Hebrews 12:17, “For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
In many places, the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament to warn us about remaining faithful. In chapters 3 and 4, we observed that our position is not unlike that of the first generation of Israel that was barred from the Promised Land due to its lack of faith. In chapter 11, we were exhorted to imitate the persevering faith of the old covenant saints so that we might inherit all of God’s blessings.
In today’s passage, we find the author using this technique once again. In verse 17, the warnings based on Esau’s lack of faith continue when we are warned that like Esau, we can be rejected by God and find no chance to repent.
At first glance, this is a difficult passage because it speaks of the rejection by God that some members of the church will experience. However, this passage is not teaching that those with true faith can lose their salvation. Rather, God only rejects those who profess faith without ever truly resting upon Christ alone f or their salvation.
In Hebrews 6:4–8, we observed that it is possible to be in the covenant community and receive many of God’s blessings without having true faith. This shows us that there is a distinction between the church visible, which contains both true and false believers, and the church invisible, which contains true believers only. Esau is an example of one who was a member of the church visible but not the church invisible. He was blessed to be a part of the covenant because he was a descendant of Abraham. But his covenant membership was no guarantee that he would find salvation. Esau’s sin in selling his birthright (Gen. 25:29–34) and his marriage into pagan peoples (36:2) evidenced an ungodly heart (Heb. 12:16) that in reality was far from God.
Though we know that those with true faith cannot lose their salvation (1 John 2:19), we must never think that we can ignore this warning given to the church visible. For we too are a part of the church visible, and we demonstrate that we are of the church invisible as well if we heed these warnings. There came a day when Esau found no chance to repent because he was sorry only for the consequences of sin and not for the sin itself (Heb. 12:17). We must take care that this never happens to us. We must ask the Lord to give us true sorrow for sin so that we can be sure of inheriting all His promises.
John Owen tells us that Esau is a clear example of the truth that “no one knows where deliberate sin may lead.” Unrepentant, deliberate sin should cause us to question whether we are saved at all. If you are engaging in such sin, repent today and trust Christ alone to save you. Then, find some fellow Christians to hold you accountable.