The Bible often uses the metaphor of a race when describing how our lives are to be lived as God’s children. The Christian faith is talked about as if it were a competition—a race to be run. In Hebrews 12:1-2 the author adopts the metaphor to explain to his Jewish Christian audience how they now ought to live. It is a popular passage because it is a message we believers need to hear again and again.
Many believers are not running this race well. Some have stopped running, some have gotten off the hard but right path, and some are even considering quitting. If any of this fits, this passage is for you. There are several helps the author of Hebrews provides on how to run a great race.
1. WE MUST CONSIDER ALL THE FAITHFUL WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1, RSV).
In the first part of verse 1 the author is connecting us with what has been said previously. In Hebrews 11 we are given example after example of great men and women of faith, men like Noah and Abraham and Moses, women like Sarah and Rahab. In Hebrews 12:1 the author looks back at the list of names in chapter 11 and calls for his readers to consider their example and imitate their faith. He urges them to live as they lived: unto God and for His glory.
God gives these examples in His Word for a reason. He wants us to read of His men and women of faith, learn from their faithfulness, study how they lived their lives for Him and His glory, and imitate their faith. Paul often put himself forward as an example for the believers in his day. He told the Christians at Corinth, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, RSV).
Another way we can apply this point is by reading biographies of faithful men and women in Christian history who have run their race for God well. We should also look to, walk alongside, and follow faithful and fruitful men and women in our church. Spend time with them, join Bible studies they teach, learn from them, and follow them as they follow Christ.
2. WE MUST GET RID OF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS US
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1, RSV).
Notice the author doesn’t just say to lay aside sin in his instruction. He separates sin from every weight. So often, when running the race God has called us to run, we ask the wrong questions. We ask, “Is it sin to do this or that?” If not, we assume it is okay to do it. Do not just ask, “Is it a sin?” A better question to ask is, “Will it help me run, or will it get in my way?” We are to throw off every weight that keeps us from running this race well.
When someone is warming up before a race, he has on warm-up clothes. When it comes time for the race to start, he removes anything and everything that is wind resistant. He puts off each and every hindrance that will keep him from running well. We are to do that in our spiritual lives. We are to lay aside anything and everything that hinders us from running the race God has called us to run.
What is weighing you down when you’re running this race? What is something you love that is a hindrance? It might not be a bad thing. It might be a good thing that has become a bad thing because it has become a ruling thing. The author of Hebrews says we are to lay it aside.
3. WE MUST LAY ASIDE SIN THAT ENTANGLES US
The third key to faithfully running this race is to lay aside sin. As the author of Hebrews says, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1, RSV).
The phrase clings so closely is the Greek word εὐπερίστατος (eu-peri-statos), which refers to something that clings so tightly it hinders movement. Think of the illustration of a three-legged race. What makes this event challenging is having your partner so closely tied to you. You have to move when your partner moves, or you will not move effectively and lose your balance. If one of you were to work against the other, the two would easily lose.
This is how sin hinders us. It clings so closely to us and works against what God wants. Sin enslaves us, binds us, and trips us up, keeping us from living a faithful and fruitful life in Christ. This is why the author of Hebrews says lay aside sin.
How do we do this? How do we resist sin and run the race God has set before us? We cannot on our own. You cannot run this race on your own. All who have tried have failed. God did not intend us to live our Christian life pursuing godliness in our own strength. That is why He sent us Jesus. To run with perseverance the race that is set before us we must fix our eyes on Him.
4. WE MUST FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS
The author of Hebrews tells his Jewish Christian audience that they are to be looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, RSV).
To run the race God has called us to run, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s only through Him that we can enter the race, and it is only by His grace that we can finish well. After we come to saving faith through faith alone in Christ alone, He is the one we are to strive to be like. He is the one we are to look to and rely upon. He is the one we are to follow hard after.