Summary: The life of the Christian is compared to a race. How are we able to run this race with perseverance?
Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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.”
Have you ever watched a tela-evangelist on TV? If you have, you may have heard something like this: “If you call now, you can have my miracle spring water which the Holy Spirit led me to Russia to collect so that you may be healed by it.” Or perhaps you heard something like this: “If you call right now, we’ll send you our special prayer fleece which has been blessed by the Holy Spirit. By holding this fleece while you pray, you hold the power of the Holy Spirit to heal you from your ailments.” And certainly, you’ve heard something like this: “And you can have all of this for a small contribution to our ongoing ministry of just $19.95.”
Now, I think most of us would agree that you’re probably not going to be healed by miracle spring water from Russia, or by praying with the aid of a special prayer fleece. And I’m sure that we would consider the motives of these people to be questionable at best. But there is an important truth conveyed here about what many Christians think Christianity is about. Many people today think that when you become a Christian, everything should become easy. All of your worries go away. All of your pain and suffering disappear. If you have enough faith, nothing bad will ever happen to you.
Many people think that Christianity is supposed to be a walk in the park. However, if you were to ask the Hebrew Christians in the first century, I think they would speak differently about what Christianity is. If we were to look at the whole book of Hebrews, especially chapter 10, we would see that the author refers to the persecution, hostility, and torture that these Christians were facing. Some of the members had grown lax in their attendance. Some members had been imprisoned, and others suffered the confiscation of their property. They were also facing public abuse and ridicule.
It sure doesn’t sound like being Christians made the lives of these people any better. In fact, Christianity probably made their lives more difficult. Now we don’t face the same kind of persecution in our culture as the first century Hebrew Christians faced, but our lives are not perfect even though we claim Jesus as Lord. Maybe this is why instead of describing Christian faithfulness as a walk through the park, the author describes it as a race, and not just a short sprint, but a long race the requires endurance.
So how can we run this race of faith with endurance? I don’t know how many of you have ever done any type of distance running, but if you have, you know how difficult it can be. When I was in high school, I ran cross-country, and we used to run anywhere from about 5 to 8 miles every day. There were some benefits to it. I was in the best shape of my life, and that felt good. There was a great sense of accomplishment when I achieved a personal goal or won a race. But it was never easy. It was never fun, and I concluded that people that though it was fun must not have been breathing correctly while running and enough oxygen must not have been getting to their brains. Maybe some of you have the same feelings.
When the writer to the Hebrews refers to the Christian faith as a race that must be run with endurance, he is talking about something that is difficult. One cannot just get up and run a marathon without training. There are things that runners must do in order to get themselves in shape to run. So also, in order to run the race of faith, there are things that we must do.
Well, let’s look at the things we must do. The first thing that the text tells us that we must do is lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us. In other words, in order to run this race, we have to stop sinning. The problem should be obvious. The text itself describes the problem. Sin entangles us very easily.
I love to eat, and I’m sure I’m not the only one here. And like most of you, my favorite foods to eat are the foods that are the worst for me. A love for bad food does not help one train to run a race. In fact, eating bad food is probably the worst thing you can do if you’re training for a race. But it’s so good. It’s so attractive. Maybe I can have just one cookie. Maybe I can have just a few potato chips. Some ice cream here or there isn’t going to hurt that much. If you love food like I do, you understand what I’m saying here. Food is so attractive and so readily accessible that it’s easy to slip and consume food we know is going to hinder our efforts to get in shape to run the race.