The word “running” likely has different meanings for different people. To some, running may be something that they do to keep in shape. To others, running may mean the daily pressure of trying to get all the things done that must be done. We say that we run to meetings or to the store; we run to bring the kids somewhere. As such, our lives often end up feeling like we are constantly running. In Hebrews 12, the author urges his readers to run the race that is set before them. That means that the Christian life is like running a race. Hebrews 12:1-2 teach us what the race is and how we can more effectively run this race in this coming year. Let’s read Hebrews 12:1-13.
I. The first question we need to ask is: “What is the race?”
It is important first to understand some of the background to this passage. First, these readers had recently faced some form of persecution. This persecution had likely been somewhat serious but verse 4 says they had endured it without death or shedding their blood. Still, this persecution had caused them to shrink back in their faith. As a result, some were going back to their old Jewish beliefs because they felt more secure in those. The author wants his readers to see that the Christian life must be viewed as a race to be run. This picture of a race is something that would be very familiar to the Hebrews. There were many places where athletic competitions similar to our Olympic games of today could be found. One of the events in these games was marathon length foot races. The author is saying that the Christian life is like such a race. But let’s make sure that we understand what this race is and is not.
First of all the race is not working hard for our salvation. Some believe that if you keep all these rules and regulations like you are supposed to, then God will reward you by allowing you to go to heaven. They believe that if you work hard, run as hard as you can, then maybe you will make it. Ask some Christians to describe what it means to be a Christian and you will likely get a description of what he or she is doing. Being a Christian means going to church, doing good things, reading the Bible and praying. While those are all good things, doing these things doesn’t earn us a spot in heaven. Rather running the race is living a life of obedience to God in response to what Jesus has done for us. The starting point is God’s grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. Being a Christian means confessing that we are hopelessly lost in sin and need the saving work of Jesus in our lives. Being a Christian means that we can look forward to life with God in heaven only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The race is our whole life of gratitude to God for our salvation.
- "When the cancer was first discovered Jim said to me with a smile, ‘I always wondered how the Father would take me home.’ He had an absolute trust in the goodness of his God no matter what the difficulty. Still, Jim’s dealing with the cancer was never a matter of resignation. Far from it, he was in a race. Jim raced to finish a book on the history of his family and family business that recounted the grace of God in his life. He didn’t write because he believed that his writing would make God love him more, but because he was so filled with a loving zeal for the Savior. Jim entitled his book Nothing Happened by Accident. He deeply believed that the caring character of God revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was operative in every state of life.
- I have never met a man more zealous for the honor of his Savior, nor more certain of the cause of his zeal. Jim believed that his best works merited him nothing, and that God had saved him from his sin solely for mercy’s sake. Out of thanksgiving for God’s grace, Jim served on boards of numerous Christian organizations, dedicated his business to God’s glory, witnessed to fellow businessmen one-on-one for years in personal discipleship programs and, finally raced against the clock to record the might acts of God in his life."
We do not run the race to get into heaven, but rather we run the race to show our gratitude to God for what He has done for us in Jesus Christ; and it is a race because we give it everything we have got.
First, we make sure that we are mentally prepared. One major obstacle that we may encounter is a lack of motivation. For many of us, if we don’t have someone or something putting constant pressure on us, it is difficult to get much done. When Claire and I were first married, Claire worked in a bank that held a 15 1/2 mile race. Since Claire’s department was the one in charge of the race, the first year we were involved in helping out at the race. We went home saying, “Next year, we are going to run in it.” However, we didn’t start running because we had all kinds of time to get ready. We kept putting it off and then forgot about it. When the day of the race came the next year, we were just as ill-prepared to run as we were the year before. We wanted to run, but didn’t have enough motivation to make us prepare to run.
That was also part of the problem for the Hebrews. They thought that Jesus wasn’t coming back for a long time yet. They had all kinds of time to get ready for living the kind of life Jesus wants. So they were putting off running the race. These things can also be our problems as well. We may be so content spiritually that we don’t even try to grow. We sit back and watch others around us work hard and grow in their lives. We may think, “Others may get involved in a Sunday School class or a Bible study so they can learn and grow, but I don’t want to or I’ll do it later.” Our lack of motivation can be problem for us. We know that Jesus is coming back, but if we are honest about it, we think that this is something that is a long time away. However, if you knew that Jesus was coming back tonight, would you do things differently today than if you knew He was coming back in 25 years? The point is that Jesus may come back at any time and we must be living in such a way that shows that we are serving our Lord in loving obedience.
But we must also be spiritually prepared to run the race that God sets before us. Verse 1 says that we must throw off everything that hinders us. The things that hinder us are things that are good and appropriate in their own time and place, but may need to be discarded once the race begins. What are some of the good things that can hinder us? If we become so absorbed in our work that it becomes our whole life, then our walk with God is going to be hindered. Our families can get in the way of our spiritual growth. Church work is often a culprit as well. We can become so busy going to this or that meeting that you don’t have time to really grow in your relationship with God. Each of us knows what things in our lives are slowing us down as we run our race for God. We must throw them off so we may be effective disciples of Christ.
Moreover, we must also throw off the sin that so easily entangles us. These are the sinful actions that will inevitably trip us as we try to live a life with God. Perhaps it is greed, stubbornness, pride, impure thoughts or selfishness. Perhaps it’s the desire to have more and more material things. We must try to stop doing the things that make us fall into sin. We have to be prepared to run, but there is one more thing: We have to run the race.
III. But how are we to be running the race?
First of all, the author says with “perseverance.” This means that we must not live our lives as though it were a lazy jog. We must really go all out in our lives serving the Lord with everything that we have got. What are some examples of how we can do this concretely? Let’s ask ourselves some questions. Is what we say and do on Sunday consistent with what we say and do Monday through Saturday? Is our faith carried through in our work or family relationships? Do we tell others about the Lord Jesus or do we let our non-Christian acquaintances know where we stand? Running with perseverance means that the kingdom of God saturates everything you are and everything that you do at home, work and church.
One way we can run with such perseverance is by following the examples of others. That is what is meant by being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These are the ones mentioned in Hebrews 11 who were so faithful to God that they gave up literally everything they had. They have left us great examples of what it means to live a faithful life of obedience to God. What are some of the examples given? Noah responded to God’s outrageous command and, in spite of all the mockery of his neighbors, did as God commanded him to do. Abraham gave up the security of homeland and family to faithfully follow where God was leading him. In faith, Moses responded to God’s call and led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. Many others are mentioned as well who sacrificed themselves for God and for His Kingdom. They are our examples to follow. Our purpose on this earth is not to take care of ourselves first. Our purpose on earth is to bring glory and praise to God for, as Question and Answer One of the catechism says, we belong to Him, body and soul, in life and in death.
Finally, it is vital that we do this with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. For as verse 2 says, Jesus is the author or “pioneer” of our faith. This means that Jesus made it possible for us to follow Him. He came to earth, died and rose again so that those who follow Him may also have life in His name. Jesus made it possible for us to run the Christian race. And verse 2 also calls Jesus the “perfecter” of our faith. Jesus is the perfecter in that He alone enables us to complete the race of the Christian life. Jesus is the supreme example of how to live the life and so we can follow His example of how to live a life which pleases God. By imitating Jesus, we will be running the race set before us.
In fact, the author says that we must fix our eyes firmly on Jesus. If we look elsewhere, we will be in trouble. If we focus on ourselves, we will become so wrapped up in ourselves that we will trip and fall. If we look to others, we may be going the wrong way. We must look only to Jesus, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him. We must listen to what He says in the Bible. We must follow His example of how He dealt with other people. If we focus on Jesus, then we will be able to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Having Jesus clearly in sight will make running the race possible for us. Each one of us will be running in a race during this coming year. Are you prepared to run in this race this next year? Are you ready to learn more and to open your lives to God more? Tell God today that it will be your desire and your goal to consciously live each day for Him. Keep your eyes and your thoughts on God. And then hear the motivation as well this morning: Jesus is coming again! We celebrated Jesus’ first coming this past week, but Jesus will come again and He expects us to be busy, running the race of Christian faith as we live out our gratitude to him.