Patiently Run the Race

January 25, 2015 / No. 3760

Dear Radio Friends,
Did you ever run in a race? Not just a short sprint of a hundred meters or so, but a long-distance race? This was and still is an event in the Olympics that is held yet today. And it is this figure that the writer to the Hebrews uses in Hebrews 12: 1, 2. Let me read that to you:
“Therefore 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, 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 figure used here teaches us an important spiritual truth. The writer to the Hebrews compares our lives in this world to running a race. The writer to the Hebrews teaches us what we must do if we are going to finish that race successfully. So, we have before us today a passage that gives much strength and encouragement to God’s people. It gives us the necessary impetus to keep us running the wearisome race we call life. Actually, we found this encouragement already in the few verses we were studying in the last two broadcasts in connection with Hebrews 11. We considered a few men and women who exhibited faith in their lives. God required of them some extraordinary deeds that indeed tested their faith—some of them sorely. As a result, they become for us examples of faith. The Word of God we consider today tells us concerning these saints that we today are compassed about (that is, surrounded) with this cloud of witnesses. They are all around us, and we stand with them. Together we are people of faith who walk not by sight. And we therefore stand among this cloud of witnesses and are exhorted unto faithfulness. The idea is that if they were by God’s grace able to stand by faith, so can we.
I. The Urgent Command
As we mentioned at the outset, the writer to the Hebrews uses the example of a runner in a race to picture for us our life as believers in this world. And the particular reference he makes is that of a marathon runner. This runner is not a short-distance runner. He runs a long-distance race. A race of this sort requires a lot of stamina. It is not won within a matter of seconds, but it takes hours. He must set himself a pace—a worthy pace—and follow that pace until the end of the race, if he is going to cross the finish line to win the prize. A wise runner in such a race is also a person who knows that to be competitive he must wear the proper attire. We have all seen joggers; or perhaps we have even watched a marathon race. The attire of such runners is minimal. They are dressed in lightweight shorts as well as a sleeveless shirt, which also is as light as possible. Neither does the wise runner take anything with him. He does not carry a water bottle or head gear or heavy tennis shoes. He lays aside every weight that would hinder him from running the race as swiftly and surely as possible.
And one other thing is true of a runner of this sort: endurance. He is one who perseveres. He knows the race is not going to be over immediately. He patiently endures the sweating, the aching muscles as they warm up, the heavy breathing he will have for the extent of the race. And he runs. He runs without letting up and without quitting! He runs. Sound wearying?
Well, that is the race that every one of God’s people runs. Every true believer runs this race. Not physically, of course. The writer to the Hebrews has in mind a spiritual race. It is the race of faith. That is the real subject that underlies our text this evening—faith. That is what Hebrews 11 is all about—those men and women who exhibited great faith in their lives. You see, when the child of God is regenerated, that is, brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, then at that moment he or she is grafted into Christ. God binds them to Christ in such a way that the life of Christ flows forth out of Him into that otherwise dead person. In that way the person is graciously given by God the life of Christ. This power by which the dead sinner is now grafted into Christ is the power of faith.
When that power is worked in the heart of a person, then that faith also comes to manifestation in his or her life. He is given spiritual eyes and ears so that when he sees and hears of the things of the kingdom of heaven he believes in them. When the child of God is told of God and God’s mighty works in creation and in salvation, he believes. When the child of God is told of his own salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ, he believes. Because of this a whole new life is spread before him. It is a life that is in principle different from that of the unregenerate man. It is no longer under the slavery of unbelief. Now his whole life is motivated by and governed by faith. That life of faith is what the writer to the Hebrews compares to running a race. From the moment we are regenerated and given the gift of faith, to the end of our lives, when we die, we are running a race. And it is a long-distance race. We are in it for the long haul. It is not a quick sprint and we are finished. It is a marathon.
Throughout our lives in this sinful world, we are called upon to exercise our faith, to live out of that principle of faith. Often-times God puts that faith to the test! There are many hills on which to run, and valleys where life seems so dark and perilous. There are rocky ways in this life as well as sudden turns that we do not anticipate. The path laid out for us in this sin-cursed world is one filled with dangers and perils—sickness, death, temptations, persecutions, and battles. What is more, we face every day the running—just the plain everyday exertion of running the race. And it can grow so wearisome! Just running itself can become so monotonous! To keep our spiritual lives not only at an even keel, but to keep our faith, our trust in God and in Jesus Christ, strong and at a high level is so difficult. That is the race of faith we are called to run in this life. We must run every day in the conscious knowledge and confidence that God is our God and Jesus Christ is our Savior.
This is why we receive the admonition of our text: “Let us run the race that is set before us!” This race is not optional. It is not a race that we may walk through lazily. It is not one in which we can stop along the way and rest. We may not be spiritual slouches in this race! We are commanded in our text to run it and to keep on running it. The tendency of the believer is to start that race with vigor, but once the way gets a little rough to give up on it! He quickly—too quickly—gives up and stops running and gives in to the temptation around him. And the admonition we receive, dear fellow saint, is: Do not stop running! Do you think it was easy for Noah while he built the ark to hear for 120 long years people mock and scorn him for something that seemed so ridiculous? By nature he would have liked to stop running the race of faith. Do you think Moses, when leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, did not oftentimes desire to walk away from it all and give up. They were so unthankful and unholy! Do you not think that the saints we spoke of in the last couple of broadcasts had times in their lives when they wished to give up and quit running?
A life of faith is not an easy one to live! The race is long, and so very, very difficult at times. This is why we are called by God, when we are admonished here in our text, to lay aside every weight—namely, the sin that doth so easily beset us! That is the one weight that far too often we fail even to realize that we carry with us when we run. It is a heavy weight that slows us way down. In fact, it is the weight of that sin that oftentimes makes us want to quit and give up. When the verses we consider speak of the weight of sin, they are not talking about the heavy burden of guilt that we must struggle with every day. That also is a burden that wearies the child of God. But the inspired writer has in mind the sin that far too often gets in the way of running the race of faith in this world. Sin sidetracks us. Sin makes us lose our concentration or makes us want to sit down and rest for a little while.
Is that not so true? We can sit in church on the Lord’s Day and be fed by God’s Word. As a result, we set out in the new week with high expectations. Then we get into Monday and suddenly there are those same evil desires of our sinful flesh. We covet, we lust, we get angry, jealous, envious. And as the week progresses the Word of God we heard on Sunday begins to fade. Slowly but surely those expectations of faith that we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the week begin to wane, and by the end of the week it seems we are barely trudging along in the paths of God! The reason for that is our sin. Our sinful flesh hangs on us as extra baggage and it slows us down in the race. The sin of the world grabs out at us as we run by and seeks to pull us off track. The wicked tell us there is a better way, an easier way to run. The way they want us to run is much more fun. It is not nearly as strenuous, because it does not require faith to run in it!
That is why we have in Hebrews 12:1 an addition to the admonition we receive: let us run with patience the race set before us. That word “patience” here actually means “endurance.” It speaks of perseverance, that is, with the will in us not to give up! Again, the Word of God here hits the nail right on the head! We set out running hard and then our sin ensnares us and we stumble. We start to slow down. Sin presses on us and we get winded. Our feet are now just plodding along in life. Phooey! I quit! I give up. Why even try to live a godly life? Why even try to resist temptation? I cannot seem to run the race hard enough. I’ll never make it to heaven anyway! I give up. Then I go with those I do not belong with and give in to my sinful flesh and the temptations set before me.
No! God’s Word says to us today: No! You may not give in! You must keep on running the race of faith. You must run with patience. You must persevere and not grow weary. You must run and keep on running. I know you may be winded, I know your spiritual muscles might ache, I know that the desire is simply to give up and go along with the others in the way of sin. But that is not an option. It is a command of God to you and me, brothers and sisters in the Lord. You see that cloud of witnesses given us in Hebrews 11? Do you see the race they ran? Do you see their faith? Look at what they did through faith! We, fellow believers, stand among these people of faith. God has worked in us that same faith! If they could run the race and obtain the prize, so can we! Run!
II. Our Only Strength
But if we are to run successfully, we must bear something in mind. We cannot run, we cannot make it through even one leg of the race, if we do not look unto Jesus. Faith is of such a nature that it looks away from self and to our Savior. If we are to run the race of faith, then our spiritual eyes must be fixed on Jesus alone. Faith, you understand, is that work of God by which He binds us to our Savior. Faith therefore unites us inseparably with Christ. But when exercising that faith, it is so easy for us to look away from Christ. And then we try to find strength from within ourselves to run the race rather than from without. That is exactly what the wicked unbelieving world tells us we have to do. All the power and all the ability to do anything, the wicked say, is found within man. The believer, however, does not look for strength to press on in himself, but he looks outside himself.
You and I in our race of faith must look to Jesus, because all of our strength, all of our ability to run, is found in Him alone. Why? Because He is the author and finisher of our faith. He it is that works faith in us and He it is that will accomplish that faith in us, that is, bring it to its perfect end. If faith is our own work, as the Arminian loves to claim, then we will not run the race, because fallen man in Adam has no faith, much less desires to walk in faith. But Christ is the author of our faith.
He works faith in the hearts of His people. Christ sends forth His Spirit at the time of regeneration into the hearts of those whom God has chosen, and this Spirit works faith. It is that same Spirit of Christ that assures us and upholds us in that faith. Faith, therefore, not only in its beginning stages, but also in its every facet, is a work of Christ in us.
From beginning to end Christ upholds us in our faith, so that you and I cannot for a moment run apart from living in conscious connection with Christ. Peter tried it, and he sank beneath the waves and billows. We try it, and the moment we do we stumble into the way of sin. We may not take our eyes off Jesus! We can do all things only through Christ who strengthens us. He is the power that works in and through us to persevere. He gives us the strength to continue running in our race. And He is the one who brings us to the end of the race too. He not only is the author of faith but the finisher too. He who has begun a good work in us will be faithful to complete it! We cannot reach the finish line without the strength found in Christ. If we think we can stand apart from His strength, if we think we can stand in our own righteousness, if we think we have the power in us to withstand temptation and perils, think again! We will stumble in our pride and we will never complete the race! Faith always draws the believer to Christ and Him alone.
And in Christ is found the strength to run because Christ Himself ran the race. Not that we place Christ on a par with us. We look to Him as the author and finisher of our faith. He sets us on the path and He brings us to the end. But nevertheless, Christ ran the race too. We read in verse 2, the last part: “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.” Here is what the writer to the Hebrews wants us to picture. Before Christ stood the prize, that is, the joy that would be His at God’s right hand.
To gain that prize, however, Christ was called to endure the cross and the shame He would have to bear. That race Christ ran required endurance and perseverance, because He had to suffer the wrath of God against our sin and shame. We are told in our text that Christ did that. He endured the cross. He suffered through the most excruciating pain of body and soul. He suffered under the heavy and painful wrath of God in order to accomplish our salvation. He did this as the author and finisher of our faith—the one who by means of the cross accomplished for us all the work of salvation. But what we must realize is that to do this Christ had to endure much shame. He was ridiculed by men, mocked, spit upon, and rejected of them. Christ was forsaken by God and alone in His death. But Christ despised that shame, i.e., He willingly suffered it. He stood in the face of that shame and scorned it.
Why? Because Christ had His eye on the prize! What was that? The power that would be given Him at the right hand of God’s throne. Christ now rules at God’s right hand. He has through His humiliation been exalted to highest glory and power. Christ in His power executes the decrees of God. And that is the greatest of all joys! Christ had His eye on the joy that He would be given to rule over all, and Christ endured. He persevered! As a result, He gained the prize! And it is through His power as the winner of the race that Christ gives you and me the strength to run!
III. The Eternal Prize
Yet always, at all times, we must keep our eye on Christ—the author and finisher of our faith. And in that connection we must always remained focused on the goal, the prize that will be ours when we cross the finish line. At the time of death we too will be given the joy! What joy? Why, the joy that comes by sitting beneath the throne of God and at Jesus’ feet. No, we will not be placed on Christ’s throne at God’s right hand. But we will be before that throne day and night. And we will share in the glory and the love that are found in Christ and in God the Father.
And that, people of God, is joy! Heavenly bliss! The race will be over—no more running as we still must now. No more weariness, no more need to persevere. Our eternal rest will be attained.
We are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses! They surround us! Follow their example! Follow the example that Christ has left us, by which He became the very power unto eternal joy! Run the race! And when we grow weary, remember: God will supply us the strength in order that we can mount up with wings as eagles and fly along the way. We will run and not grow weary, and we shall walk and not faint! God give us that faith!