99.5 Won't Do!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. Heb. 12:1-2 (NLT)
The key phrase of this passage is let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. The writer is saying, “If you are not a believer, get in the race, because you have to enter before you can win. If you are a believer, run with endurance; don’t give up.” Unfortunately, many people are not even in the race, and many believers could hardly be described as running to win. Some are merely jogging, some are walking slowly, and some are just completely sitting down. Yet the Biblical standard for holy living is a race, not a social hour. Race is the Greek agoôn , from which we get the word “agony”. A race is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes grueling and agonizing, and requires our utmost in self-discipline, determination, and perseverance.
God warned Israel, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). God’s people are not called to lie around on beds of ease. We are to run the race. We are to win the race! Standing still or going backward forfeits the prize. Worse yet is to stay in the stands and never participate at all.
Endurance is the steady determination to keep going. It means continuing even when everything in you wants to slow down or quit. I can still remember the excruciating experience I had in high school when I ran the half-mile. During my first meet, I started out well; in fact, I led the pack for the first 100 yards or so. But I ended the race dead last. My legs were wobbly, my chest was heaving, my mouth was dry, and I almost collapsed at the finish line. That is the way many people live the Christian life. They start out fast, but as the race goes on they slow down, give up, or just collapse. The Christian race is a marathon, a long-distance race, not a sprint. The Church has always had short-spurt believers, but the Lord wants those who will “go the distance.” There will be obstacles and there will be weariness, but to win we must endure. God is looking for runners. He will make them into winners!
Many of the Hebrew Christians to whom the passage was written had started well. They had seen signs and wonders and were thrilled with their new lives (Heb. 2:4). But as the newness began to wear off and problems began to arise, they started to lose their enthusiasm and their confidence. They began looking back at their old ways. They started to weaken and waver. Nothing makes less sense than to be in a race that you have no desire to win. Yet, I believe lacking the desire to win is a basic problem with many believers. They are content simply with “getting saved” and waiting on heaven. But in the Christian life we must strive daily to make it to the finish line.
Always run to win! Always finish well!
Paul knew some Christians in the same condition, and to them he wrote, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15) and “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1Cor. 9:24-25).
Paul believed this principle and he had a hupomoneô kind of determination. He did not pursue comfort, money, great learning, popularity, respect, position, lust of the flesh, or anything but God’s will. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26-27). That is what Christian commitment is all about.
The competition of the Christian life, of course, is different from that of an athletic race in two important ways. First, we are not to compete against other Christians, trying to outdo each other in righteousness, recognition, or accomplishments. Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Yet we do not compete with each other even in faith. We compete by faith, but not with each other. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but in Him. The Christian has only one way to endure—by faith. The only time we sin, the only time we fail, is when we do not trust. That is why our protection against Satan’s temptations is “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16). As long as we are trusting God and doing what He wants us to do, Satan and sin have no power over us. They have no way of getting to us or of hindering us. When we run in the power of God’s Spirit, we run successfully.
The Example to Follow
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. (12:2)
In running, as in most sports, where you look is extremely important. Nothing will throw off your stride or slow you down like looking at your feet or the runner coming up from behind or the crowds in the stands. The Christian race is very much like this.
Some Christians are preoccupied with themselves. They may not be selfish or egotistical, but they pay too much attention to what they are doing, to the mechanics of running. There is a place for such concern, but if we focus on ourselves, we will never run well for the Lord. Sometimes we are preoccupied with what other Christians are thinking and doing, especially in relation to us. Concern for others also has a place. We do not disregard our brothers in Christ or what they think about us. What they think about us, including their criticism, can be helpful to us. But if we focus on others, we are bound to stumble. We are not even to focus on the Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit, and when we are, our focus will be on Jesus Christ, because that is where the Spirit’s focus is (John 16:14).
It is not that we try hard not to look at this or that or the other things that may distract us. If our focus is truly on Jesus Christ, we will see everything else in its right perspective. When our eyes are on the Lord, the Holy Spirit has the perfect opportunity to use us, to get us running and winning.
We are to focus on Jesus because He is the author and perfecter of faith. He is the supreme example of our faith.
In 2:10 Jesus is called the author of salvation. Here He is the author of faith. He is the pioneer or originator, the one who begins and takes the lead. Jesus is the author, the originator, of all faith. He originated Abel’s faith, and Enoch’s and Noah’s, as well as Abraham’s, David’s, Paul’s, and ours. The focus of faith is also the originator of faith. As Paul explains, “Our fathers … all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1, 3-4). Micah had preached the same truth hundreds of years before Paul. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2).
But I believe the primary meaning of Author here is that of chief leader, or chief example. Jesus Christ is our preeminent example of faith. He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus lived the supreme life of faith. When the devil tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus’ reply each time was the expression of trust in His Father and His Word. Jesus would not bypass the Father’s will just to get food, or to test His Father’s protection or lordship (Matt. 4:1-10). He would wait until the Father supplied or protected or directed. When the ordeal was over, His Father did provide by sending angels to minister to Him. He trusted His Father implicitly, for everything and in everything. “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus said to His Father, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). Whatever the prospect of hardship or suffering, He trusted His Father. His Father’s will was what He lived by and died by. It was all Jesus ever considered. The faith of all the heroes of chapter 11 together could not match the faith of the Son of God. They were wonderful witnesses and examples of faith; Jesus is a more wonderful example still. Their faith was true and acceptable to God; His was perfect and even more acceptable. In fact, without Jesus’ faithfulness, no believer’s faith would count for anything. For if Jesus’ perfect faith had not led Him to the cross, our faith would be in vain, because there would then be no sacrifice for our sins, no righteousness to count to our credit.
Jesus not only is the author of faith, but also its perfecter, the One who carries it through to completion. He continued to trust His Father until He could say, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). These words, along with “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), were Jesus’ last before He died. His work was finished not only in that it was completed but in that it was perfected. If a composer dies while working on a masterpiece, his work on that piece is over but it is not finished. On the cross, Jesus’ work was both over and finished—perfected. It accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish, because, from birth to death, His life was totally committed into His Father’s hands. There has never been a walk of faith like Jesus’.
The world has always mocked faith, just as they mocked Jesus’ faith: “He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matt. 27:43). But in faith, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame . Why should we not also trust God in everything, since we have not begun to suffer what Jesus suffered? “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Jesus has set such a high example of faith that it is on His example that we should rivet our eyes for as long as we live. It is good to glance at the examples of the cloud of Old Testament witnesses, but it is imperative that we fix our eyes on Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. (12:3)
When we get weary in the race, when our faith runs out and we think God has turned His back, when it seems we will never get out of the mess we are in and we are sure our faith cannot hold on any longer, we should read this verse. Part of the purpose for fixing our eyes on Jesus is the same as that for considering the cloud of witnesses —our encouragement. Those saints were heroes of faith; He is the epitome of faith. Nothing we will ever be called to endure will compare to that which He endured. He is the divine Son of God, but while on earth He did not live in His own power and will, but in His Father’s. Otherwise, He could not be our example. And unless, by the Holy Spirit, we are truly able to live in the same way in which He lived, His life would not be an example but an impossible ideal to mock and to judge us.
We rejoice that one day we will “live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:10), but we should also rejoice that we can live like Him right now. We do not live in our own power but in His, just as on earth He did not live in His own power but in the Father’s. We can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).