What is the “Blasphemy Against the Spirit”?

crossing-crossroad-businessman-fashion-medium copyA friend recently asked a question about the “blasphemy against the Spirit” in the comments section of the “Key to Hebrews 6:4-6” post. I am posting my response here for those who may be interested. A lot of people wonder about this issue, and there are many misconceptions about it, so I hope this will clear at least some of the fog.

The Unpardonable Sin in the New Testament

The idea of an “unpardonable sin” can be traced to at least three passages in the New Testament. The first is found in the gospels and appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The full text in Matthew (12:22-36) reads as follows:

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The second passage is in 1 John 5:16:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

The third passage is in Hebrews 6:4-6:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 

I dealt with the third passage here, and so I will omit it from this post.

A Work of the Spirit

Firstly, we need to notice that the Matthew 12 passage presents the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a way that is different to anything found in the first twelve chapters. Here we read Jesus’ words: “…I drive out demons by the Spirit of God…”

Secondly, we need to notice that a quote from the prophet Isaiah precedes the passage. It starts with the words: “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah” (v17). The quote is from Isaiah 42:1-4 and paves the way for the reference to the work of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Note that the passage in Isaiah points to several things that the Lord Jesus would do in his earthly ministry, but only to one thing that God the Father would do: “I will put my Spirit upon him.” It is God’s Spirit “upon” Jesus that would empower him to proclaim justice without having to quarrel, cry aloud or let his voice be heard in the streets. It is God’s Spirit who would enable Jesus to minister without breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smouldering wick, and to bring justice to victory and enable the Gentiles to hope in his name.

Why does Matthew quote the Isaiah passage? In verse 16 we read that Jesus had been healing people, and that he “ordered them not to make him known”. Matthew tells us that herein is a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Naturally, for the whole point of the prophecy was to reveal that the active agent throughout Jesus’ ministry would be the Spirit of God and not the forceful efforts of a human being or a mere  audible testimony. That is how he would “proclaim justice” without needing to quarrel or cry, or even having people “hear his voice in the streets”. And so his order to the people not to make him known is a fulfilment of the prophecy.

A remarkable parallel of the principle embodies in Isaiah’s quote is found in Zachariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

The “Anointed One” and the Kingdom

This brings us to the statement in verse 28: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” According to the Old Testament prophets, the coming of the kingdom and the appearance of the Lord’s “anointed one” were one and the same thing. According to the New Testament, the “anointing” is the Holy Spirit who comes upon a person or dwells in a person. And so Jesus is saying that the manifestation of the “anointing” is a sign that the kingdom is at hand.

It is also for this reason that Jesus’ famous reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue, and his subsequent statement that “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, began with the words “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…” It is the Spirit-anointing that validates the ministry of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah.

Many people are in fact ignorant of the fact that the two most important words that we have in the Bible to refer to Jesus, namely “Messiah” and “Christ”, both mean exactly the same thing: The Anointed One. Messiah is a transliteration (a phonetic transcription of a word from one language into another with no regard for its actual meaning) from the Hebrew mashiach and Christ from the Greek khristós. The “Anointed One” was the future Jewish king from the Davidic line, anointed to usher in and rule in God’s kingdom.

More Than a Mere Exorcism

What we find in Matthew 12 is thus more than the testimony of a man, or a mere miraculous exorcism. We find a unique display of the Spirit’s power, with the express intention of revealing the appearance of the king and his kingdom, combined with the deposition of the “prince of this world”, the evil ruler who is identified as “the strong man”. We see here the dawn of the messianic age, the era of the Spirit’s power and conviction.

The fact that this was the intention behind the miracle can be inferred from the people’s response. They were “astonished” and asked” Could this be the son of David?” (verse 23). That was exactly the point. The “son of David” was the Messiah, the Christ, the one chosen and anointed as king of Israel, just like David was before him. Driving out demons “by the Spirit of God” was intended as a sign that the kingdom was upon the people, that the king of that kingdom was in the process of being revealed and that the messianic prophecies were being fulfilled.

This is exactly the effect that the miracle had on the people, except of course for those who refused to acknowledge and respond to the the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. They were not merely skeptical about a supposed miracle, but were in fact hardening themselves to a direct revelation from the Father, through the Spirit, that Jesus was Lord and Christ. 

The Spirit as God’s Agent of Conviction

To appreciate the above, we need to consider that the “anointing” was never intended to remain on Jesus alone, but to be distributed amongst his followers. Even though Jesus performed miracles in “the power of the Spirit”, this was intended as a mere introduction to something much greater, deeper and more lasting. God’s purpose was that all who would respond to the revelation of his Son, through the activity of his Spirit, would ultimately receive the fullness of the Spirit for themselves.

This “promise” is evident in Old Testament passages, such as Ezekiel 36:26-27:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 

It is also evident from many New Testament passages, such as the following ones in John’s gospel:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (14:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (16:13)

Years later, in his first epistle, John would look back on these promises and proclaim that they had been fulfilled:

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (2:27)

It is clear from these passages that the way in which God deals with and speaks to human beings in this present age is through his Spirit.  Note Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12)

It is for this reason that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” who “convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The End of Ignorance and the Era of Accountability

If God comes to us” through his Spirit” in this present age, then it follows clearly that the way in which to resist him is is to resist his Spirit. By resisting God’s Spirit we are, in fact, resisting the only available channel of legitimate divine communication with him, and thus all potential benefits proclaimed by and accessible through the Spirit.

Simply put, the sin against the Holy Spirit is unique because the ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique. It is a ministry of illumination, of enlightenment, and so it brings an accountability to humanity hitherto unknown to them.

Space does not permit an in depth discussion of God’s willingness to overlook human ignorance, but let us at least note that the Bible has much more to say about this than what people generally realise. The following verses provide a few examples:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief. (1 Timoth 1:13)

And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. (Matthew 11:21-22)

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. (John 15:22)

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

The receive the illumination of the Holy Spirit is to have the both the problem and excuse of ignorance removed. It is for this reason that Jesus calls the rejection of the Holy Spirit an act of blasphemy. It is a willing, knowing rejection of God. It is a sin in the light and against the light. As God’s “agent” convicting a person of sin and righteousness, the Holy Spirit is the channel through which a person is led to confession, repentance and forgiveness. To resist the Holy Spirit is to willingly and knowingly resist the offer of forgiveness, and so it is a sin which cannot be pardoned on the grounds of ignorance or unintentionality.

Speaking Against the Son of Man

Note that Jesus said “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”. Why? 

The answer is remarkably simple: There is nothing in Jesus himself that reveals him to be the Messiah, and so to merely reject the historical Christ, without any revelation as to who he is, is on the same par as rejecting any self proclaimed prophet. It is an act of ignorance, the reason being that the ONLY way in which people could recognise Jesus as the Christ was through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit sent from the Father.

This is clear from a number of passages in the New Testament, but one stands out. When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (See Matthew 16:13-16), their answer revealed that no one knew: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But then he asked Peter, who replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Note Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Also note that this “revelation” from the Father was not an arbitrary incident, but one that would serve as the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church. The way in which Peter “recognised” Jesus models the way in which every future believer would recognise him – through a personal revelation from God the Father, through his Spirit. Indeed, no one can come to the Son unless the Father “draws” him or her (John 6:44).

Similarly, John the Baptist stated that Jesus was in the world, but that the world did not recognise him (John 1:10). He then went on to say to the Pharisees “among you stands one you do not know” (John 1:26). Finally, he confessed: “I myself did not know him” (verses 31 and 33). So how did John then recognise Jesus? Note his reply in verses 33-34: “The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” Again, God the Father, through a work of his Spirit, revealed Jesus to be the Christ.

The same principle is evident from Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Herein is the key to the sin “against” the Spirit. According to Romans 10, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. A person can only make this confession of salvation through the Holy Spirit, Paul says, and so it follows naturally that salvation can only be rejected by resisting the Spirit.

No Forgiveness in this Age or the Age to Come

The final predicament that we face in this passage comes from the statement that anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either “in this age or in the age to come.” This has led many to believe that the sin against the Holy Spirit, once committed, becomes a permanent condition in the life of the one who has committed it. Yet this is not what the text says. It says that the penalty of the sin has eternal consequences, which is a wholly different thing. It never says that the sin itself cannot be repented from.

To understand this, imagine a doctor saying to a desperately ill patient that he has to take his tablets daily in order to get better, and then giving him a chilling warning: “If you do not take your tablets, you can never recover. Not now, not next week, not next month or next year, never ever…!” Does this mean that the curse becomes a permanent and unalterable reality if the person becomes agitated with the side effects of the tablets and throws them in the trash? Of course not. He merely needs to come to his senses, go back to the doctor for another prescription and start taking his tablets in order for their healing effects to start.

In the same way, the sin against the Holy Spirit has eternal consequences as long as it is being committed, but that does not mean that one cannot repent and yield to the Holy Spirit and find the forgiveness that has been so elusive during the time of rebellion.

Two Unpardonable Sins?

We have seen that there is only one unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. This oftentimes raises the question: What then about the “unsaved” – those who have never come to Christ. If they are never forgiven because of their lost state, does that mean that there are two unpardonable sins?

By now you should be able to answer this question for yourself: The sin of being and remaining “unsaved” when one is enlightened by the Holy Spirit is in fact the sin against the Holy Spirit. People who reject Christ do so by rejecting the convicting power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, not by rejecting some bearded Palestinian prophet from the first century who looks no different than thousands of male Middle-Easterners. And so Christ was really warning the Pharisees in Matthew 12 that they were alienating themselves from a salvation offered to them by resisting a display of the Spirit’s power. The era of the “Anointed One” had arrived, and, with that, the promised kingdom and deposition of Satan. This was the salvation that they had been awaiting, but now they were excluding themselves from it. During the times of “ignorance” they had the benefits of an Old Testament system of Law and sacrifice, but now they were expected to promote from the types and shadows to their realities.

A Final Word: The “Sin Unto Death”

This also answers our last question: What about 1 John 5:16’s “sin that leads to death” that is so severe that one should not even pray for those who committed it? Here it is again:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

With all of the above in mind, the question answers itself: The “sin unto death” is the unpardonable sin, the sin for which there is no advocacy or mediation. Unlike the sins committed by a “brother” that one can pray for, a prayer that God will answer by giving “life” to the brother, this sin is committed apart from Christ and the atonement. A mediatory prayer is entirely useless, for such a person is not a “brother” who qualifies for the intercessory work of the advocate.

This interpretation is clearly inferred from everything we have covered above, but one can actually find it in the immediate context of the passage. Note the words leading up to verse 16:

“And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth… If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Note that God’s testimony concerning his Son takes place through the “Spirit who testifies”, and that the one who responds in faith to this testimony receives the Son and “has life” whilst the one who rejects it “does not have life”.

This explains why we can pray for a “brother” who sins, and ask God to give him life, for he already has life and has qualified himself to be an ongoing recipient of life. Such a person’s sins are not unpardonable, for he has an advocate who speaks on his behalf. Here John echoes his earlier words “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

However, the sins of the one who does not have Christ and who does not have life (because he/she has rejected the testimony of the Spirit) are sins that lead to one place only: Death. An intercessory prayer for forgiveness is no use, for their is no advocate who speaks on his/her behalf. Such a person must first yield to the testimony of the Spirit and receive the life of the Son before we can pray for him/her as a brother or sister.

The Key to Hebrews 6:4-6

Falling25:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 5:12-6:6

I recently contributed to a discussion on verses 4 to 6 above, and thought it would be helpful to share some of my thoughts here for those who are interested.

As you may know, these verses have proven to be a major stumbling block for many believers. They seem to suggest that it is impossible to repent and come back to the Lord after having “fallen away”. This is an obvious problem for those who have “backslidden” at some or other stage of their Christian walk, and who are trying to come back to the Lord.

It is also, and especially, a problem for those who have come back to the Lord after a period of backsliding, and who are haunted by the possibility that the Lord has not accepted them back or fully forgiven them.

Theologians generally try and escape the severity of these verses by going one of two routes:
1. They argue that the term “fall away” implies a total apostasy and denial of the faith, and not just a falling into sin.
2. They argue that the people referred to by the author were not really saved to begin with, and that they rejected the fullness of the revelation or enlightenment intended to bring them to salvation. If you reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit at such a level, then there remains nothing else that will convince you, hence the “impossibility”.

A Third Approach

However, there is a third way to approach these verses, and that is to look at the “big picture” of Hebrews. When we interpret the passage against the backdrop of the entire letter, especially with due consideration to the immediate context of verses 4 to 6 (beginning in 5:12), we find a message that is immensely positive and encouraging, and actually means the exact opposite of the above interpretations.

Let me start by pointing out that the error of both interpretations is the failure to interpret verses 4 to 6 in the light of verse 1. Does it not strike us as odd that the re-repentance that is prohibited in verse 1 is suddenly portrayed as a desirable but unattainable ideal in verse 6? In verse 1 we are told that repentance should not be repeated. In verses 4 to 6 we are told that repentance cannot be repeated. The author seems to be telling his readers that they are trying to do something that cannot be done, and that it cannot be done because it should not be done. Herein is the solution to the dilemma, as we will see in a moment.

“Once” and “Again”

To understand this, we need to understand the way in which the author juxtaposes the words “once” and “again” throughout the letter (e.g. 9:25-10:14). “Again” signifies the imperfection of the Old Covenant sacrifice, and “once” the perfection of Christ’s.

Keep in mind that the recipients of this letter were Hebrews, i.e. Jewish Christians. Also keep in mind that the Jewish nation as a whole rejected Christ due to the fact that they could not make sense of Christ’s Messiahship against the backdrop of their own religious traditions. The very shadows and types of the Old Testament that were intended to prepare the way for the Messiah actually blinded them to the Messiah. Jewishness, if not correctly understood, can prove to be a handicap in one’s grasp of New Covenant truths. It would appear that this was the problem addressed in the letter to the Hebrews.

To view the cross through an Old Covenant “lens” is to underestimate the finality of it. It is to see it as a sacrifice that should ideally be repeated regularly, in line with all the other sacrifices of that dispensation. This view would, quite obviously, manifest as an understanding of repentance as an associated act that also needs to be repeated again and again (repentance being the subjective response to the objective act of sacrifice).

And so the Hebrew Christians were not advancing towards maturity as they were laying again and again a “foundation of repentance from dead works” (verse 1, boldfaced in the text), in line with their understanding of a sacrifice as something that needed to be repeated again and again. This manifested itself as a need to have the “basic principles” taught to them “again” (5:12) which is, according to the Hebrews author, tantamount to feeding on milk, i.e. the first step associated with growth.

The impossibility of “repenting again” (6:4-6) is stated to emphasise the doctrinal absurdity of the idea, as unthinkable and impractical as “crucifying once again the Son of God” (6:6; 9:25-26). It is NOT stated as something that needs to happen but is now prohibited by an angry God who has run out of grace. In the New Covenant the repentance of regeneration happens once, because it is not the effortful turning of a human being, but rather the “perfecting for all time those who are being sanctified” 10:14. (This type of foundational repentance should not be confused with daily and ongoing “repentance”, which is legitimate and necessary, and not referred to in these verses.)

This is confirmed by the words in verse 1 “let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works”. Thus the entire passage speaks against re-repentance, and identifies it as the cause of the Hebrews’ spiritual immaturity. The “impossibility” of verse 4 is intended to reinforce this truth, revealing that the New Covenant was never intended to provide an opportunity for re-repentance (Also see 10:26). In fact, this is not merely undesirable but impossible as we are no longer the ones overseeing the act of sacrifice. This Lamb was provided by God, and he only provided one.

The reason for a single sacrifice, resulting in a single repentance, is simple, and clearly stated in other passages in Hebrews:

Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (10:25-26)

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (9:12)

And the clincher:

Since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (10:1-4, 10)

Note that Christ came to not only forgive our sins, but to “put away sin”, to secure an “eternal redemption”, and to sanctify us “once for all”. Also note that the Old Covenant sacrifices could not provide any of this. If they did, two things would have happened:
1. They would have stopped being offered. In other words, the “repetitious” cycle would have ceased.
2. The worshipers would no longer have any “consciousness of sin”.

Clearly the Hebrews never understood this. The absence of both these elements in their (Old Covenantal) understanding of the cross manifested itself in a constant need to re-repent. Indeed, the need for repentance flows from a consciousness of sin. If the sin is not “put away”, the effects of the repentance would be short-lived.

The superiority of Christ’s sacrifice is thus best expressed in a new type of repentance that mirrors the completion and perfection of Christ’s sacrifice. The repentance on earth is what the sacrifice is in heaven. It reflects the perfection thereof, and thus it cannot be repeated.

The point is that these “problematic” verses of chapter 6 are intended to liberate, not condemn. They have nothing to do with the unpardonable sin, and everything with the glorious reality that to fall into sin is not to entirely undo the benefits of the cross, calling for a ritualistic repetition thereof. All that is needed is to get up and carry on, mindful of a secure salvation that has perfected us, even though we stumble and fall regularly.

In Conclusion

Much of my early Christian life was spent around believers who regularly ended up on the carpet between the front pew and the pulpit of the church, crying and begging for forgiveness. Sundays were mostly “repentance day”. We were evangelized. And then we were evangelized again, and again, and again. I think part of it had to do with the revival culture of the denomination, and the romance of tent evangelism, and the sovereignty of the altar call, and the centrality and supremacy of the sinner’s prayer, and so on.

As a kid I was given a little red Gideon’s New Testament containing a neat blue line on the back page where you were supposed to enter your “salvation date”. I changed that date so many times that I eventually lost track.

Strangely, in the midst of all the feverish activity there was a severe lack of spiritual maturity, both in my life and the lives of many others.

I could never understand this strange dichotomy, until I discovered the letter to the Hebrews. And then it became clear. We were like a man who got stuck in a revolving door. We were running, yes, but we were running in circles. We kept on repeating our entrance, and we never got anywhere. The very thing that was intended to make our spirituality “take off”, anchored it to the ground in a devastating way.

And oh boy, were we ever “conscious of sin”!

The letter to the Hebrews blew my mind. It provided a blue print for spiritual growth, and taught me that faith is to grasp the reality and finality of my own salvation. It showed me that humans once were the active agents in the ritual of sacrifice, but that God took over from us with one final, perfect sacrifice. We were now at rest, for God had finished his work. And it was so perfect that even the very thought of trying to repeat it bordered on blasphemy.

In fact, I began studying the book of Hebrews so much that I believe I have found a most likely candidate for authorship, but that is another story for another day…

(Please note that this short explanation merely scratches the surface and obviously does not deal with any of the questions that will/may arise from it. Yet it provides a basis from where one can do your own study. But feel free to ask questions. I’ll gladly respond.)