For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27 NRSV)
I was reading recently about this text and learned that this word translated adversaries occurs only two times in the New Testament. This really got my attention and I began to research more into this, especially given the other verse where this word is used.
And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14 NRSV)
What is starting to emerge in comparing these two verses is that the hostility, as some versions render it, is not because of anything in God's heart but rather is coming from the side of the one termed enemy. From God's perspective, all those who are viewed as enemies of God are so, not because He views them as such but because they perceive Him that way in their own hearts.
What shows up in this verse from Colossians is that God is in the business of forgiving and loving, not keeping in place any obstacles that might be viewed as creating resistance. Jesus nailed to the cross the very idea that God is holding our sins against us, taking offense at us. The problem with our relationship to God is not that He is threatening to punish us for violating His demands but that we are so afraid of Him and/or angry at Him that it is impossible for us to come close into His presence without suffering extreme anxiety and fear.
God is never in the business of holding onto offenses. This is one of the most effective lies of the enemy of our souls. God has always viewed us as forgiven as far as His heart is concerned. The problem has always been that we resist believing this truth and continue to think that He is angry with us, waiting to punish those who don't come into line with His rules. Yet offenses are sin according to the Bible and God does not sin. The forgiveness that needs to take place is the cleansing from our perceptions and feelings of all the guilt, shame, lies and perceptions that God is against us. This is the forgiveness that is needed, not any change in the heart of God.
After looking up the Greek word from which this word adversaries was translated, I decided to go back to the passage in Isaiah from which this verse is quoting and see what the Hebrew word might reveal. Not only did the definition for the original word shed more light on this but the whole chapter in which it is found brought out some great insights.
Though the wicked is shown favor, He does not learn righteousness; He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, And does not perceive the majesty of the LORD. O LORD, Your hand is lifted up yet they do not see it. They see Your zeal for the people and are put to shame; Indeed, fire will devour Your enemies. (Isaiah 26:10-11 NAS95)
(I have actually just wrote several pages and did a lot of research on this but lost it all when my computer crashed the program before I saved any of it. In trying to reconstruct what I had collected and written it is now coming out quite different than the first time around. However, there are several vital points that I do not want to miss that really warmed my own heart and enlightened me. I just need to be careful to save the file more often this time around.)
Over recent years I have been learning startling truth about things like God's wrath, eternal fire and how final events in the judgment will actually transpire that vindicates that God is pure agape love and not what His enemies and too many of His professed friends have made Him out to be. As I landed in this chapter in Isaiah I was amazed to discover just how clear these things can be seen in this chapter. Certainly some of it is obscured by translators with their own strong biases weaving into the text dark views of God, but it doesn't take too much research in checking out a few key words in the original and comparing various translations to see the pattern of truth more clearly in this chapter.
What really caught my attention was the verse just before the one quoted in Hebrews. It shows the real reason why the wicked are lost and what really goes on in the day of judgment and revelation.
Evil people will not learn to do good, even if you show them only kindness. They will still do wrong, even if they live in a good world. They never see the LORD'S greatness. (Isaiah 26:10 ERV)
Let grace be shown to the wicked, Yet he will not learn righteousness; In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, And will not behold the majesty of the LORD. (Isaiah 26:10 NKJV)
Even if you are kind to the evil-doer, he will not go after righteousness; even in the land of the upright he will still go on in his wrongdoing, and will not see the glory of the Lord. (Isaiah 26:10 BBE)
O lord , your arm is high, but they did not know; but in knowing they shall be ashamed; zeal shall take hold of an uninstructed people; and now fire shall devour the adversaries. (Isaiah 26:11 ABP+)
Another verse that is strikingly parallel to this passage is found in the New Testament.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIV)
In a time when religious people seem hell-bent on scaring people into heaven, I am greatly concerned that the real truth about God's kindness being the only thing that can lead to real repentance is so ignored. We have been so deceived by a counterfeit Christianity dependent on the methods and ideas of the great deceiver to promote religion that we have missed the glory of the character of God. God is love – agape love which means that He does not rely on force, coercion, threats or violence to achieve His desires. We have been deceived into thinking that love is not enough to compel the lost to turn to God and so we have introduced elements of the enemy's devising to assist in our attempts to help God save souls into His kingdom. But all we accomplish in doing this is to distort the true character of God in people's minds and lessen the appeal that can only be found in the truth about His ways of love.
Paul goes on to state rather clearly that the wrath that the lost will suffer will come from inside of them. This is wrath that we store up each time we resist believing in the God of kindness in preference for our own distorted ideas about what we think He should be like.
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (Romans 2:5 NAS95)
I have learned that it is the very resistance that we build up inside of our hearts each time we resist the truth about the kindness of God that becomes the very fuel for the torment that we will suffer if we are lost. Isaiah points out that those who are lost have come to the place where they cannot discern God's hand or His majesty so that even if they live in a perfect world surrounded by perfect, loving people they would go on rebelling because of their hardness of heart and blindness of spirit.
It is fear that hardens the heart, which is exactly why it is such a tragic mistake to employ fear to motivate others to embrace what we believe is God's truth.
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:17-18 NAS95)
If we want to avoid what the lost believe is punishment from God, we must come to believe the truth about the God who does not operate in that fashion. God is love and nothing else. As we embrace this truth that love will perfect us and it is the only thing that can give us the confidence we need to live safely in the presence of the intense glory of that love close to the throne of God.