Bible Study 2023
The Race of Faith
Now, let us look at Hebrews 12:1-3. “Therefore,” ties this in with what has been previously written. “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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus here is the ultimate model of faith. We’ve heard about the heroes of faith from the past by name to what happened to them.
And now we come to this concluding statement in Hebrews 12 that, based upon what we have just heard, “We are called to run this race that is set before us.” It is the “race of faith.” They ran it; they were blessed in the running; they endured to the end as we have seen. They suffered extensive persecution, even death. Based upon these testimonies, we are called to run our race of faith.
And the approach used to be, that we’re to visualize a stadium, and all of these saints are sitting there watching us, cheering us to the finish line. That gives the impression that somehow the saints who are now in heaven are spectators who are watching us on earth. That is not taught in Scripture. There is not one piece of evidence in the Bible that people in heaven are watching us here on earth.
That would actually defy the essence of heaven which is to be separated from all the sin and strife that goes on here. They are lost in wonder, love and praise; contemplating the glory of God and the wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ and the glories of heavenly life. You hear people say that all the time, “So-and-so died, but I know he’s up there watching us.” Nothing in the Bible says that.
“There is,” said Jesus, “a great gulf fixed between those who are in the presence of God and those who are out of the presence of God in the fires of hell.” And there is an equally great gulf fixed between those who are in the presence of God and anybody here still remaining on earth. There are also no saints in heaven who are hearing prayers by people on earth. So we have something different here.
Now, in verse 1 there is this call to run a race. Many figures of speech are used, in the New Testament to describe aspects of the Christian life. We are also described as being engaged in a wrestling match, Ephesian 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of the darkness, the spiritual powers” meaning demonic hosts. So we are talking about the Christian life.
But in this metaphor we are runners in the race of life. We are athletes competing. That is shown in 2 Timothy 2, where it talks about the athlete who does whatever is necessary to win the prize. Perhaps the most familiar New Testament text that addresses that is found in 1 Corinthians 9:26, “Therefore I run in such a way as not without aim.” I am not aimlessly running, I run to win.
Philippians 2 also is a picture of running. In verse 16, Paul says that he’s been faithful, and he wants the Philippians to be faithful, to appear as lights in the world, “holding fast the Word of life so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I didn’t run in vain nor toil in vain.” Paul couldn’t comprehend an aimless race, no victory, no triumph and no reward.
The writer of Hebrews encourages all His readers to run this race. The Christian life is a race. First let’s talk about the event. In verse 1, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” “Let us” is said many times. This tells us that the Holy Spirit is speaking through Paul to this community of believers. Some of them are intellectually convinced about the gospel but haven’t entered the race.
So he’s talking in general to the community of people who have outwardly identified with Jesus Christ, who constitute a church, and he’s encouraging them to get in the race, and those who are in the race to run with all their might. This epistle is written primarily to believers. But there’s also the encouragement in the general nature of “let us” to those who had not come all the way to Christ.
The Christian life demands great effort. It is not a sprint; it is a marathon. The entrance to the race is the new birth: salvation by faith in the perfect and complete work of Christ. And apart from faith in Christ, you’re not even in the race. The race starts for you when you become a believer. But once you become a believer, you must be continually urged to run with all your might.
In our own Christian experiences, there are times when we seem to have slowed down to a crawl. Some of us are at times, falling victim to temptation, and going backwards. There is an obvious element behind being a good runner, and that is self-discipline, training, following whatever standards are going to yield the most effective race. It’s very challenging to be an endurance runner.
It will demand every ounce of energy, and it will demand discipline and training if you’re going to run to really win. Amos 6:1 says, “Woe to them that are at ease” It is an agonizing, relentless event. It is lifelong race. There will be obstacles; there will be problems. We will be weary and tired, distracted, but we remain under this challenge. We take it as God gives it to us.
Secondly, the encouragement. What is the encouragement? “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us...” This is the encouragement to run the race, because of this cloud of witnesses. What is this? We just met them in Hebrews 11. To what do they all give testimony? To the value of a life of faith. They are not witnesses of us; they are witnesses to the power of faith, to the wisdom of faith, to the righteousness of faith, and to the blessing of faith.
They are witnesses to the life of faith. Whether it is Abel; or Enoch; or Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses; or the rest that are referred to without giving their names, with the exception of some - Rahab and those listed in verse 32 – they are those who are this great cloud of witnesses who have given testimony to the great power and blessing of an enduring life of faith.
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses to the power of faith, let’s run the same race of faith. The results are worth it; that’s what they tell us. To Enoch, they were worth it because he walked one day and walked into the presence of God. For Noah, his faith caused him to escape the flood. And for Abraham, his faith led him to a covenant with God and the promise of a son was fulfilled.
All of them experienced the blessing and the hope of promise in the life of faith. They didn’t receive the fulfillment of it, as we know at the end of the chapter; they gained approval through their faith but didn’t receive, verse 39 says, what was promised. But they showed, even though they hadn’t received the full fulfillment of the promise the blessedness of living a life of faith.
If the athlete endures what he endures to run to win a corruptible crown, how much more should we discipline ourselves to receive an incorruptible crown? Setting aside the indulgences of the flesh, maintaining the training rules that God has laid down for us, exercising temperance, we run the race and our examples are all who have gone before us and run the race of faith.
There’s a third element here beside the event and the encouragement, and that’s the encumbrances. In verse 1 again, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us.” Now, in order to run effectively, you’ve got to get rid of useless weight. You may wrap weights around your ankles in training, but you take them off when you get in the race.
1 Peter 2:1 says, “Strip off your soiled, polluted garments.” Certain things need to be eliminated if you’re going to run a faith race effectively. It could be weights that you’re carrying. You need to get rid of anything that slows you down in the race. A runner starts with a reduction of all the excess body weight, getting himself down to make himself nothing but a muscle machine.
And he trains to make sure he stays that way. What is he referring to with this weight, this encumbrance? Well, first of all, it’s not sin, because he refers to sin also. “Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.” These are two things that slow you down. First, the weight; and second, the sin. Well, it was the baggage of their former Judaism requirement, legalism.
The biggest weight encumbering these new Jewish believers were pounds of Jewish legalism, rabbinic tradition, and dead works. And it wasn’t easy to let it go. Sabbath observances, for example. In Colossians 2 Paul says, “Don’t let anybody hold you to a Sabbath or a new moon or a feast day or a festival.” That’s shadow, and shadow goes away when substance arrives.
Paul says the same to believers in Galatians, “Having begun in the Spirit, do you think now that you can hold onto all this past stuff and somehow, having begun in the Spirit, you’re going to be made perfect by the flesh?” At the end of Galatians 5 he says you can never run by faith if you’re hanging onto any of the trappings of a system where you think your works give you salvation.
We heard testimonies that a lady was raised Catholic. One of the things you had to face when you left Catholicism was the temptation to hang onto attitudes toward Mary, to the mass, to attitudes toward works, to hang onto fears that you had that if you violated Catholic law and the Catholic Church, you might commit a mortal sin and end up in hell. And that’s not easy to let go of.
Some of you came out of Seventh Day Adventism, and it’s hard for you to let go of some of the dietary restrictions and restraints. Some of you came out of Mormonism, and there are things that hold onto you and still have a grip on you. Those are encumbrances that slow down the faith race because all of those are components of a works systems. And then, in addition to that, sin which so easily entangles us.
Sin is an ever-present threat to hinder our running. Sin, at its heart, is always unbelief. So, in a sense, you could sum up the sin as unbelief. You always engage in an act of unbelief when you sin. We all do. Whenever we sin, we believe we will get gratification in a way that God says we won’t. So, when we sin, we are saying, “I don’t believe you, God. This is what I want; this is what I will do.
All sin then is an act of practical unbelief. Because look, honestly, we want the best for ourselves. It’s part of our nature to want to indulge ourselves and want to have joy and peace and all of that. And when you sin, you assume you’ll find it there, when God says you won’t. So, you believe the lie rather than the Word of God so that all sin is, in the end, a form of unbelief.
There’s a fourth thing. There is the event, the encouragement, the encumbrances, then the example. But there’s one example that rises above all the rest, verse 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.” But beyond all that, we look unto Jesus.
In 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul says after having a given the picture of a soldier, and an athlete, and a farmer, and even a teacher, trying to encourage Timothy to get his act together, to run the race, to make all the ultimate sacrifices, he says, “Remember Jesus Christ.” Literally the Greek says look to Jesus. Get your eyes off the immediate surrounding and focus on the example of Jesus.
Why do we have to look at Him? Because He’s the perfect example. You don’t look at other people around you and say, “Eh, I’m a lot faster than Joe here. I’m an awful lot faster than Alice over here.” Why? Because He is the author. He is the reason we have any faith, isn’t it true? He gave us that as a gift. He is the leader. He is the originator. He is the one who granted us faith.
In Hebrews 11:6, it says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” You can’t please God without believing Him. And what did the Father say about Jesus? Mark 1:11, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” God was pleased with Christ because He always believed His Father. That’s why He never sinned. “I do what the Father shows me to do. I do what the Father does.”
Jesus always quoted Scripture and affirmed His trusts in His Father. He took everything that God His Father ever said and put His complete trust in that. And His faith was so strong that He even sustained joy as He looked at the cross and its shame. He saw through that to the end being seated at the right hand of the throne of God. That’s faith that faced a crisis the likes of which no human being has ever faced except Him.
“God always causes us to triumph in Christ,” Paul said to the Corinthians. “We will receive a crown of life, a crown of rejoicing. We will be rewarded in eternity.” And so, the exhortation, then, for us to run the race is a full and rich exhortation. And when we get our eyes on Jesus and the ultimate goal, it is easier to make all the necessary sacrifices to gain that final eternal reward. Let us pray.