[quote="bransoncraig, post:1, topic:326235"]
I'm brand new here, so feel free to redirect me to a different forum if I've got the wrong one. Also feel free to point me to an earlier thread if this stuff has already been covered. (A cursory search on my part didn't turn up anything directly related.)
I've been reading Hebrews lately, and a couple of questions have come up. I chose Hebrews in the first place because it deals with the sin of apostasy--and apostasy has been a major temptation for me lately. I'm just not sure I believe this deposit of faith anymore.
Question 1: Heb. 10:26-7 says (in RSV-CE): "For if we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment..."
The Hebrews Author has been arguing that the sacrifice of Christ is final--in contrast to the ongoing animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The verse quoted above seems to imply that, because of this finality, a deliberate sin (a mortal sin, presumably) committed after baptism cannot be forgiven. I recall that, in the early church, people commonly waited to be baptized until almost the moment of death, for precisely this reason. (The Emperor Constantine is an example of such a deathbed baptism.)
But then the Hebrews Author would seem to be in contradiction with the Catholic teaching on the sacrament of penance. I must be making a mistake, right? Can we dismiss this concern by simply citing development of doctrine?
Question 2: The first part of Hebrews Ch. 8 deals with the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ over the Old Testament sacrifices. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for the second." (Heb. 8:7). Sacrifices under the old law didn't really have the power to take away sin, and so the priests kept offering them, day after day, for centuries. But the sacrifice of Christ is once-and-for-all, and therefore superior, according to the Hebrews Author.
My question is: If the sacrifice of Christ is really superior, shouldn't that be reflected in the daily lives of Christians? It seems to me like the ancient Israelites would continually fall into sin, and then seek forgiveness through ceremonies involving sacrifice. In much the same way, Catholics (like myself) continually fall into sin, and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of penance. Outwardly, at least, nothing much seems to have changed, at least with regard to the lived experience of sin. So how can the new covenant really be superior to the old one?
I'm sorry for the length. Any feedback would be much appreciated.
These are very good questions. It is good that you came to ask about your difficulties.
Regarding your first question, the classic interpretation of Hebrews 10:26-27 is that it is talking about those who persevere in apostasy until death. The Haydock Bible Commentary says this: "The apostle declares [that] there is no [remission] for the guilt of a person who perseveres and dies in apostacy." "[Apart from that,] apostacy, though enormous, like all other sins can be forgiven by true repentance." There are several lines of support to this interpretation. One is that if you continue the quote, he says that the flame of fire will "destroy the adversaries." If they had repented, they wouldn't be adversaries any longer. That indicates that they remained apostates until death, and those are the ones he says no longer have a sacrifice for their sins. The Church Fathers also understood the passage to be talking about permanent apostasy, and it is a frequent theme in the New Testament, which Jesus talks about when He discusses the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Regarding your second question, while it would make a great argument for Christianity if its adherents were always morally superior to non-Christians, the Apostles had no illusions that the grace of Christ takes away the weakness of human nature, and they make frequent mention of the fact that we all still sin and sin greatly. (That's why the duty of Penance is so prominent in early Christian literature, and has always been an element of the Sacrament of Confession.) What the Apostles taught was that the sacrifice of Christ gives us a framework within which to understand the weakness of our nature, and use it as a tool for acquiring merit before God. A classic theme of medieval theology is that without temptation, there could be no merit. The difference between Christianity and Judaism on this subject is NOT that Christians think temptation is an occasion for exercising virtue while Jews do not (on the contrary, Jews think that too), but the difference is that the sacrifice of Christ really takes away the guilt of our sins, which is something the sacrifice of animals cannot do. And that's what the author of Hebrews is talking about in chapter 8 when he quotes the prophesy of Jeremiah (verses 8-13): that God would institute a new covenant which is better than the Old Covenant, because it removes the old sacrifices and replaces them with the sacrifice of Christ, which is the only sacrifice that can truly take away sins. "And I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more." (Heb. 8:12) He wouldn't say that if he knew that Christians would no longer commit sin. But he says it because he knows that Christians have a better foundation for forgiveness.
Regarding the temptation to commit apostasy, I recommend a solid daily prayer life so that you can grow closer to God. Especially pray the Prayer of St. Michael, which is a beautiful and powerful prayer for deliverance from temptation. The truth is out there, Craig, and God wants to show it to you. It looks like you're trying to find it, so all you need is to draw closer to God, and He will draw closer to you.
Anyway I hope that helps. God bless!