Running the Race of Faith3rd December 2017
Recently, I have finished reading the book of Hebrews following the Bible in One Year Program. The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were persecuted to the point that they almost abandoned their faith in Christ and return to the laws of the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews therefore wrote this letter to encourage them, and to encourage us now, to persevere in their faith in Jesus, who is above angels and Moses, and where the Old Testament laws and ceremonies are but just mere shadows to the true and better covenant.
I really love the analogy that the author made with regards to faith in Hebrews 12:1-3, where faith is likened to a lifelong race:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3
I really love this passage because at times it had been difficult for me to understand what having ‘faith’ really means. I have always felt that I needed more faith but sometimes I fail to see what having true faith really looks like, as the concept can feel so abstract. So I’d just like to share with you some points I have gained after reading this passage, and hope that it will also encourage you in your journey with God.
- Faith is like a marathon and we are called to run it with perseverance for all of our lives.
Faith is a journey. It doesn’t stop once we are baptised – it is only the beginning. As Christians, we are all called to run the marathon of faith in pursuit of the greatest reward – gaining Christ (Philippians 3:14) – because without faith, we cannot come before God nor please God, who rewards those who earnestly seeks Him (Hebrews 11:6). We are called to run the race. Not to walk or to stroll but to run the race with everything we’ve got because following Jesus isn’t a stroll in the park; to follow Jesus means taking up our cross (Matthew 16:24) and it is costly.
If you have ever run a marathon or a long-distance race, you will know that perseverance is the key in reaching the finish line. Ultimately, it isn’t about how well you started the race but whether you can reach the finish line.
So how can we run the race with perseverance and run it well?
- We have a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on.
In Hebrews 12:1, it mentions that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These witnesses are people mentioned in Hebrews 11 who have put their faith in God, who had their faith commended by God and who are seen as righteous before God’s eyes because of their faith (Hebrews 11:2,4,7,39). These are the people who have run the race of faith before us with perseverance, who did not give up even though the promises given to them have yet to be fulfilled, because they were looking towards the greater reward (Hebrews 11:13,39). Abraham didn’t get to see his descendants become as “numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12). Moses refused to be known as Pharaoh’s daughter but “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). Some had to endure being “destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Hebrews 11:37). Yet all of them testify God’s faithfulness because they believe they will receive their reward for their faith, which is greater than anything they can imagine. And these people are cheering us on in the race of faith, like audiences in a stadium, reminding us that God is indeed faithful.
- We need to throw off everything that hinders us from running the race.
In the ESV version, it says to “lay aside every weight” (Hebrews 12:1). We are called to lay aside the burdens, fear, anxiety, worries that weigh us down and earthly desires that distract us from reaching the goal. Jesus said,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light - Matthew 11:28-30
We can cast our burdens onto our gentle Saviour.
- Sin entangles.
The Greek word of ‘sin’ literally means ‘missing the mark’. The author describes sin as having the power to entangle us so that it’s difficult to escape, like a prey in a trap. The devastating effect of sin is that it prevents and stops us from keep on running the race. Sin causes us to miss the mark – the greatest reward of gaining Christ. We cannot escape sin on our own. But the power of sin is no match against the power of our God. By the precious blood of Christ and the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can and we will defeat sin.
- Fix our eyes on Jesus.
When we run, we are always running towards something. We are always going somewhere. It is a sad thing if we have come to the end of the race only realising that we have missed the mark all this time. That is why the author commands us to fix our eyes on JESUS. Because when we do, we will never miss the mark.
As we are all imperfect people, our faith therefore can’t be perfect. Our faith can waver if we don’t look to Jesus, whose faith is perfect, so much so that He put His faith and trust in the Father and obeyed Him to the point of death on a cross. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), our faith is strengthened and made perfect.
If you have run in cross country before, you would know that the point we stop running the race is when we lose heart and give up. This is the same with running the race of faith. There are times when our limbs give out, when difficult circumstances arise, when we are discouraged by failures. But Hebrews 12:2-3 reminds us that Jesus had endured the cross, overlooked shame and overcome death because He looked towards the joy and the reward before Him. When we think about what Jesus had to endure for our sins because He loves us even whilst we were still sinners, we will never lose heart. We can persevere and run the race of faith.
So today, no matter where you are on the race of faith, whether you are going strong or maybe you have tripped a few times and came to a stop, know that there is a cloud of witnesses who are cheering you on, reminding you of the faithful Saviour who strengthens us like a coach and who promises us the greatest reward – Himself. Let us run the race of faith with perseverance, fixing our eyes on Jesus! It is never too late to start running again.