Living In Fear
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Hebrews 10:26-27
Thirty years ago, I attended a conservative Christian college where the students were required to attend a half-hour chapel, five days a week. The first question I asked when I got there was, How many times can I skip? I wanted to know exactly what I could get away with.
I had a similar attitude regarding my faith and drug addiction. I believed that God forgave me for my sins, yet I repeatedly engaged in self-destructive behavior. I would use drugs, feel bad, ask God’s forgiveness, and then use again. I began to worry that I wasn’t actually forgiven. I needed to know – How much could I get away with and still be saved from the consequences of my sin? I lived in constant fear, terrified of my approaching judgment. I was right to be afraid of my future. I was deliberately engaging in toxic behavior that I knew to be wrong. My self-destruction eventually caught up with me as my life collapsed under the weight of my addiction.
Today’s passage teaches this principle. If we come to know God yet we repeatedly and deliberately return to our sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. This is a terrifying passage, suggesting that anyone who struggles with recurrent sin may be living in peril.
We believe (rightly) that God forgives us no matter how many times we sin. Today’s passage seems to suggest though, that there may be some limit to his mercy. This is scary. We want answers. How much can we get away with and still be forgiven? We do need to know that there is always forgiveness in Christ, no matter how many times we fail, yet we also need to understand that this isn’t a license to live however we want. If our faith is real, it must have some impact on our behavior.
So, can I keep sinning and still be forgiven? Or should I live in fear if I’m living however I want? I’m afraid there’s no easy or comforting answer in this passage. If we’re asking, How much can I get away with? If we’re failing over and over with no real effort at change, then today’s passage teaches that we should live in fear of our future. We’d like for all scripture to be encouraging but if we’re living in continual failure, with no effort at transformation, then there’s no comfort here.