Before we proceed with a discussion of “deliberate sins,” we think it would be worthwhile to define what is meant by that term. Webster’s Dictionary defines deliberate as “premeditated” and indicates that premeditated refers to something that is thought out or meditated beforehand. Thus, if a sin that is committed inadvertently or if it is committed spontaneously, it is not regarded as a deliberate sin. [However, it can be argued that many, if not most, spontaneous sins are committed with the perpetrator’s realization that what he (or she) is about to do is wrong, so there is some degree of premeditation in such instances.]
Now we will consider the implications for people who commit deliberate sins.
Lambert Dolphin, a physicist and theologian, in his article entitled “Deliberate Sin,” asserts in regard to deliberate sins,
God’s attitude towards “high-handed” or presumptuous sin is unchanged under the New Covenant as compared with the Old. Whatever deliberate sin really is, if it is truly persisted in, implies that such a sinner is lost and will be found in the end to have never been part of the believing camp after all.
One of the scriptures passages on which Dolphin relies heavily for his aforementioned belief is Hebrews 10:26-31, which states,
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.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
In our opinion, neither Dolphin nor any of the other sources that follow provide a convincing reason to believe that Hebrews 10:26-31 supports the belief that only people who are not Christians (in Dolphin’s words: “those who have never been part of the believing camp”) commit deliberate (or presumptuous) sins.
In regard to Hebrews 10:26-31, Ray C. Stedman, an evangelical Christian pastor and author, says,
The writer [of Hebrews] includes himself (“we”) as needing this warning also for it encompasses those who have received a full knowledge (epignosis) of the truth. It [Hebrews 10:26-31] is directed to those who deliberately keep on sinning after they fully understand the way of escape in Jesus. It adds seriousness to the exhortation of verse 25 not to abandon meeting together with other Christians (as the initial Greek gar, “for,” indicates). This recalls John’s warning in 1 John 2:19 concerning those who “went out from us.” “Their going,” he says, “showed that none of them belonged to us.” They had known the way of life, but had not chosen to avail themselves of it, and one early sign of heart apostasy is an unwillingness to continue association with true believers.
Although Stedman evidently thinks that 1 John 2:19 is relevant to a discussion of deliberate sins, we do not. Verse 18 indicates that verse 19 pertains to antichrists who have apostatized from Christianity. People who apostatize from Christianity abandon basic Christian beliefs, such as trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. In contrast, even Christians who continually commit deliberate sins have not necessarily abandoned their basic Christian beliefs.
With specific reference to Hebrews 10:26, Stedman says,
The NIV has properly translated the opening phrase of verse 26 as, if we deliberately keep on sinning. It is not a sin one can stumble into suddenly. It is not the normal falterings of a Christian still learning how to walk in the Spirit. It has been well termed “the leukemia of non-commitment.” It is choosing to live for self behind a Christian veneer and refusing to be delivered from sin’s reign by the past sacrifice and present high priestly ministry of Jesus. It is not continual sinning from ignorance as many church members manifest, but occurs after full enlightenment.
We agree with this assessment of Hebrews 10:26 by Stedman, and John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible also seems to agree. According to Gill,
For if we sin wilfully . . . Which is not to be understood of a single act of sin, but rather of a course of sinning; nor of sins of infirmity through temptation, or even of grosser acts of sin, but of voluntary ones; and not of all voluntary ones, or in which the will is engaged and concerned, but of such which are done on set purpose, resolutely and obstinately; and not of immoral practices, but of corrupt principles, and acting according to them; it intends a total apostasy from the truth, against light and evidence, joined with obstinacy.
Thus, Gill evidently takes the position that apostasy is not a result of engaging in deliberate immoral practices, but instead it is a result of continuously engaging in “corrupt principles.” In other words, Gill apparently believes that apostasy involves ongoing disregard for basic Christian beliefs, rather than committing ongoing deliberate sins.
We also agree with most of the following statements that Stedman makes about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. However, we disagree with his belief that a “genuine born-again Christian” will not commit blasphemy – a belief for which he provides no satisfactory basis – scriptural or otherwise. According to Stedman,
[B]lasphemy against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. The death which is mentioned in this passage in First John is thus taken to mean spiritual death. This is a description of what we generally call apostasy. An apostate is someone who has made a profession of faith in Christ but begins to drift away and ultimately comes to the place where he actually blasphemes the name of the Lord Jesus and the things of the Christian faith, denying them and turning his back upon them. Hebrews 6 and 10 and other passages make clear that such an apostate is in a terrible situation. He has committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the flagrant rejection of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ, and this is unpardonable.
But it is equally clear that this sin can never be committed by a genuine born-again Christian. It is only committed by those who have made a profession of faith but have never entered into new birth in Jesus Christ.
And, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states with reference to verse 26,
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth – If after we are converted and become true Christians we should apostatize, it would be impossible to be recovered again, for there would be no other sacrifice for sin; no way by which we could be saved.
Evidently, Barnes believes that sinning willfully implies apostasy. However, neither Barnes nor any of the other Bible commentaries that share a similar point of view provide what we would regard as an adequate explanation as to why they equate willful sin with apostasy.
One of the Bible commentaries that have a viewpoint that is similar to our own in regard to whether or not true Christians can commit deliberate sins is Adam Clarke Commentary, which declares,
A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless; no case is hopeless but that of the deliberate apostate, who rejects the whole Gospel system, after having been saved by grace, or convinced of the truth of the Gospel.
Also, in regard to whether or not it is possible for true Christians to commit deliberate sins, Dolphin cites Hebrews 6:1-8, but this scripture does not seem to address such sins. This scripture says,
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
The following comments by Dolphin express his belief that Hebrews 6:1-8 pertains to the presumptuous sins of only people who are not Christians:
I am part of the company of those Christians who hold to the view that the warning of Hebrews 10, quoted above, and the similar warning of Hebrews 6:1-8, are addressed to those professing believers in and around the church who are still in actuality outsiders to the faith and have not yet fully entered into the fellowship of the family of God by subjection of their hearts, lives and wills to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In this view, the true believer will correct his life after discovering the importance of being fruitful (Hebrews 6) as proof that salvation has in fact occurred, and the true believer will in fact repent and correct his life when he or she learns that sinful conduct carelessly indulged in has become presumptuous sin as far as God is concerned (Hebrews 10). My point of view lines up with those scholars who hold to the eternal security of the believer and to what is commonly called “the perseverance of the saints.” Those who really are born again, those in whom “Christ is fully formed” will make the right choices that lead to life, at those periodic great trials and crises of decision God brings into all our lives.
In assessing Dolphin’s viewpoint, it should be noted that Hebrews 6:1-8 refers to people who have been “enlightened, “tasted the heavenly gift [presumably, eternal salvation],” and “become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” These blessings certainly seem to be those experienced by true Christians, rather than by anyone else, including people who are learning about Christianity, but have not yet become Christians. However, it is possible that people who have been enlightened may include those who have learned what the Bible teaches about how to become a Christian. Nevertheless, it is extremely doubtful that people who never have trusted in Jesus Christ can taste (or enjoy) the benefits of having eternal salvation. Furthermore, there is no indication in the New Testament that anyone other than Christians can be a partaker (or share the benefits) of having the Holy Spirit.
Barnes discusses Hebrews 6:1-8 at great length, but we think his following comments capture the essence of his belief that it is uncertain if true Christians can apostatize, although these comments do not address whether or not true Christians can commit deliberate sins:
For it is impossible – It is needless to say that the passage . . . has given occasion to much controversy, and that the opinions of commentators and of the Christian world are yet greatly divided in regard to its meaning. On the one hand, it is held that the passage is not intended to describe those who are true Christians, but only those who have been awakened and enlightened, and who then fall back; and on the other it is maintained that it refers to those who are true Christians, and who then apostatize. . . . I shall endeavor, as well as I may be able, to state the true meaning of the passage by an examination of the words and phrases in detail, observing here, in general, that it seems to me that it refers to true Christians; that the object is to keep them from apostasy, and that it teaches that if they should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew them again or to save them.
In some cases, it may be difficult for a person to determine if he (or she) has committed deliberate sins. Dolphin, in his previously cited article, states,
All sin is sin by choice in one sense or another and God always makes it possible for us to not sin if we are willing to ask for his help and, if we will set out to undertake the hard work and self-discipline of resisting temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). Many of us struggle with “besetting sins,” habits, weaknesses and many among us suffer discouraging and disheartening defeats, year after year. . . .
Many Christians do come to fear that they have lost their salvation because of repeated failure in some area of their lives, others add self-punishment or penance to their lives hoping to cover the bases more effectively, and others are quite certain they are beyond hope having surely committed “deliberate and willful sins” for so long they may well have no hope for any change in this life. Yet even serious sins that don’t go away all at once are not necessarily sins actually in the category God calls presumptuous.
We agree with these additional statements by Dolphin. However, we disagree with him regarding the following statement that he makes in the same article: “[In contrast with sins resulting from negligence or ignorance] are sins committed with a ‘high hand’ (Numbers 15:30) for which there is no atonement by any means of sacrifice.” We do not think that Old Testament scriptures such as Numbers 15:30 are relevant to this discussion unless they are reiterated in some form in the New Testament, and we are not aware of any comparable statement to Numbers 15:30 in the New Testament. Furthermore, the only unpardonable sin (i.e., sin for which there is no atonement) cited in the New Testament is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is mentioned in Mathew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-30.
As for the following comments by Stedman, we disagree that there is no forgiveness for sins that continue to dominate the lives of people who profess to be – and actually are – Christians:
[D]espite the advantage of full enlightenment, if there is no change in behavior and sin continues to dominate the life of professed believers, [those who have supposedly been enlightened] will find no other hiding place from God’s wrath, for there is no other sacrifice than Christ’s which will avail for sin. Since by unchanged behavior such individuals give evidence that Christ’s sacrifice is rejected, the one way of escape is rejected also.
In this regard, note that 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This verse of scripture mentions no exceptions to God’s forgiveness of confessed sins, although blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is an exception, as previously-cited scriptures indicate.
Most of the Bible commentaries that we consulted do not make it clear if they believe that Hebrews 6:1-8 pertains to true Christians who have apostatized or to people who had been learning about Christianity, but never became true Christians before they apostatized. For example, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible states,
There are few verses which have caused more controversy. The question at issue is as to whether these verses necessarily refer to men who have been true Christians, who are then thought of as repudiating it all and being finally lost, or whether they can refer to outwardly professing Christians who gave all the appearance of being true Christians, and participated fully in God’s activity by His Spirit through the churches, but whose hearts were not truly won, and who were therefore never truly His.
Similarly, David Guzik’s Enduring Word Bible Commentary says in reference to Hebrews 6:1-8,
One of the most heated debates over any New Testament passage is focused on this text. The question is simple: Are these people with these impressive spiritual experiences in fact Christians? Are they God’s elect, chosen before the foundation of the world?
- Commentators divide on this issue, usually deciding the issue with great certainty but with no agreement.
- On the one side we see clearly that someone can have great spiritual experiences and still not be saved (Matthew 7:21-23). One can even do many religious things and still not be saved.
If Hebrews 10:26-31 or any other scripture indicates that Christians will not be forgiven by God for committing deliberate sins, does this mean that Christians can forfeit their eternal salvation by committing such sins? Our answer is: True Christians who do not apostatize cannot lose their eternal salvation for any sin other than blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is a sin that true Christians are highly unlikely to commit. [Note: Click on “Can Christians Forfeit Their Eternal Salvation?” for a discussion regarding apostasy.]
If Christians could lose their eternal salvation by committing an unspecified number of deliberate sins, then they would have no assurance that they have eternal salvation, because it is probable that even so-called “mature Christians” commit deliberate sins, at least sometimes. A lack of such assurance would be contrary to 1 John 5:13, which declares, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” [Note: To learn how to have assurance of eternal salvation, click on our article entitled “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
In addition, if it is necessary for Christians to avoid committing deliberate sins in order to keep from losing their eternal salvation, this would indicate that good works are necessary to remain saved, which would contradict Ephesians 2:8-9, which declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” [Note: For a discussion of the significance of good works, click on “Are Good Works Necessary for Eternal Salvation?”]
Furthermore, we believe that Christians can be forgiven for committing even deliberate sins, with the exception of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, provided that they confess those sins,. However, if true Christians who commit deliberate sins do not sincerely confess such sins to God, we think it is reasonable to assume that they will lose some of the rewards that they otherwise would receive in heaven and/or on the new Earth, where they will spend eternity. [To learn more about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, click on “What Is the Unpardonable Sin?”]