Millions of people have already started planning and mapping out how 2014 is going to be different from 2013. If it hasn’t happened already, people will be making lists and checking them twice to make sure 2014 is their best year yet. I know you’re probably thinking I’m about to start bashing resolutions; well, I’m not. Go ahead. Make your list. In fact, I will make one myself. There are definitely some areas in my life that I would like to see treated differently in the coming year.
I do also know that for a lot of people, January 1st is just another day on the calendar and they have nothing to really look forward to, work toward or work at. I honestly think this type of person is in a more dangerous place than those who make resolutions (even if they’re not always kept). I say, this cautiously and with all sincerity, “if you have no one or nothing to live for, you are missing out on life!” You are stuck.
On the contrary, the reality for most of us is that we set resolutions and somewhere in February or March, we get discouraged, fall off the wagon or forget about the resolutions altogether and find ourselves stuck too. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of being stuck; especially when it comes to my relationship with God and the life that I live in Him. I’m ready for change and I want to continue the process God started in me years ago when I first believed; today.
So whether you make yearly resolutions or not, I’m here to invite you and dare I say challenge you (re)prioritize that list or at least have this ONE thing on your list. TO RUN A RACE THAT IS PLEASING TO GOD.
The Call to Endurance
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnare us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (emphasis mine, Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB)
The Letter to the Hebrews is a masterpiece and one of the most intriguing books of the Bible. Partially, because no one is sure who wrote it. These five words sum up the letter, “Christ is better; trust Him.” The first 10.5 chapters of this book talk about how:
- Christ is better than the angels
- Christ is better than Moses and the Mosaic Law
- Christ offers and provides sure rest and salvation for the people of God
Then, in Hebrews 10:19-23, the writer says:
Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (emphasis mine, HCSB)
In other words, in response to who Christ is and what He has accomplished on our behalf, our response is to move toward God and to live for him; by FAITH. It is by faith that we approach God and live lives that are pleasing to Him. The writer even gives us examples (Hebrews 11) of people who have displayed and lived by faith to which God deemed their lives pleasing.
For the sake of this post, we’ll define faith as the ESV study Bible defines it:
- A settled assurance or confidence that something in the future – something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God – will actually come to pass because God will bring it about.
Then finally, in Chapter 12 we come to our text and the writer tells us that in light of what pleases God (“faith”, see Hebrews 11:6) and the OT examples given in Chapter 11, we should resolve to live our lives the same way; or as he puts it, we should “run the race set before us.”
I see five things in the opening two verses of Hebrews 12 that give insight into what it takes to “run the race”:
- Embrace the fact that IT IS POSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD WITH OUR LIVES.
- The “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in v. 1 are there to remind us that ordinary people (just like us) with faults, failures, dreams and hopes were all approved by God not so much because what they did was so great, but because of their faith (see Hebrews 11:2). Their actions flowed out of hearts that trusted God (albeit not perfectly) and since they were able to live lives worthy of God’s approval, we can do it too; by faith. No matter how sordid yours and my past is, no matter how much we may have blown it in 2013, we have the opportunity to run on by faith in such a way that would be pleasing to God. We can start today.
2. Realize that there is a PATH MARKED OUT FOR EACH OF US.
- Each of us will receive (have received) different assignments from God and experience different trials and obstacles, but the goal is the same; finish the race. Let me encourage you by reminding you that there is purpose for your life and God wants to do things uniquely through you for your good and His glory. You are not here by accident. You are not still here by accident. Maybe you gotten off course and it feels like you’re out of the race or maybe you’re stuck at the start line and clueless about what is supposed to happen next. Maybe these few questions will help stir up something inside of you that will cause you to start running (again):
- What is it that God has been calling you to?
- What is it that you have given up on because you didn’t trust God?
- What is it that you are running away (in a negative sense) from?
- Don’t go into 2014 with a sideline mentality when God is inviting you to draw near to Himself. God is inviting you and all of us to a deeper and fuller relationship. God is wanting to make us Disciples that He is pleased with. GET (BACK) IN THE RACE!
3. Do away with ANYTHING that keep you from RUNNING WELL.
- The writer mentions two things that we have to cast off in order to run well, weight and sin.
- Weight – burdens, baggage and stuff that is not necessarily sinful but can (and often do) keep us from running towards and for God. What is it that you have been carrying with you for the last ____ years? Who or what has been holding you back from fully pursuing, trusting and serving God? If you have ever watched a track meet you would have noticed that runners try to limit themselves to wear/carry only what is necessary during a race. So it should be with us. Besides, there are enough natural obstacles and trials that we have to face in this life anyways.
- Sin that so easily ensnare us – that which is done wrong and/or everything that is offensive to God and in violation of His law. The picture painted in this phrase is that there are sinful thoughts and patterns that we allow to “skillfully encircle and surround” us to the point that we cannot advance in a positive way. The phrasing also suggests that we know exactly what these things are and the reason they keep us from advancing is because we refuse to renounce and free ourselves of the very sinful thoughts and patterns that Christ has already set us free from. So again, the question must be asked; what is it that it is time to get rid of? This is not a call to sinless perfection but an exhortation to take sin seriously and to continually be yielding to the Spirit of God and at the same time, dying to our flesh. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (emphasis mine, Romans 8:12-13).” The famous phrase by John Owen comes to mind here: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you!”
4. Stay COMMITTED.
- The Greek word used in v.1 is often translated in English to mean “steadfastness”, “patience”, “endurance”, “constancy”, “perseverance”. According to Thayer’s Lexicon however, when used in the NT, it is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. Great runners are great because they train and are dedicated to the sport and the goal. Even in bad weather or through injuries, great runners keep running. When things are going well, they run. When things are unfavorable, they keep running. Friend, whether 2013 was great or not so great, resolve to keep running.
5. Give Jesus your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.
- As much as we can draw from and take encouragement from the great “cloud of witnesses”, the writer makes it very clear that in order to successfully run the race of life, we must focus intently on Jesus. The word used here literally means to look away from every other object and focus intently on something else. In this case, that something is not some thing, but someone; Jesus. He is the foundation and basis of our faith and our prime example of what it looks like to truly trust the Father and live for Him. The race He ran, He ran to perfection. He is the standard, but not only that, He is our source of strength and life (John 4:14, 15:5). He is our hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is our confidence (Philippians 3:7-11). He is our help (Psalm 46:1-3). He is our salvation (Acts 4:11-12, Rev. 19:1-2). He is our victory (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). He has made it possible for us to run a race pleasing to God through His life, death, resurrection and empowering presence (through the Spirit). He has set us free. Free to worship/serve. Free to trust. Free to live. FREE TO RUN.
So as 2014 begins there’s only three things left to do: Get on your mark. Get set. GO!
Off to the races,
Ps. Check out the sermon from which this post was derived from:
Let Us Run This Race!