Planning to Run Well (Hebrews 12:1-3)
By drawing our attention to the cloud of witnesses listed in chapter 11, he is referring to them as witnesses for us, teaching us what it means to look to Jesus in true faith. We shouldn’t try to look up and find them sitting in the grandstand of heaven, and we don’t look back to see them over our shoulder in the past, but we look down, seeing the path that they walked and noticing their footprints in the pages of Scripture. We see them as windows when we gaze at them, seeing through them to the One to whom they were looking as they ran the race. Those who have gone before us remind us that we are not alone in our particular fight of faith, and in the midst of the struggles we face in life we are to pay close attention to the paths they have taken that lead to Christ. We learn from them as we seek to run our own Christian race.
1. Races are for Running
There is nothing passive about the race; effort must be applied. Yes, salvation is by grace and doesn’t depend on our performance, but that doesn’t nullify the responsibility and expectation that we will continue to run. When grace and faith take hold of a person, that person does not remain passive. The race is not to be run only when the weather is nice and conditions are ideal, nor is to be run only in bad weather when times are tough. It is to be run day after day, in all conditions and at all times.
2. Regulated Effort
Ongoing effort, however, is not the only requirement. Our running must also be regulated and marked out with clear direction forward, based on the course that Christ has set before us. It is possible to run with all our might and with all sincerity, and yet ignore the actual course that Christ has laid! We aren’t given the option of choosing our own course, but it is Christ who has determined it. We must learn what Christ expects from us regarding our home life, thought life, employment or vocation, relationships, etc.
3. Progress is Expected
The Christian race is headed somewhere, toward the reward and the promise (Hebrews 10:35-36). There should be steady progress in conformity to Him, love for Him, knowledge of Him, obedience to Him, hope in Him, etc. Rather than running in place or running without direction, we should be running forward based on the realities that are revealed to us in Christ.
4. Perseverance in the race is an absolute must.
First, we persevere by putting away weights, encumbrances and sin. The encumbrances are not necessarily sins, but they can lead to sin, producing in us indifference toward Christ (things like relationships, activities, leisures, etc.). If we are going to seriously run the race of the Christian life, then we have to lay aside even the seemingly small encumbrances; anything and everything that will impede our progress in sanctification. The sins that entangle us and cause us to slow down or get off course are not usually the massive ones, but the ones that we are quickly prone to at any given moment.
Second, we persevere by looking to Christ. The laying aside of hindrances happens as we gaze at Him, being mindful of the race He Himself ran for us. With all of fallen humanity against Him, with Satan and his hosts against Him, Jesus ran with joy the course laid before Him, even into and through the wrath of an almighty God. He has now become the Captain of our salvation, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Having finished the course that the Father charted for Him, He sat down to rule and reign from on high, and we now wait for His return to bring completion to the kingdom that He Himself has inaugurated.
– What do we learn from the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us? How does seeing them help us to look more effectively to Jesus?
– Are there particular seasons or conditions in life when you find it easier or more difficult to run the race? Why are certain seasons more difficult than others?
– Where have you seen progress in your own Christian race? Are there areas in which your progress has been slowed? Are there any encumbrances or sins that are impeding your progress?
– What does it mean to fix your eyes on Jesus? In what ways does His own life lived on earth and His current reign over Creation direct us in the race we are now called to run?