Can believers sin willfully and lose their salvation?

Whenever I preach on the total forgiveness of our sins and assurance of salvation, someone will say, But Pastor Prince, doesn’t the Bible say in Hebrews 10:26 that if we sin willfully, we can lose our salvation?

Many believers are taught that when they sin deliberately, they are committing what Hebrews 10:26 warns against, and that they can expect God’s “judgment, and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27). As a result, these believers become sin-conscious—always mindful and worried about their “willful sins,” and God’s judgment to come. When something bad does happen to them (they blow a tire on the road or contract a disease, for example), they immediately attribute it to God’s judgment of their mistakes. Having this fear and perpetual judgment-consciousness is not how God the Father wants us to live.

I submit to you that almost every sin we commit after being saved (the exceptions being sins we commit unconsciously) is committed willfully. So this can’t be what Hebrews 10:26 is talking about, or we should live each day expecting God’s judgment and fiery indignation! What does it mean, then, to “sin willfully”? Is it something that a believer can do? Well, let’s look at the context of Hebrews 10:26 to find out, and resolve this issue in our hearts once and for all:

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. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
—Hebrews 10:26–31

The first thing we need to understand is that the book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrews, or Jewish people (which included believers as well as nonbelievers). Hebrews 10:26, in particular, is addressing Jewish nonbelievers who had heard preaching on Jesus being their Messiah, but who were still going back to the temple to offer animal sacrifices. This was an insult to the Spirit of grace, because they were flatly rejecting the Lord Jesus, Who in His great grace had offered Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice for their sins at Calvary. In addressing these people, the apostle Paul (I believe that he is the writer of the book of Hebrews) compares the imperfect priesthood of the law and its repeated temple sacrifices with the perfect priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.

For example, in Hebrews 10:1, you find Paul talking about how the animal sacrifices that the Jews offered continually at the temple could not make them perfect. In contrast Jesus, “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14). Paul goes on to say that because their sins have been remitted through Christ’s one perfect sacrifice, “there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18).

In other words, Paul was telling these Jews that there was no use going back to the temple to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. He was telling them that the Lord Jesus had already become their final sacrifice, putting an end to all temple sacrifices. Can you see how the verses preceding Hebrews 10:26 contrast the imperfect efficacy of the blood of the yearly temple sacrifices to remove sins, and the Lord Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice for sins forever? Paul was showing the Jews what a perfect work our Lord Jesus had accomplished.

I find it astonishing that instead of rejoicing at these faith-assuring Scriptures in Hebrews 10, some believers choose to focus on verses 26 and 27, without understanding the context in which they were written. Clearly, in context, to “sin willfully” is to commit the specific sin of knowing that Jesus is the final sacrifice, and yet choosing not to accept His finished work and turning back to the temple sacrifices. It is not referring to the deliberate sins a believer commits after he or she is saved.

Paul was certainly not addressing genuine believers when he warned about sinning willfully in verse 26. When he writes, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” he is referring to his Jewish brethren who had received “the knowledge of the truth,” but never received this truth (the Lord Jesus and His finished work) into their hearts. They heard the truth about Jesus, but chose not to depend on His perfect offering for their salvation. There is a massive difference between the two.

So Paul was in essence telling these Jews, “When you know the truth and still turn your back on the final sacrifice of Jesus, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.” And in constantly rejecting in their hearts the final sacrifice of Jesus and returning to the offering of animal sacrifices in the temple, they “trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant . . . a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).

From the context of Hebrews 10:26, it is clear that this verse is not targeted at believers at all. Genuine believers in Christ cannot commit this sin, simply because they have already believed in Jesus’ sacrifice and put their trust in the Lord’s finished work, and they are certainly not going back to any temple to offer animal sacrifices. The verse does not refer to Christians who are “backsliding” or “going astray”; nor does it refer to Christians who sin in a moment of weakness or temptation. 

My friend, don’t let anyone preach this verse out of its context and rob you of your security in Christ today. Just look at how the chapter ends: “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). Paul states clearly that believers are not like those who have rejected the Lord Jesus to their own destruction, but are the ones who have believed and are saved. Read that verse again and truly know this in your heart: as believers, all of us have believed to the saving of our souls for all eternity. Hallelujah!

Excerpted from Grace Revolution, chapter 5, Begin Living with Confidence.