The Bible wasn’t given to us as a bunch of unconnected verses that all make perfect sense on their own. Sometimes, without the context, verses can sound like they mean the opposite of what the authors meant by what they wrote.
It’s a terrible thing, but many times people take advantage of this fact and use isolated verses in a way that hurts people and devastates their walk with Christ. (Sometimes it’s out of ignorance. Sometimes it’s malicious. It’s always tragic.) It’s especially common for people to cite Scripture out of context in order to cause believers to doubt Christ’s love for them or the security of their salvation. This article is about one verse that is often used this way. It’s Hebrews 10:26, which reads, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (NKJV, same throughout the article). Often, people throw this verse out there on social media like a grenade without understanding what it means and without any concern for how it might affect new and/or sensitive Christians. The Holy Spirit groans in me with concern for those who are hurt by the shrapnel.
Without context, it sounds like Hebrews 10:26 is saying that Christ’s sacrifice is insufficient to cover sinning willfully, and what it means to “sin willfully” is not defined, so any sensitive person will wonder if that includes his or her sin. One might think, “Well, I hate sin and want to obey the Lord, but it isn’t like my sin is an accident. What if the blood of Jesus can’t wash away my sin?” In this article, we will look at the context so that we can see that Christ’s sacrifice is more than sufficient for every kind of sin.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were under pressure to give up their confidence in Christ and return to living under the Mosaic Law. We know it was written to believers because the author calls them “holy brethren” and “partakers of the heavenly calling” (both in Heb 3:1), and he repeatedly calls them to hold fast to their faith, not to place faith in Christ for the first time. We know they were under pressure to return to the Law because the author warns against doing so many times and talks about the superiority of Christ related to the things of the Law. Christ is a better leader than Moses (Chaps 3-4), His priesthood is better than Levi’s (Chapter 7), His covenant is better than the Mosaic Covenant (Chap 8), and His sacrifice is better than animal sacrifices (Chaps 9-10). He also is better than the angels (Chaps 1-2), and His city (New Jerusalem) is better than the current Jerusalem (chaps 11-13), but those are not relative to the Mosaic law.
Hebrews was written with two major practical goals in mind. The first purpose for the book is to encourage the readers to “hold fast the confidence [that we have in Christ] and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Heb 3:6), and the second is to call the readers to encourage one another toward that end (3:13-14). So, when Hebrews 10:26 is used to discourage believers and undercut their confidence in Christ, it undercuts everything that Holy Spirit inspired the book to accomplish. Ironically, they are also committing the same kind of sin that the verse warns against.
The Author of Hebrews labors to communicate the sufficiency and once-for-all nature of Christ’s sacrifice in contrast to the insufficient, repeated sacrifices of animals. In the discussion on Christ’s better priesthood, the Author of Hebrews writes:
Also there were many priests [under the Mosaic Law], because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He [Jesus], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (Heb 7:23-28)
In this passage, we see that Christ is the Forever-Priest, and He doesn’t need to keep repeating His sacrifice, because it was once-for-all. This has been a theme since the very beginning of the book, since Christ “by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3). He is seated because His work is finished (John 19:30).
But the priests under the Law had to keep working because their work was never finished:
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Heb 10:1-4)
But Christ’s sacrifice does take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) once for all, and the Author of Hebrews makes this clear:
By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “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,” then He adds, “THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. (Heb 10:10-18)
The most important thing to note about the passage above is that when the author says, “there is no longer an offering for sin” he means that Christ doesn’t need to continually offer Himself for sin because He did it right the first time.
What Does Hebrews 10:26 Mean?
So, what can it mean when the same kind of language is used a few verses later (v 26) as a solemn warning? He meant it as an encouragement in v 18 and a warning in v 26. What’s the deal? The biggest key is understanding what sin he is warning against. The Author of Hebrews tells us in vv 28-29:
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?
And later in v 35: “Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.”
The sin in view is to say, “Christ’s sacrifice may not be enough, I need to add to it” by returning to animal sacrifices. This insults the spirit of Grace and calls Christ’s blood “common” or, it could be translated, “profane.”
Another key to understanding what is happening here is that the author alludes to Numbers 15, in which it says that there is no sacrifice under the Mosaic law for willful sin.
What the author is saying is that if these believers cast away their confidence in Christ by running to the Law, the Law they would seek for refuge actually condemns that action and offers no sacrifice for it. In other words, the Law they would seek for protection condemns them to death and worse if they seek it after knowing the truth about what Christ did for them.
Hebrews 10:26 doesn’t say Christ’s sacrifice isn’t sufficient for you (or anyone else). It says that animal sacrifices won’t help if believers count Christ’s blood as insufficient. We aren’t often tempted to sacrifice animals today, but we can still learn from and apply this verse in a secondary way by thanking God for Christ and resting knowing that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all of our sins. Let’s seek to live holy lives because the Lord who saved us is holy, not because we are afraid He isn’t enough. He is more than we could ever need.
 The phrase here “He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” is translated poorly [Greek talk coming. The TL;DR is that the “are being sanctified” should read “who were sanctified” and it looks at our initial salvation.]. The “are being sanctified” translates a present participle. In Greek, the time of participles is related to the main verb of the sentence, not to real time. For example, a present participle that relates to a future verb will occur in the future. This participle is concurrent with the aorist verb translated, “He has perfected,” which, you can tell in the English, occurred at a particular time in the past, namely, when Christ died. What that means is that the sanctifying happened at the same time as the once-for-all perfecting, and should be translated, “who have been sanctified.” So, when we believe in Christ, our being set apart (sanctification, as the Author of Hebrews refers to it), is actually already a done deal going back to Christ’s death on the cross.