Hebrews 12:15-17 – No Place for Repentance

“See to it that no one come short of the grace of God . . . that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” – Hebrews 12:15-17


There is a warning here to every unsaved man and woman, because they may believe that they are in control of where and when they come to repentance. But man is not in control of his own repentance or the timing of his salvation. God is always in control of these things. Be warned, and come to faith now, rather than at some vague time in the future.

From my writing of October 25, 2015: “To satisfy his physical desires (lusts), Esau threw away all of his spiritual blessing. There is a very sober warning here, that there can come a time when God will no longer allow or accept your repentance. Be warned! You are not in control of your repentance. In His grace, the Lord gives the sinner a window of opportunity to repent, but the Lord can and does close that window (Hebrews 6:4-6) and when He does that, you are forever doomed and damned. Although you are not in hell yet, you will certainly arrive there soon, for you have too long despised the offering of salvation and your soul has been seared and your fate has been sealed. You may continue to harbor some illusion in your mind that you can and will one day come to faith, but it is only an illusion, because the Lord has rejected you and the Lord has decided your destiny. After being ignored and rejected for so long, the offer of the gospel has finally been withdrawn and the offer will not be extended again (Hebrews 6:6). Your soul has become deadened to the good news. Now when the gospel is preached you barely hear it and the preacher’s call for faith and repentance barely reaches your ears. Once the gospel message had meaning to you and you knew in your soul that you were a sinner before a holy God and were heading for hell and needed to be rescued, but now there is only dull indifference. You have hardened your heart (Exodus 6-10) one time too many and now the Lord has withdrawn His Spirit and has ceased striving with you (Psalm 103:9). You may call, but He will not answer. You may seek for Him, but you will not find Him. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Isaiah 55:5-6)


There is a freshness that comes from the initial hearing of the gospel that stirs the soul, when the message is blown into your heart with the power of the Holy Spirit and you become amazed by the truth of the gospel. You think to yourself, “God has sent His Son Jesus to fulfill the Law’s righteous demands and then to be crucified on a cross so that I can become a child of God and be forgiven of all my sins.” You are rightly amazed by these thoughts.

The power is there and the excitement is there and the Spirit is moving and you feel that the Father is drawing (John 6:44) and it is time to come to Christ. It is time now to surrender and to commit your way to the Lord (Psalm 37:5).

But there is still a mystery here, because the human must submit and the human must surrender. The gospel has come with power and the Spirit is moving, but the human heart must confess sin and must bow to Jesus Christ as Lord or the person will remain unchanged and unsaved and there is a real possibility that their heart will be forever hardened (Hebrews 6:4-6). [O Do not harden your heart! (Hebrews 3:7-4:11)]

The danger that the author of Hebrews has been warning against throughout this epistle is the danger of falling short of salvation, of believing that you are saved when, in fact, you are still among the lost. It must be held in mind that those who fall short of salvation are wholly damned. To think that you have salvation while not possessing it is the horror that the author of Hebrews is urging his readers to avoid. And to think that you can repent in your time and at your option is to risk doing what Esau did, which is to reach the place where you can no longer repent. Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1-2). Call upon the LORD while He is near (Isaiah 55:5-6).

And so I want to urge upon all my readers to give themselves fully and unreservedly to Jesus Christ now. Come all the way to salvation and have faith in the Lord Jesus. O do not come short of salvation!


In our modern theology, we have given great power to man the creature to determine when he decides to respond to God’s great offer of salvation (Hebrews 2:1), as if man was both immortal and sovereign. Thus we have made two mistakes about man: One is a mistake about the time available for repentance and the other is a mistake about his ability to repent. Oftentimes the preaching of the gospel has no sense of urgency because we have fallen prey to the absurd idea that there is plenty of time for a man or woman to come to faith. It is as if we don’t believe the news stories which constantly tell us of death and show us that life is brief and death can come suddenly and can come without warning and comes without regard to age. So instead of pleading with the sinner, we allow the man hurtling toward hell to continue to believe that he will live forever and that he has plenty of time to become a Christian. But what is the truth? The truth is that man is not immortal and that death will take him away and that he will then stand before the living God for judgment. This is the error about the time that man has available for repentance. (Luke 12:20; Matthew 24:38; Hebrews 9:27; 10:31; Romans 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10)

The other error is the implicit belief that man is in charge of his own repentance and that he has the freedom to put off his confession of his own sin and delay his submission to Christ until some future time of his own choosing. So much as a man badly in need of a haircut puts off an appointment with the barber, in the same way a man enjoying his sin puts off his repentance till some more convenient future date. “I can indulge in sin and enjoy my lusts and my disobedience as long as I want, and then when I choose I will accept this offer of salvation.” As a man takes a limousine to a restaurant and expects the driver to be waiting for him when he emerges from the restaurant, so the sinful man thinks that he can spend as much time as he wants indulging his flesh and then whenever he decides he will alert God to his need of repentance.

NOTE: It is futile for the creature to be outraged or surprised when the Lord withdraws His offer of salvation. The Lord is sovereign and does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3).

  • Saul lost his chance because he trifled with God and did not regard the LORD as holy and serious. He did not fear the LORD and so he lost his chance for salvation. (1 Sam. 15)
  • The philosophers in Athens were left without a witness when Paul left, and so they perished in their pride and unbelief.
  • The man building barns (Luke 12) received no second opportunity to come to faith.
  • At Kadesh Barnea the children of Israel were judged for their unbelief (Hebrews 3; Psalm 95). God gave them no second chance before He withdrew His offer of salvation.

There is a divine dynamic in salvation and in the offer of the gospel that creates a mystery. God can withdraw the offer of salvation such that there is no room for repentance. God can harden a heart (Matthew 12:43-45; Exodus 6-10). Man can lose interest, lose enthusiasm, and lose the ability to respond.

God’s workings are perfectly just and righteous, and in His sovereignty He can and does withhold and withdraw His grace. In so doing, He violates none of His holy characteristics or perfections (Romans 3:4; 9:9-21). The creature receives justice and not grace; judgment and not salvation.

Therefore it is an error to tell someone they can always repent and it is an error to allow them to think that God will wait for them to come to faith in their own time. God is sovereign over His gospel. If you hear the gospel once, you should bend the knee in that moment, for God may withdraw the offer after one hearing and may never give you another.

Each refusal to confess and repent and believe makes some future repentance more difficult and less likely. Each refusal hardens your heart a little more. Acts 24, 26: Felix, Festus and Agrippa all came to the edge of faith and then shrank back and fell short. Pilate refused. Judas had every opportunity to believe in Jesus, but he refused and thus perished.

And so now in this passage Esau serves as yet another warning for us, to remind us that God is sovereign in salvation and that He can decide at any time to withdraw His grace from the man or the woman who is outside of Christ and thus doom them forever to eternal judgment.

Are you now outside of Christ? Those outside include the pretenders as well as the reprobates. I urge you to seriously consider this question in light of the tragedy of Esau. Esau had all the advantages. First notice Esau’s family. He was the first-born son of the patriarch, Isaac. He was not only the first-born, but he was the favorite of the father. Isaac certainly wanted Esau to be the heir. Isaac wanted Esau to inherit the blessings. And so because he had all the advantages, Esau was careless and reckless, and he despised his birthright. He assumed that he was guaranteed the blessing and so he never sought the LORD. He assumed that being around those blessed by the LORD and being associated with those who knew Yahweh was enough. He assumed he could always turn to the LORD and receive the blessing until suddenly the blessing was gone forever. And so Esau serves as a warning for the pretender, the one who associates with the righteous, but never personally seeks to be reconciled with the LORD. When the pretender finally seeks repentance, he finds that the door is closed, and so he perishes with all the other pretenders.

But Esau also serves as a warning for the immoral and the godless, for the reprobate. Like many of the reprobate, Esau ignored holiness and indulged his sin until it was too late. Perhaps he thought he was in control of salvation and that he could decide when he wanted to repent and when he could abandon his sin, but he was wrong. When he decided to repent, he found that the LORD had already removed His hand and had withdrawn His grace. And so Esau perished with all the reprobate.

And so what have we learned in this study?

  • There are many who will come short of salvation because they choose to ignore the call to repentance when the opportunity is near and when the door is open. Instead of crying out to the LORD when He is near (Isaiah 55:5-6), they delay and they harden their hearts and they ignore the invitation to repent and believe.
  • Many will perish because they assumed that they were in charge of salvation. They thought that they were sovereign in salvation and they did not realize or acknowledge that the LORD is sovereign in salvation and that He can withdraw His offer of salvation at any time.

Esau serves as yet another example in this epistle of those who came short of the Lord’s salvation. The author of Hebrews urges his readers, as I now urge you my readers, to hear the Lord’s voice and fly to Him for salvation while it is offered, lest the door close and the offer be forever removed from you. Come to Christ now! Do not indulge your flesh as Esau did and give away eternity in heaven with the Lord for a mere temporal pleasure. Come to Christ while the Lord is near, and do not delay, thinking that you have more time and many more opportunities. Come to Christ now, for today is the day of salvation. Repent and believe – now.   SDG rmb 1/18/2016