What is the difference between willful sin and the sin that Christians struggle with on a daily basis? Learn more in today’s Little Lesson!
Today’s question comes from one of our beloved viewers asking about the definition of willful sin, and you probably recognize that phrase, willful sin, as being straight out of the Bible, and it is. It’s from Hebrews 10:26. And so before I try to answer that question, what is the definition of willful sin, let’s read it from the Bible.
Okay, I think Paul wrote Hebrews, but nobody knows for sure, but it doesn’t make any difference. The Holy Spirit inspired whoever the author was and he wrote, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth.”
So there’s that phrase, “sinning willfully,” and “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
Of course, we know that Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins, but the author of Hebrews says, “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin.”
So whatever that means, you know, it’s clear that it generally means that Jesus’ sacrificial death doesn’t atone for your sins, that as you continue on willfully sinning. And this of course ought to raise some consideration and thought about a hyper-grace teaching that says that Jesus died for all of your sins, past, present, and future. Therefore, there’s no need to ever worry about sinning ever again, and there is no need to confess your sins when you do sin, even after you believed in Jesus because Jesus died for them all.
Well, hmmm, you know here, the author of Hebrews says there’s obviously a possibility for a certain category of people for whom there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, for those that continue sinning willfully. So there is no sacrifice, there’s no salvation, there’s no atonement for their sins.
But here’s the antithesis, here’s what they’re going to receive since there’s no sacrifice for sins. What is there that waits for them? But a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire. Well, that kind of sounds like hell, doesn’t it, which will consume the adversaries. All right, so you know, no doubt there’s good reason to be concerned about verses like these because you know, nobody wants to go to hell. And this indicates that a person for whom there was at one time a sacrifice for their sins, there no longer remained that sacrifice. But what awaits them is hell, and it applies to the person who sins willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.
All right, let’s talk about what it means to sin willfully. Well, notice it’s willful sin after receiving the knowledge, the truth. So there’s a greater degree of accountability and expectation at that point in time. Because prior to them receiving the knowledge of the truth, everyone is sinning willfully, right? I mean, their whole life is characterized by willful sin. And they might have some goodness. There might be some little spark of, you know, kindness or generosity in them, although even a lot of times that’s just selfish in unsaved people.
But there’s a line of demarcation after receiving then all of the truth. What does that mean? You know, it at least means they’ve heard the gospel, but I think it implies even more than that. I think it implies receiving the knowledge so they believe the gospel. But people will of course debate about that because those who believe that if you’re once saved, you’re always saved, and salvation is like a tattoo. Even if you regret it after you got it, you can’t ever get rid of it, you know?
Well, I think there’s a lot of Scriptures that would challenge that viewpoint. And I know all the Scriptures that the people who believe in once saved, always saved, lists all about the faithfulness of God and so on and so forth. And there’s no doubt that God’s faithful and no man is going to snatch you out of God’s hands. But that doesn’t mean you can’t walk away yourself. You can go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.
And that’s the whole theme of Hebrews actually. It’s written to Jewish believers undergoing great persecution, who are being tempted to revert back to Judaism, and the author is trying to get them to not do that, and here’s one of the examples. Don’t do that. Don’t go back to the way you were. And so that really helps us when we read this verse in the entire context of Hebrews, it’s not just a verse spoken in a vacuum, it is a verse spoken in a book and a book that’s in the Bible, right? So we’ve got a whole lot more information to use in order to understand this because we all still sin as Christians, right? And in a sense, every sin is willful. You can’t sin without deciding to do it.
And I think the Scripture makes it very clear that Christians are still apt to stumble. We all stumble in many ways. The author of James wrote, “If anyone doesn’t stumble in what he says,” James said “He’s a perfect man,” but we’re all still stumbling.
Goodness, in the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Well, you know, that’s an every day prayer. Lord, give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive those, the debts of others. So every day there’s that possibility of sinning, and on some level, Christians are still falling into sin, at times yielding and giving in. And it’s in a sense, willful, because how can sin not be willful?
So that’s not what this is talking about. When we read it in the context of the entire New Testament and in the context of Hebrews, it becomes very clear that what the writer is talking about is a person who after receiving the knowledge of the truth then reverts back to just the same kind of attitude and lifestyle that he or she had prior to salvation. After you get saved, your motivation is to please God and to do His will. And you’re concerned about that. You’re very concerned about that, you know? Your passion in life becomes to please God.
But if you return to your former lifestyle, well, you didn’t care what God. God was not a part of your life, and so you just dive headlong into willful sinning, lifestyle, practice, no resistance, just yielding. You see, that’s what he’s talking about. And that person is in deep trouble as the author of Hebrews makes so plain, okay?
So the willful sin that the author of Hebrews is talking about is not what we’re all familiar with, where the spirit wars against the flesh, and sometimes the flesh wins, but the spirit resisted the whole time. It’s saying, “No, no, no, no, no. Run, run, run, run, run.” And the flesh is saying, “Please, let’s go ahead and dive in to this.” And maybe we yield to the flash, or yield to the devil, or yield to the temptation of the world, but as soon as we’ve done it, we have regret. We’re asking God to forgive us and so forth.
You see, that’s totally different than the person who’s sitting willfully as a lifestyle practice turning his back on Jesus. For that person, there is no sacrifice for sins. There’s no guarantee of salvation for that person. And we hear it argued “well, we’re sure that these people were saved at one time. Now it looks like they have no fruit in their lives. They say they’re not Christians, but we know they’re going to Heaven.” Well, not according to what we just read here in Hebrews 10:26, okay?
All right, so that’s the best I can do in eight minutes. Thank you so much for joining me. Hope to see you next time. God bless.