Running the Race

We have viewed the lives and faith of many O.T. characters. The writer of Hebrews has utilized their example to teach us the value and nature of faith through the ages. But where do we enter the picture? The opening words of chapter12 are connected here:

Hebrews 12:1-31 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Finally we see the “we” of the lesson.

  • One Author has suggested that the application of Heb. 11 can be seen in the admonitions of these verses to 1) look back to the witnesses; 2) look upward to Jesus; 3) look ahead to the joy.  Over the next few lessons we will explore these admonitions.
  • “Therefore we also” – The word “therefore” may be one of the most significant words in scripture. It points from the truth to the application of truth. If we do not get to the “therefores”, Bible knowledge is useless to us. Knowing the stories and people of faith in Hebrews 11 is only valuable and powerful if it leads us to see the application to our own faith.
  • The words “we also” brings us into the discussion of faith with a view towards application. As we noticed before, those who lived (and died) by faith are not made complete apart from us (11:40). We are joined with them in the struggle of faith, looking to the same reward. Our solidarity with them is portrayed here in a familiar scene.
  • There is a single scenario behind the meaning of these words:

I.   “Let us run…” Some of the clearest teaching of the Bible comes in the form of a metaphor. The apostle Paul was particularly fond of the figure, or metaphor, of running in a race.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
  • Galatians 5:7 – 7 You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
  • Philippians 2:16 – 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. This is also the figure used by the writer in these verses. He depicts living by faith as running a race.
  • Our journey of faith differs from a conventional race in at least two ways (must not take metaphors too far).
    • First, we do not compete with each other. In fact, we are to help others as they run. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness.
    • This is not a physical struggle, won through physical strength. Our victory comes through placing our confidence and trust in another, not ourselves.
    • “The race that is set before us –  Athletes must compete in the race that is “set before them.”  They can’t choose where they will run.  They can’t tell the officials to chart a different course where there are no hills or valleys. Too many Christians think they can design their own course! God lays out the track.

A.  “Run… Don’t Walk” – Consider the active words in this verse:

1.  The verb “run”(trecho) in Heb. 12:1 indicates the activity of running as opposed to walking, so stressing both the idea of swiftness and strenuous effort toward the goal.  Vines says it is “the persevering activity in the Christian course with a view to obtaining the reward. Paul not only tells Christians to run, but to run so as to win the race.  As we read in 1 Cor 9:244 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  – “On your mark, get set, RUN” .

2.  The word “race” in the English language can be both a verb and a noun. (you race in a race).   The word translated as “race” in Heb.12:1 is agon (ag-one’) from which we get agony.  In fact, “race, as a noun is a secondary meaning. The primary meaning is to struggle, contend, or fight.  Paul uses the word to encourage Timothy to engage in the good “fight” of faith   [1 Timothy 6:12 – 12 Fight (agooniza) the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 2 Timothy 4:77 I have fought the good fight (agoona), I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.]  Paul elsewhere uses this word to describe his inward struggle against evil in his own life.

3.  This race is not a casual activity. It is an agonizing and demanding struggle. Those who enter the race must be ready to exert effort and suffer pain. Too many Christians are just coasting. They have become comfortable and accepted a pace that makes things relatively easy. We need to quit fiddling and start fighting. How can you know if you are running and not coasting?

II. “Lay aside every weight…” The term “weight” means a burden or hindrance; that which is superfluous and unnecessary. Runners may train with weights attached to their wrists and ankles, but when it is time to run, these are cast aside. The admonition is toward a purposeful pursuit of the goal. Does your goal of reaching heaven dictate the direction and decisions of your life. (Well, I hope I make it…”)

A.   Those who are running (not coasting) remove every “encumbrance or “weight” (a “weight” may not even be sinful in itself, but it slows us down. Those who are running are serious about the “weights” (picture the outfit used by Olympian bike riders)-  -a bad habit, lack of discipline, procrastination, bad companions, etc..  (What would you think of someone who gave up a great paying job for a lousy one so he could attend worship, or teach a weekly Bible class?  Or to get away from a bad influence?  – CRAZY!)

B.   The sin that so easily ensnares us –  The term sin is singular and has the definite article attached. Thus, in view of chapter 11, the sin under consideration here may be unbelief.  When we fail to trust in God we are destined to quit running. Perseverance, as we shall discuss, is a major admonition in these verses. But the phrase “easily ensnares” is also translated as “easily besets, or entangles us. It comes from a root that means to stand alongside, and thus describes the sin that stands close by and seeks to take advantage over us, so as to defeat us. Are their certain sins that stand close by to you? These sins (or temptations to sin) are constantly making an appearance and seeking to overthrow your faith.

  • When Cain became angry with his brother, God warned him that sin was waiting at the door to pounce upon him and take advantage. He was admonished to rule over it. (Gen. 4:7) Peter describes Satan’s efforts as that of a lion pursuing his prey – seeking to devour.
  • Christian is constantly commanded to deal seriously with the sin in his life. We cannot run the race unless we are casting off sin.  As long as you are living in sin, you are saying that you do not trust Him to rule your life.  Romans 6:12-14 –  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
  • Those who are truly running, are reckoning themselves dead to sin, putting to death the deeds of the body, plucking out the eye of lust, fleeing fornication, cutting off the hand of covetousness, yielding their members as instruments of righteousness, presenting their bodies as living sacrifices, putting on the armor of God, resisting the devil, and taking every thought captive to obey Christ.  This is what it means to run the race. Anything less is coasting.

III.  “Run with endurance” – This race is not a sprint, it is a marathon. The word endurance literally means “to abide under, to wait patiently.” I remember the first time I ran a mile (in middle school). I had run plenty of races (with my three brothers). I could turn on the speed. I sprinted out in fornt of the pack. But in the end, I barely finished the race as runner after runner passed me by.  Ther have been many Christians who have sprinted out of the gate, with every hope of winning the race. But where are they now? (some of that is our fault for not preparing them properly).

A. running with endurance requires counting the cost.  Jesus admonished his disciples to count the cost of following Him. Those who did not would easily become discouraged and fail to finish.

B. running with endurance requires constant prayer: We must speak to God and cast upon him our cares. We need to seek the courage and strength that God supplies.  After describing the elements of spiritual armor that we need to fight the battle (or win the struggle), Paul says.. “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:18)

C. running with endurance requires renewal of spirit:  That means being renewed in our spirit by God’s Spirit, through a constant contact with the words of God.  Eph 4:22-23 – that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,  23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 2 Cor 4:16-18 – 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. How much time do you spend renewing your mind in the things of the Spirit by meditating and reading the word of God?    Gal 6:9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

IV.  “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” –Who are these witnesses?  All those of the previous chapter. Those who have lived by faith, and have gone on. To whom are they witnessing?  What is the purpose of their witness?

  • Who is the 6th man in basketball? The tenth man in baseball? The twelfth man in football?   You may be aware that these are terms used to describe the spectators (particularly of the home team) in sports. Do the people who watch a contest have anything to contribute to the participants? Do they make a difference?  Those who study such things argue consistently that the crowd makes a difference, sometimes decisively, in the outcome of the contest. There are at least 2 possible scenarios here:

A.  They are watching us as we run. Some suggest that the picture here is that those who have finished the race and are gathered around to cheer us on as spectators in the arena.    They are watching us run the race, and are encouraging us.

B.  We are watching them as we run. Although the word for witness can mean spectator, it also means to bear witness to a fact. The better idea may be that those before us have become witnesses to the power of faithful living. They constantly bear witness to us that we should live by faith and keep running the race.

1.  Look back at the witnesses. The picture is that these O.T. saints are close enough for us to see constantly (they surround us). We should keep our eyes on them as we run. What are they telling us?

2. It Can Be Done. We are running the race and we look out into the crowd and realize that every one of them finished the race.  We look and we see examples of faith and perseverance under every imaginable circumstance. Each and every runner before us faced obstacles to their faith. Each one committed sin and failed at times to believe. Each one suffered enormously, some even to the point of death. Yet they all finished the race through faith.

Conclusion: In the lessons that follow we will consider the other two elements of Paul’s admonition for us to run the race. We must not only look back to the witnesses; but we must also look upward to Jesus; and Look  ahead to the joy.

The question for today is:  Are you running?

  • Have you even entered the race? God calls you to join the struggle and run. You must first deal with your own sin. You need the blood of Jesus to take away that sin. You must be obedient to the will of God revealed in scripture: Hear , Believe, Repent, Confess, and be baptized for the remission of your sins.
  • Have you stopped running and started coasting. Have you become distracted or defeated by the encumbrances of this life?  Cast them off (repent) and start running again.  Every single faithful disciple that has come before you is bearing witness to the fact that you can finish this race and receive a reward.