True Repentance

What is true repentance that receives forgiveness from God? What is the judgment due to the willful sinner who knows God? The answers can be found in God's word.

Our selected passage will be from Hebrews 10:26-27, which reads: "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries." To understand these verses completely, we must identify the sacrifice for sins and clarify who is the willful sinner.

The Sacrifice for Sins
To identify the sacrifice for sins, we must understand the purpose of the sacrifices done by Israel under the Law. Under the original covenant, Israel would choose an animal (usually a yearling male of the herd or flock) that was superior and unblemished in every way. They would kill it and pour its blood on the altar, sprinkling some around the ark of the covenant of God. Inside the ark were the written laws and commandments of God. This system, given to Moses, granted them a way of atonement for sins committed against God's commandments. (For more study on the laws of the offerings see Leviticus chpts.1-7). In time, God replaced this system with a new one, complete with the only acceptable sacrifice. Searching God's word, we find that Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29). Also, He was without sin (He. 4:15), making Him unblemished before God. Further study reveals that His blood is the atonement for our sins (1 Jn. 2:2; Ro. 3:25). And, He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (He. 9:26). From these verses we can conclude that Jesus supplanted the former system. He became the final offering, the unblemished sacrifice. Under the new covenant, Jesus (the Son of God) is the sacrifice for sins.

The Willful Sinner
To clarify the willful sinner referred to in Hebrews 10:26, we must keep the verse in the context as it is written. After referring to verses 24-36, we will realize this passage is warning believers against turning away from the gospel of Christ and God's will. For instance, the people are told to stir up love and good works and to exhort one another (vs. 24, 25). Those warned of the judgment and the indignation of God are those who know the Son of God, have acknowledged the new covenant, and received the Holy Spirit (vs. 29). Looking further into the chapter, we see some have faced tribulations and reproaches from non-converted Jews (vs.32,33).They are encouraged to keep their faith, endure to the end, and do the will of God to receive the promise of eternal life (vs. 34-36). They are warned not to "draw back" from their faith and righteous living, for God has no pleasure in those who draw back (vs. 38). Drawing back will lead their soul to destruction (vs. 39). Indeed, these people have received the gospel and the Holy Spirit. Yet, they are being warned against turning away from the faith and the will of God. Evidently, there was a possibility of this or there would be no reason for the warning. In all probability, some were falling away. This describes the willful sinner, one who knows the will of God but sins anyway. "To him who knows to do good but does not do it, to him it is sin" (Ja. 4:17). Today, willful sinners are affectionately called "backslidden Christians." However, God's word uses more direct terminology. His word calls them a sinner whose soul is in danger! (Ja. 5:19, 20). Under this condition, they do not have a sacrifice for sins (vs. 26). Obviously, they cannot bring a sacrifice as before nor will Jesus return again to die for sins. And, what may be surprising to some, neither can they claim His blood to cover their sins. We know Jesus gave His life for forgiveness of sins, so why is the willful sinner "left out in the cold"? To understand why, we must understand the mind of the willful sinner.

Those who sin willfully know they are sinning and are out of God's will. In Hebrews 6:1-6, we see these people were enlightened in the word of God. After initially accepting the gospel, they were filled by the Spirit and obeyed God's commandments, but some fell away (vs. 8). They may have fallen due to their own failure to increase in knowledge of righteousness (5:12, 6:1). As the writer points out, they had become "dull of hearing" (He. 5:11). Failure to grow in knowledge results in blindness to the paths of God and complacency - diminishing one's fear of God. This, along with the pull of the world, temptations by the Devil, or just an iniquitous heart, have caused many to fall away from righteous living. Those who fall to willful sinning go back to their former way of sin and living for self. The life-changing sacrifice of Jesus is no longer a concern or a desire for them. Self-will is more desirable and takes priority over becoming a new creature in Christ. They eventually lose the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Some may even realize their fallen state but after a time they quit worrying about it, finding refuge among those like themselves. Sometimes they may feel sorry for what they do; however, this is usually worldly sorrow.

Worldly sorrow is sorrow before man. For instance, when someone is caught in sin or a bad deed the sorrow expressed is usually from embarrassment of the circumstances or fear of the consequences. Worldly sorrow has no sorrow toward God. It does not produce a spiritual change in a person's heart. Someone exhibiting worldly sorrow is likely to repeat the sin at another time. He may feel bad about his sin but will not feel convicted before God. Therefore, due to the callousness of the backslider's heart the blood of Jesus will not cover his continual sin or his worldly sorrow. Comparatively, one who seeks to walk in the light but happens to stumble will be covered by the blood of Christ (1 John1:6,7). They will feel conviction and will seek to overcome the sin while asking for forgiveness with Godly sorrow.

What judgment awaits the willful sinner? Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us renewing them to repentance is impossible. This is because they already know about faith toward God and repentance from dead works (6:1). They knowingly fell into sin, departing from God's will. It must be their own heart-moving choice to come back. According to Hebrews 10:27, they have become an adversary to God and face His fiery indignation. Verse 29 tells us they have made the death of Jesus into a meaningless event. Also, they insult the Spirit of grace by not heeding the prompting of His voice. Their end is "to be burned" (He. 6:8). In fact, worse punishment awaits those who fall away (He. 10:29). The book of Peter corroborates this too: "It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known and turn away" (2 Pe. 2:20-21). If they do not seek to recover and abide in God's grace they will face the destruction of their souls (He. 10:39).

How does the willful sinner recover God's grace? To receive God's forgiveness, his heart must be sincere. The condition for forgiveness is confession (1 Jn. 1:9) and Godly sorrow (2 Co. 7:10). Confession is admitting your sin to yourself and to God. You do not deny or justify your sin, or make it less serious than what it is. You try to understand the full implication of your sin to strengthen yourself spiritually. Confession must always be accompanied by Godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is grief of a sin because you know you were out of God's will, and you sinned against Him. With Godly sorrow you seek forgiveness from God with a truly repentant heart. Godly sorrow produces a real change in your life away from sin. When the willful sinner understands his fallen state, has Godly sorrow in his heart, and decides to turn back to God, he will be received. God will be with him and show him how his sin originated, how he fell into it, and how to resist it. Thereafter, he should be determined to resist sin, seeking to walk in the light. In John we also find that he who is born of God does not sin because God's seed is in him (1 John 3:9). This means he will strive against sin, for it will distress him to fall into it. This is the person whose heart is right before God. Rather than be out of God's will, he will consciously choose to turn away from sin. This type of true repentance and seeking to practice the truth will keep anyone in the grace of God.

Any sin is forgivable through Godly sorrow. However, we must overcome the sin. This is done through love and fear of God. Through love because God is our creator and He loves us. We should respect and honor Him, cherishing the life, love, and salvation He has offered us. Overcoming sin is our reasonable service ". . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Ro. 12:1). We resist sin through fear, because God sees our sin and is the judge of our soul. We must fear His judgment to come at the end of the age. God's word says to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; be diligent to make your call and election sure; pursue peace and holiness without which none will see the Lord; fear Him who is able to destroy both the body and the soul in Gehenna" (Php. 2:12; 2Pe. 1:10; He. 12:14; Mt. 10:28). Therefore, we must fear the consequences of not being in God's will; we must change our lives to ensure we will be taken with Jesus at the call of the Last Trumpet; we must live by the Spirit and pursue righteousness or we will not see the Lord; and we should fear Gehenna (The Lake of Fire), an actual place of pain and torment reserved for the lost. In short, we must fear God's judgment and diligently work at being in His will. This takes a mental and spiritual effort. Both are keys to steadfastness.

Keys to Steadfastness
The key foundation to ensure you abide in the will of God is to read God's word regularly in your life. You need a root existing from your heart, feeding on God's word - seeking to find "that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Ro. 12:2). Read to obtain knowledge and understanding and apply it to your life. The more you read and the deeper you look for truths, the more knowledge of God you find. You will learn His ways and know the paths to righteousness. You will understand God's judgments and fear His wrath to come. "When wisdom and knowledge are in your heart and soul, your discretion will preserve you, and your understanding will keep you from all the ways of evil" (Pr. 2:10-16).

Another key practice to establish in your life is prayer. Pray often, with prayers of praise and thanks to God and for His son, Jesus. Thank Him for all blessings in your life. Pray for your concerns and ask for guidance, strength, and understanding. If you are constantly talking with God, along with consistently reading His word, you will always have Him near your mind and heart. This will help you stay in His will. Do not let the pursuit of worldly things and the daily cares of life overcome quality time with God or daily thoughts of Him. Meditate on God, His will, and the holiness He demands. If you sin and are convicted in your heart, then with true sorrow toward God, ask Him for forgiveness. You will receive it. This is why Jesus gave His life for us. He is the sacrifice for sins.

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