By: Scott Armstrong
Bible Reading: Hebrews 10:14 NIV
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
The authorship of the letter to the Hebrews is unknown and often disputed. Some scholars believe it was written by Paul, and others by Apollos, Barnabas, Priscilla, or someone else. Whatever the case, the letter is a masterful treatise on both salvation and sanctification. It was written to Jews who knew of the sacrificial system practiced for centuries. And now Jesus had become THE sacrifice for our sin once and for all. In fact, chapter 10 specifically is full of that phrase (“once for all”) as well as others like “for all time” and “forever” which show that Jesus’ death on the cross was a history-splitting event. Something definitive has taken place there and has eternal ramifications for humanity and, in fact, all of creation!
Every Day versus Once for All
Imagine yourself as a Jew in Old Testament times. Although you attempted to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you fell short often. And every time you did, you went to the priest and offered sacrifices. This was a regular, constant, unchanging reality.
Hebrews 10:11 gives us a good grasp of this never-ending – and ultimately ineffective – cycle (emphasis mine): “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” We almost palpably feel the weight of this reality on the author and readers. Would there ever be an escape? Good news: in the life and death of Jesus, there was! “But when this priest had offered for all timeone sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:12, 14; emphasis mine). Can you feel the burden lift as the language shifts? In Jesus, our high priest, again and again becomes once for all! Time after time becomes forever and for all time!
Instant and Process
If the writer of Hebrews is correct, then the cross did not merely save us and give us eternal life. What happened at Cavalry two millennia ago also packs the power to deal with the sin problem in our lives. In other words, we are equipped to live holy lives because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we trust in him for our salvation and sanctification, we don’t just invite him into our lives. We are included in him and sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)! His sacrifice produces holiness in us!
As long as I can remember there has been a debate about when holiness takes place. Some evangelists and theologians emphasize the need to “lay it all on the altar” and be filled with the Holy Spirit in a moment. Others bristle against that perspective and teach that we grow gradually more like Christ as we follow him and love him more and more.
Our key verse tells us we do not have to choose one and reject the other. Both are essential. Is sanctification an instant? Yes. “By one sacrifice he has made us perfect forever.” Our task is to accept that once-and-for-all gift and allow his sanctifying work to be definitive in our lives. That can happen now! Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to make you holy today!
However, sanctification is also a process. Christ has already done the work in “those who are being made holy.” It’s an ongoing journey. Being filled with the Holy Spirit does not mean there will not be more fillings awaiting us in the future. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) is a metaphor of unambiguous obedience that takes place in a no-going-back moment: a sacrifice does not get up from the altar. And yet, we die daily, as Paul says (1 Cor. 15:31). Every day is another chance to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Holiness is both instant and process. Have you made the once-for-all decision to give him everything? If not, seek his sanctifying power today! His sacrifice is effective to deal with sin and make you holy now!
If you have made that decision years ago, could it be that you have stagnated in your walk or that your love is growing cold? There is still room for more pilgrims on this sanctification journey. I invite you to newly belong to “those who are being made holy.”