Apostasy (2): What the Apostate Does
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Image: Judas Iscariot Turning Away from the Last Supper, stained glass relief from the Moulins Cathedral in France (c. end of the 15th century)
The following is Part Two in the Apostasy series. Read the last section, Part One, here.
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29)
WHAT THE APOSTATE DOES
In verse 26 we read, “If we sin willfully.” That is a general statement. In verse 29 the Holy Spirit describes the serious sins of the apostate. He does this to underline the guilt of the apostate, to warn the reader against the sin of apostasy, and to set forth the utter hopelessness of the apostate’s case.
We have in verse 29 proof that apostasy is no ordinary sin. It is not dishonesty; it is not theft; it is not adultery; and it is not murder. It is something much worse.
First, the apostate despises Jesus Christ. Notice how this sin is expressed in verse 29: “who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God.” The title “the Son of God” is used to emphasize the dignity and the honor of the one dishonored and despised. The apostate does not despise a mere man, Jesus of Nazareth. The apostate does not merely despise Jesus in his office—the prophet, priest, and king of God, namely, Christ. The apostate despises the Son of God. The Son of God is the second person of the Godhead, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Son of God dwells eternally in the bosom of the Father, adored by angels. The Son of God is almighty, perfectly wise, holy, and good. The apostate despises him.
The apostate treads the Son of God underfoot. To trample on something or someone is an expression of extreme contempt. You trample on something that you view to be worthless. Jesus says about salt that has lost its savor: “It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of men” (Matt. 5:13). The apostate says that about the Son of God: he not only says it, but he shows it by his actions toward the Son of God. The apostate refuses to worship the Son of God—he did for a time, or at least he appeared to, but now he repudiates that worship. The apostate denies that Jesus is the Son of God—he used to confess it, but now he repudiates his confession. The apostate returns to Judaism, where the divinity of Jesus is denied. The apostate returns to the false church, where the Son of God is confessed in some sense, but that confession is corrupted. The apostate returns to his life of worldly pleasure, where the name of the Son of God is a joke and a swear word. The apostate shocks us by his blasphemy. His sin is against the person of God’s Son.
Second, the apostate despises the work of Jesus Christ on the cross: “he hath counted the blood of the covenant… an unholy thing” (v. 29). The word “blood” is a reference to the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for the salvation of sinners. It is a reference to that violent, bloody, sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. It is a reference to the atonement by which Jesus made full satisfaction to God’s justice for sinners. There is nothing more precious than the blood of Jesus. Peter writes, “[Ye were redeemed] with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). John writes, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Paul writes, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).
The blood is “the blood of the covenant” (v. 29). The covenant is God’s relationship of friendship, communion, and fellowship with his people in Jesus Christ. The blood of the covenant was shed in order to establish friendship between God and his people. Christ removed the sin that separated us from God, the sin that made fellowship impossible. That blood “sanctifies” God’s people (v. 29): that blood sets us apart for God, consecrates us to God, separates us from the defilement of sin, and inwardly cleanses us. The fruit of the blood in our lives is that we walk in newness of life, in holiness, and in thankful obedience.
For a time the apostate claimed to belong to the “sanctified” people of God, the people sanctified by the blood of the covenant. That is why we read in verse 29 of “the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified.” Although the apostate was never personally sanctified, he identified for a time with the sanctified people of God. That sanctifying blood was preached to him; he may have received the sign and seal of that sanctifying blood in baptism; and he may have eaten the signs and seals of that sanctifying blood in the Lord’s Supper.
The apostate “counts the blood of the covenant… an unholy thing” (v. 29). An unholy thing is a profane, common, and ordinary thing. If a holy thing is set apart and consecrated to God, an unholy thing is the opposite. We read of unholy things where Peter is commanded to kill and eat unclean beasts: “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” God’s response to Peter is, “What God hath cleansed that call not thou common” (Acts 10:14-15). Peter calls pigs and Gentiles “common,” but he repents of that error. The apostate, who once called the blood of Christ “precious,” now calls it “unholy, common, or defiled.” We shudder to think of it! The apostate views the blood of Christ as no more efficacious to wash away sin than the blood of a pig. The apostate denies the atonement: he now says that when Jesus died on the cross, he did not make satisfaction for sin; he now says that when Jesus died on the cross, he died as a martyr, a revolutionary, a victim, or for some other reason; he denies the efficacy of the blood of Jesus to blot out sins. A Hebrew might return to the empty sacrifices of the temple, which can never take away sins. A Reformed Christian might return to the worthless Mass of Romanism, which is a denial of the one sacrifice of Jesus and an accursed idolatry. A Reformed Christian might simply return to the world and say, “I have no need of any sacrifice to cover my sins—there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no sin, and no salvation.”
Third, the apostate insults the Holy Spirit: “he hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (v. 29). The Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (v. 29). Grace is God’s favor, God’s disposition of goodwill toward his people. Because God’s grace is bestowed on sinners, it is always manifested to us as undeserved or unmerited favor. We do not deserve the grace of God. The Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace,” because he is the Spirit of Christ. As the Spirit of Christ the Spirit applies the benefits purchased by Jesus Christ on the cross: he works by his grace in the people of God, applying to their souls and consciousness the blessings of salvation. The Holy Spirit regenerates us, he calls us out of darkness into light, he works faith in us and he unites us to Jesus Christ, he justifies us by applying the truth of the forgiveness of sins and God’s righteousness to our souls, he sanctifies us, and he preserves us through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5). The Holy Spirit does these things among the people of God in the fellowship of the church by means of the preaching of the gospel.
The apostate insults the Spirit of grace. The verb “to do despite” is “to act outrageously toward someone” or “to treat in an arrogant or spiteful manner.” Jesus was insulted, as he predicted in Luke 18:32: “He shall be … mocked, and spitefully entreated.” Paul “had suffered before” and was “shamefully entreated” in Philippi, according to 1 Thessalonians 2:2. The apostate does that to the Holy Spirit.
There are certain sins against the Holy Spirit: Ananias and Sapphira tempted the Holy Spirit and lied to him in Acts 5:3, 9; the Jews resisted (or opposed) the Holy Spirit in Acts 7:51; the Ephesians are warned not to grieve the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4:30; and the Thessalonians are urged not to quench the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. Those sins against the Holy Spirit are serious: they involve despising the Word of God of which the Holy Spirit is the author; they involve walking in uncleanness and iniquity contrary to the Spirit of holiness. But the sin of the apostate is worse: “he hath done despite to the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).
The apostate is one who earlier confessed to be born again of the Spirit of grace. Now he repudiates the new birth as nonsense and fiction. To use the language of Hebrews 6 the apostate “tasted of the heavenly gift; he was a “partaker of the Holy Ghost;” he “tasted the good word of God;” and he “tasted of the powers of the world to come” (vv. 4-5). He came very close to true conversion, but now he repudiates, rejects, and despises the grace of the Holy Spirit. The apostate decries the Holy Spirit: I have no need of him, he says; or he rejects the truth concerning the Holy Spirit in favor of lies about the Holy Spirit, robbing the Holy Spirit of his glory in salvation, for example. He may even blaspheme the Holy Spirit, using invectives to curse the Holy Spirit. This is a person who heard week after week the same benediction as others: “Grace, mercy, and peace be granted unto you from God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Lord, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit” and “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” That Holy Spirit the apostate insults! That Holy Spirit the apostate rejects! The operation of that Holy Spirit the apostate repudiates! Words can scarcely express the horror!
Read the next section, Part Three, here.
Martyn McGeown is a pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He is also the editor of the RFPA blog and the author of multiple RFPA publications.