According to prevailing evangelical teaching about grace, it should be difficult if not impossible to “insult the Spirit of grace.” We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Therefore as long as we truly believe, our sins are forgiven and we are saved. Our works, whether good or bad, have little or no part in salvation since eternal life is free and by grace. Therefore by definition it is difficult to “insult the Spirit of grace” and thus lose our inheritance from the Lord.
According to the epistle to the Hebrews, however, the picture of salvation as drawn above is not quite balanced. Hebrews contains a blend of both comforting assurances regarding what God has promised to us, and also contrasting warnings against failing to persevere and falling away by sinning. In Chapter 10, where we find the expression “insulting the Spirit of grace,” we see a cross section of this blend. Let’s take a look at some verses from this chapter.
Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. 15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Through his suffering, Jesus was made perfect as our High Priest. By his death on the cross he has perfected us forever. He has made a new and better covenant with us by which he has written his laws on our hearts and minds. Because of this we can boldly enter the Holy of Holies and draw near in full assurance of faith. “He who promised is faithful.” This is most comforting to believers.
But then the writer adds disturbing caveats in the verses which immediately follow.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
There appears here to be an element of suspense here with the approach of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. It is important to stir and exhort one another to love and good works as if, if we failed to do these things, there might be some doubt about what the Lord has promised us for that Day. In many churches today, the teaching instead focuses on how to maximize God’s various blessings for the believer in this life. But this is clearly not the primary focus of New Testament teaching. The writer of Hebrews continues with…
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 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? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again,“The LORD will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
If we as followers of Christ willfully sin, whether through loss of faith or the commission of sinful acts, we will have insulted the Spirit of grace. For such believers there will be a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation. To their regret they will understand what it means to fall into the hands of the living God. “The Lord will judge His people.”
32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
37 “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
The writer speaks of believers drawing back from the Lord because of sufferings due to persecution, of failing to endure to the end. Such conditions prevailed in the early days of the Church. But in the absence of such persecution, such as we see in western or in “Christian” countries today, it is still possible to fall away. In such countries the primary danger to believers is spiritual complacency due to the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the love of this world. Believers can and do fall away because of these temptations. If believers who fall away because of suffering and persecution face fiery judgment from the living God, how much more believers who fall away in “good times” through complacency and apostasy?
There are not a few church-going Christians who do not live holy lives and who fail to produce good works for the Lord. If they do not repent and turn away from their sins, there will no longer be a sacrifice for them.
Unfortunately, the Church has taught that “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” It takes a degree of exegetical gymnastics to come to such a conclusion from studying Scripture, especially Hebrews. Some teach that God loves us unconditionally and that we can do nothing to make Him love us more, or for that matter, make Him love us less. Not a few churches teach week after week that God wants to bless us on earth with success in every area of life and teach how we can achieve that success. But there is little equipping in the area which has to do with eternal life in the next age—producing good fruit in our personal lives as the outward evidence of our truly being saved and possessing eternal life.
A believer once wrote us for help. The believer claimed to have the Holy Spirit and spent hours each day studying Scripture, in prayer and in worship. But every week or so the believer would engage in sin over the internet. Revealingly, the believer wondered if the sinful thoughts and behaviour had been tolerated because there was little fear of the believer losing salvation. But verses from Hebrews 10 above warn us that believers can in fact find themselves facing certain expectation of judgment. The Lord might say to us, “I don’t know you or where you are from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”
Such is the fruit of current evangelical teaching on extreme grace leading to complacency in the Church.