is a peaceful plan to subvert cultural evils.” - http://www.reenactingtheway.com/blog/turning-the-other-cheek-jesus-peaceful-plan-to-challenge-injustice

[12]Adam Clarke’s language

[13]Ellicott’s Commentary For English Readers

[14]I got these particular quotes from Adam Clarke

[15]Habakkuk 2:4

[16]“Habakkuk states the cause, Paul the effect: He who is not right in his own soul, does not stand right with God; God has no pleasure in him.” – biblehub commentaries

[17]“Faith is always a gift from God, and never something that can be produced by people… [it is ]for the believer "God's divine persuasion" – and therefore distinct from human belief (confidence)... The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer so they can know what He prefers, i.e. the persuasion of His will (1 John 5:4).” – biblehub.com