How Goes The Race? – Hebrews 12:1-4


The purpose of this passage, the intent of the Holy Spirit in these four verses is to show us the necessity of perseverance in faith.


The Connection

"Wherefore”—Be sure you get the connection between Hebrews 12 and what has gone before. This word “wherefore” looks all the way back to Hebrews 10:35-39, where. Paul urges us to patiently, doggedly continue in the faith, assuring us that we will need much grace to give us the patience and fortitude with which to endure unto the end. Then, in chapter 11, he gives us those great examples of faith, patience, and perseverance drawn from Old Testament history. In Hebrews 12 he picks up the admonition.


The Cloud of Witnesses

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses”—There is an allusion here to the ancient Olympic games of Greece, the games played for the gods of the pagans. These witnesses are our brothers and sisters who have gone before us into glory. Specifically, these witnesses refer to those Old Testament saints mentioned in chapter 11. But it certainly includes all who have gone before us into heaven, because the body of Christ, the people of God, are one. These are not merely spectators at a game. They are men and women who have run the race before us, finished their course, and won the prize. Now, they are a cloud of witnesses urging us on in the race.


The word translated “witnesses” is really the word from which we get our word “martyr.” It is a word full of meaning and instruction. These witnesses are people who laid down their lives in the cause. Some were martyred by the hands of others. All were martyred by their own hands—They all voluntarily laid down their lives for Christ. They are people who bore on earth, and continue to bear in heaven, witness to Christ, to the blessed sufficiency of his grace, to his unfailing faithfulness, and to the glorious majesty of his person.


They are presently witnesses of those of us who are still running the race. We must not make more or less of this than the Scriptures assert. This much is certain—God’s saints in heaven have a keen, constant interest in his kingdom on earth.


The Charge Given

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."—


First, Paul calls for us to join him in laying aside every weight that hinders us in our race. He says, “Let us, like those who have gone before us into heaven, lay aside every weight.” Obviously, he is talking about those things that weigh heavily upon us, those things that press us down and hinder us from running the race. Lay aside the terrible burden of the law that you cannot bear. The Lord God has laid it aside. Let us lay it aside. Take the weight and burden of your sin and lay it down, lay it on Christ, and quit carrying it. Our God has laid it aside. Let us lay it aside (Rom. 6:11). Literally, Paul says, “Having laid aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily best us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Take all the weight and burden of your heart’s care and lay it upon his broad shoulders. “Cast all your care on him, for he careth for you!” – It is both foolish and wrong for us to spend our energy and time dwelling upon and carrying burdens that we can do nothing about. Let us also, with deliberate purpose, lay aside every earthly care that would keep us from running the race set before us (Matt. 6:25-34).


Second,  he  says, “Let us lay aside the sin which doth so easily beset us.” No doubt, these words may be applied to many, many things, many besetting sins. Indeed, we must not let sin have dominion over us. We must say no to the flesh and to all worldly lusts. But, if you read the words carefully, you will see that Paul uses a definite article, “the”, and refers to “the sin” that so easily besets us all as one sin. He uses the singular form of the word “sin,” not the plural. He is talking about one, single sin that besets us all, one sin that constantly wraps around us, entangles, and trips us up. It is the same thing Jeremiah said about himself (Lam. 1:14). The sin that so easily besets us, that is so easily and constantly committed, that so much hinders us and dishonors our God, is unbelief. Unbelief, more than anything else, hinders us in our race. Unbelief caused the disciples to cry, “Master, carest thou not that we perish.” Unbelief caused Martha and Mary to question the Lord’s goodness. Unbelief caused Peter to sink as he walked across the stormy sea. Unbelief keeps us from seeing the glory of God in the work of his grace and in the works of his providence (John 11:40). Unbelief causes our hands to hang down, makes our knees weak, and turns our feet off course!


Third, the Apostle calls for us, laying aside every weight of care and the sin that so easily trips us up, to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” The Amplified Version paraphrases this admonition in a very good way.


“Therefore, then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses {who have born testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance—unnecessary weight—and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us.”


The race that is set before us is the course of our individual lives. Each course has its own obstacles, hills, valleys, and difficulties. But it is the course set before us by God our Father and Christ our Redeemer. The arena is this present evil world. The course is set before us in the Word of God and by divine providence. The race is a race that must be run. It requires effort, constant strain, relentless endurance, perseverance, patience, and determination. The Prize is Christ (Phil. 3:7-14). Read verse 2 and learn how to run this race.


“Looking Unto Jesus”

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."


The word “looking” would be better translated “looking away!” The only way to run this race is to look away from ourselves, our weaknesses, our troubles, the world, the cares of the world—everything! Look away unto “Jesus”—Our Savior—Our Redeemer—Our Covenant Surety—Our Lord! Look unto him by faith. Look into him. Dive into the mystery of his person, his offices, his works, and his grace! He is “the Author of our faith.” He is the Object of our faith (2 Tim. 1:8-12). And he is  the Finisher of our faith.