I took up running once in my life when I was about forty years old. Well, it was more like jogging than running. My course consisted of nicely tarred, quiet neighborhood streets, so there weren’t many things to stumble over. But marathon runners encounter all kinds of things that may impede their progress—uneven ground, a rock in the shoe, a sudden rain shower, or a little twig that trips them. They don’t stop and call the race a failure, staying mired in their temporary trouble. They stop to fix it and quickly catch up with their running companions or competitors. They look forward to crossing the goal line. Our spiritual race is similar; we have hindrances with which we must deal, to make progress in our personal growth. Some are clinging sins that weigh us down. So we stop, confess, repent, and move forward with greater peace and joy. We don’t stop trusting Christ or backslide by being morose about our sin. The author of Hebrews exhorts us with an “image of running the race that is set before us…” He writes, “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 endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Shedding Old, Weighty Sins
“By the sin that does so easily beset us, understand that sin to which we are most prone, or to which we are most exposed, from habit, age, or circumstances. This is a most important exhortation; for a while a man’s darling sin, be it what it will, remains unsubdued, it will hinder him from running the Christian race, as it takes from him every motive for running, and gives power to every discouragement.” (1) When I think of my “darling sins” a few come to mind, such as selfishness, coveting comfort, and sometimes choosing convenience over service. Others’ might be suspicion of others’ motives, gossip, idolatry (of politics, education, beauty, etc.), or obsession with entertainment. “The NIV describes the hampering effects of a clinging robe which then may refer to those sins of drifting, dullness, lack of spiritual exercise, or immaturity, which could lead one to lose the race of life.” (2) Gill writes that the allusion “seems to be runners in a race, who…drop whatsoever is ponderous and weighty, run in light garments, and lay aside long ones, which entangle and hinder in running.” (3) Today an entire industry has grown up around the desire for runners to have the best, lightest possible clothing and shoes for running. Shouldn’t our desire for spiritual growth at least equal, if not exceed our passion for a good physical run? We will only grow spiritually by shedding our clinging sins and keeping our spiritual eyes on Christ’s finished work for encouragement and endurance.
Our Christian Race
Maybe some of you are or have been marathon runners; many of us haven’t even contemplated the idea for ourselves. However, every believer is called to run a race that will last a lifetime in this world for a guaranteed prize, Christ’s presence and fruit. We need to rest from time to time, and we thirst and hunger for the end. But what makes us the weariest are things that we don’t recognize, over which we trip. Here is the need for confession and repentance. The Holy Spirit is gracious to let us (or cause us to) stumble, so we will be able to remove the impediment and run more effectively toward our Him. “The Christian race is run [in] is this world; the prize run for is the heavenly glory; the mark to direct in it, is Christ…this race is ‘set before’ them, by God; the way in which they are to run is marked out by him in his Word…it is a motion forward, a pressing towards the mark for the prize, a going from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another; and to it swiftness and agility are necessary; and when it is performed aright, it is with readiness, willingness, and cheerfulness: it requires strength and courage, and a removal of all impediments, and should be done ‘with patience;’ which is very necessary, because of the many exercises in the way; and because of the length of the race; and on account of the prize to be enjoyed, which is very desirable, [Christ himself].” (4)
Jesus—Our Prize, Forerunner, and Champion
Christ has gone before us, taking on himself the burden of our sinfulness, offering his forgiveness and liberation from a life of continual unholiness. We grow spiritually and run with him best by shedding our clinging sins, keeping our spiritual eyes on his finished work for encouragement and endurance. “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2) Jesus is our companion, champion, forerunner, pioneer, prize, perfecter, strength, wisdom, and encouragement to continue our race when we have gotten stuck or slowed down. “Because of His exemplary life, therefore, which included accepting the opposition from sinners, Christians are encouraged to consider him, to study carefully His life of steadfast endurance so that in their experience they may be able to decide for the same path of suffering, if loyalty to God demands that, rather than the way of easy relief. Thus they will finish the race though weariness may tempt them to give out and quit. The life of Jesus, therefore, is a call to perseverance, for the contest is ‘not a short dash to glory, but a distance race calling for endurance.’” (5)
We look to Jesus as the finisher (perfecter) of our faith. “A believer should be always looking to Christ…he is the author or efficient cause of [our faith]…and he is the finisher of it; he gives himself, and the blessings of his grace, to his people, to maintain and strengthen it…he prays for it, that it fail not; he carries on the work of faith, and will perform it with power; and brings to, and gives that which is the end of it, eternal life, or the salvation of the soul.” (6) All we need to do is pay attention, keep going, and repent of the clinging sins that are holding us back. We can’t do this just once because sanctification is an ongoing process for our cleansing step by step. My little dog loves to play with an insecure puppy in one dog park who insists on staying under a picnic table where her owner sits. Unfortunately, the dirt under the table becomes like a mud pit after a few minutes of them climbing on top of each other, slobbering, panting, and tumbling. My dog is a long-haired white dog; the other dog is short-haired and brown. Guess which one is almost unrecognizable after their playtime. I have learned that it will take about five different cleaning sessions and a full day for me to get the black dirt out of the fur around his face. I have to remove one layer of soil at a time, to expose the next one, and thankfully, he appreciates each cleaning. The Spirit reveals each layer of clinging sins I need to confess and repent of. He provides the cleansing power, but I must want him to apply it. “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:35-39)
Related Scripture: Romans 8:35-37; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 4:22-24; Philippians 2:7-11.
- Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Hebrews 12:1-11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hebrews-12.html
- Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Hebrews 12:1-2, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Hebrews 12:1, studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html.html
- Gill, Hebrews 12:2, Ibid.
- Zondervan, Ibid.
- Matthew Henry, Ibid.
September 17, 2021