Willfully vs Knowledgeably: a biblical distinction

MP900390424You knew what you were doing.

Is that being willful or knowledgeable? There is a difference, at least as far as how Scripture deals with human free will.

As my family discovered as we read through another section of Claiming Christ, this becomes a very important consideration when we are confronted with strong ultimatums from the word of God, such as:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26)

The KJV translates it as “if you sin willfully”. But who among us sins without having some idea that what we are doing may not be right? If we know what we are doing and we willingly follow through with it, is that the same thing as being willful?

Both are still a function of our free will, but the Bible appears to make a distinction in this matter. And it is not the same distinction that significant portions of the post-apostolic church eventually made.

This verse, and others like it, draw an uncompromising line in the application of Jesus’ sacrifice in covering the sins of a repentant person. In short, it says that the cross of Jesus will only be applied once. That disturbing truth has generated all sorts of doctrinal distortions to try and deal with the frightening reality of possibly losing hope in being forgiven by God. Consider the similar wording here:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened [true Christians]…if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace…in the end it will be burned.” (Heb 6:4-9)

For some who try to find a way around this, they profess that it just means that Jesus’ sacrifice only applies to past sins, but from then on, after a person is baptized, they must pay for their own sins. Several large denominations teach forms of this, but it is not a teaching from God.

For others, they dismiss the validity of the book of Hebrews as Scripture. I know of one theology professor at a Christian university who holds to this view. And he is not alone, even though that is a weak excuse.

And, for others, they simply ignore what it says, and choose to form other doctrines that don’t come from Scripture, like “once saved always saved”. That also violates Scripture.

Some look to the following verse in which the writer of Hebrews says but “we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation”, and suggest that the preceding verses of a limited application of the Cross was not about church members. But that hopeful desire of the author does not change the context of “those who have once been enlightened”.

What makes more sense is to take a closer look at what God is actually saying, even if we don’t happen to like what we are hearing.

First of all, it needs to be put forth bluntly that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for forgiveness and salvation past, present and future. Forgiveness from God can only come through the blood of Jesus. Humans can never, never pay for their own sins. There is a great deal of supporting evidence for this in the Bible, but proof of that is not the point of this post.

Simply, if you wish to be forgiven, look to the Cross, repent and ask God. But don’t dishonor the unique sacrifice of Jesus by even hinting that you can do anything to remove your own sins.

Next, it is worth considering what is being stated in the above verses. Whenever a person comes to faith in Jesus, our Lord is exposed once again to the shame and pain of what he did for that person some 2000 years ago. And he is very willing to allow what he has done to surface again for that new believer. From that point on, the believer remains under the covering blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. As they strive to obey him, they will occasionally slip up and sin, but as long as they humble themselves and repent before God, then the continuing grace of forgiveness cleans them of any stain in the presence of God.

As far as knowledge of sin, this is how the Bible links them: “He who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins.” Sin is connected to our knowledge of what is right and our intent to do otherwise. But it is not just the occurrence of sin, or our mindfulness of it, that is at issue here.

It is not the incidental sin that destroys a believer. It only strains the relationship during the time it festers. But in the great mercy of our holy God, he always sends help; sometimes in the form of the prompts of the Holy Spirit, at other times in the bumbling advice of a real friend, or even through the blunt observations of a non-believer. The real issue is whether or not that person will respond with submission or with defiance.

That gets us closer to the biblical distinction between being willful in sin and being knowledgeable of sin.

As the Apostle John wrote, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 Jn 3:9; bold added).

It is the continuing in sin, the going on sinning, the persistence in rebellion, the excusing away of what we have done, the deliberately keeping on sinning that is the problem. That is being willful about our determination to do what we want. That is much more than just being knowledgeably aware of slipping into some sin; it is demonstrating a persistence to continue in it. That is the turning point.

That is the point at which Scripture teaches us that God will refuse to allow the sacrifice of his Son to be re-applied to a person who has turned away. This is not about falling into sin, but falling away from God by our own insistence to live in our sin after having come to a real faith.

That is when only a fearful expectation of Hell remains. But we are confident of something much better in your case!

If this distinction still concerns you, my heart-felt recommendation is to prostrate yourself before a merciful God and repent. Our Father has a soft spot for those who are able and willing to repent.

About grahamAlive

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