Whenever I am asked to be a part of a pastoral Q&A with kids or youth, there is one question that is bound to be asked: “what is your favorite Bible verse(s)?” My usual response: “all of them.” 🙂
Seriously though, there is a set of verses that when I first read them as a teenager, they jumped out at me and I have clung to them ever since. Today I would like to offer some encouragement by pointing out a why these verses are so special to me in my spiritual walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
HOW TO RUN THE RACE WITH ENDURANCE
The key phrase in this paragraph is “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I am not an avid runner nor am I a regular runner, but I have been a runner in the past and have played sports throughout the early part of my life, so I understand the concept of endurance. But how? How are we to run the race which God has given Christians and how are we to do it with endurance? I’ll give you five points to hang your thoughts on – one’s that I have hung mine on.
FOLLOW THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES
God has graciously given us men and women who have done this race before us. They have not been perfect, nor at every point faithful, but God sustained them and they give me great hope that God will do the same. These men and women who are the heroes of faith are in Hebrews 11. Men and women who had “assurance of things hoped for, [and] the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). They pleased God by their faith in seeking after God and His reward (Heb 11:6). These are Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rehab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. All ran their race with endurance and by their example I find encouragement to continue to run my race.
And not only encouragement, but I also have an obligation because of their testimonies of faith. Note carefully Hebrews 11:39-40, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
Did you see it? They walked by faith, but “did not receive what was promised.” Who did? “God had provided something better for us.” For US! For ME! These men and women strove hard in their faith without obtaining the promise that I have obtained in Jesus Christ.
In other words, they pasted on a legacy of faith I must follow because I have the promise they didn’t have. I am now under obligation to maintain the race with endurance because of their striving to bring the promise of salvation to me (1 Peter 1:10-11). May I be faithful.
THROW OFF ANY WEIGHT
The second answer to how to run the race with endurance is by throwing off weight. Weight is a huge problem for any person who wants to go faster. Too much body weight and too many clothes make running harder than it needs to be. In other words, a runner wants to be as naked as he can be when competing. The spiritual life is the same. I need to throw off that which hinders my endurance in this race.
Now, extra pounds or heavier clothes are no necessarily bad. Often times, that which weights me down is morally neutral. These things are usually preferences or hobbies or entertainment. Yet, too often than not, these things weight me down, they divert my attention, or sap my energy for the things of God which I am to run after. Again, they are not evil or bad in and of themselves, but they keep me from running well or faster.
In the context, it is possible that the writer of Hebrews has the Old Covenant regulations in mind (cf. Gal 2:20-21). The Old Covenant has been done away with due to the New Covenant under Jesus Christ (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:23–25; Eph 2:15). Therefore, these early Christian Jews were to lay aside the heavy weights of the old and run freely in the Christian race set before them.
The third way I am to run with endurance is to throw off my sin. Sin is obviously a hindrance because when I sin I behave like my old, self-focused self. But I have been made alive together with Christ. Therefore, I need to throw off sin through confession (1 John 1:9) and active avoidance (Eph 4:22-24).
Now I used to think this passage meant sin generally (and that may be so), but as I learned Greek I found out that there is an article before sin (“the”). In other words, the writer of Hebrews is quite possibly pointing to one particular sin that hinders my race. What sin it is? Well, I have heard may people say that we all have one besetting sin that haunts us and we will continue to have to put it off for the rest of our lives. I guess that is possible. However, in the context of Hebrews, I think it is best to see this one particular sin as the sin of unbelief. The reason for this is because (1) unbelief is a universal sin that all Christians struggle with, and (2) because of Hebrews 11, the chapter of the heroes of faith. Faith is belief. The lack of faith is unbelief. When we depend upon God and His promises, we run in belief, faith. When we stop trusting God and His promises, we trip and fall in unbelief. I think of the hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Therefore, I need to lay aside my sinful bent towards unbelief, because it “so easily entangles,” which means I am either not running or stumbling throughout the race. This is not how the race is to be won. I must RUN, not limp and crawl.
FOCUS ON JESUS (v. 2)
In any sport, it is extremely important not to look down but to look for the finish. God has graciously given me the finish Man; Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. Jesus became flesh, walked a perfect life of faith in obedience to God and now sits at the finish line awaiting my arrival. He wrote the book on faith and He ran the race. This makes Him the ultimate witness.
Just like in any sport, it would be ridiculous not to look to the best person in that sport to learn from, grow from, and aspire to be like. Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame,” was the best in my race and I am to keep focused on His cross work and current work. And how did He do it? With joy! Yes, that is right: JOY! Meaning I must run this race set before me with joy also.
What does this joy look like? You could look at the pain of childbirth that is also filled with joy, but I find it best to continue to focus on Jesus. I turn to John Piper to help me:
“I think that when Jesus rose from his final prayer in Gethsemane with the resolve to die, there flowed through his soul a glorious sense of triumph over the night’s temptation. Did He not say, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work?’ Jesus cherished the Father’s will like we cherish food. To finish His Father’s work was what He fed upon; to abandon it would be to choose starvation. I think there was joy in Gethsemane as Jesus was led away – not fun…not laughter – in fact not anything that this world can offer. But there was a feeling deep in His heart that He was pleasing His father and that outweighed all the pain. This profound love and affection was the joy that enabled Jesus to do for us what He did.” (Desiring God, 135).
As I run the Christian race set before me, I can run with the joyful expectation that I will receive a reward like Jesus did, only my reward will be the crown of righteousness (1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 4:8) bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
FAITHFULLY CARRY ON IN THE CONTEST
A final motivation to run with endurance is found in v. 3, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Running is wearisome and I want to stop or go back because this race seems so long (Jas 4:14). But I cannot because the faithful witnesses and THE faithful Witness gives me strength and hope. I can endure because they endured. I can throw of hindrances and sin because they did. I can focus on Christ because they did. I must carry on. I must die to self and “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).