“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
In Hebrews 11:1, the author defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for.” (Heb 11:1)
Even though the hopes we have as Christians haven’t been achieved yet but still remain as God’s promises, they are not just future things because we see and experience their substance in our present lives by faith.
What the Bible continually reminds us of is the fact that what’s seen with our eyes is not everything. The world was created by what’s unseen, God’s invisible power and word, which are much more important. What’s seen is subordinate to what’s unseen and there will surely come the time when what’s seen and temporary will be swallowed up by what’s unseen and eternal.
Those who know this truth put their hope not in temporary things of the world, but in the eternal things to come in the kingdom of God. That’s how our ancestors of faith lived on earth.
In Hebrews 11, the author wrote a list of many ancestors who lived by faith. Among them, we talked about Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
One of their common characteristics was that their eyes were fixed on things not yet seen. Even though God’s promises to them weren’t fulfilled in their lifetimes, and “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (Heb 11:13), they were able to stand strong in their faith because “they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.” (Heb 11:16)
So, by faith and with the hope of the kingdom of God, they lived on earth as “foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb 11:13).
Even when they were going through suffering and hardships because of their faith, they persevered and kept their faith, looking forward to God’s promises for eternal things. Nothing in the world could take away their faith.
“The world was not worthy of them” (Heb 11:38). They weren’t moved by any kind of suffering, persecution, or even death. That’s because they put their hope only in God and his promises.
Let Us Run the Race
That’s the kind of faith we must also have as Christians. Faith is not just to acknowledge something in our minds. Rather, faith is a very practical thing that changes our perspectives and ways of life.
Faith enables us to perceive eternal things, and the lives of those who put their hope in God’s promises and what’s unseen can’t be the same as the lives of those who only care about things in the world.
In Hebrews chapter 11, the author described how our ancestors of faith lived by faith. And now, in the last part of the book, he encourages all believers to run the race of faith as well. Let’s read Hebrews 12:1 together.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1)
Here, the author describes the journey of faith as a race. Christians have a race to run. In a race, there is a finish line. There’s a specific track we need to follow and not stray from. There’s a direction we should run. And there’s a reward.
So our journey of faith is similar to running a race. When we run a race of faith, there are specific rules to follow—God’s word—and a direction toward a finish line—the kingdom of God. There is a specific track that we should stay within, which is God’s will. And we should also remember that there’s a heavenly reward in this race of faith.
Paul also compares the journey of faith to a race. In 1 Co 9:24-26, he said,
“…Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1Co 9:24-26).
So, living by faith is like running a race. We are all like athletes on a track of faith. And all athletes must train. They know how hard it is to get a prize. So, they go into strict training in order to win. Even though rewards in the world don’t last forever, athletes still spend a lot of time and effort to win them.
Then, if those who compete for earthly rewards go into strict training, how much harder must we strive for the heavenly reward and crown that will last forever? Paul continued,
“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1Co 9:27)
This is the attitude we should also have when running a race of faith. To have this mindset, our eyes should be fixed on the eternal prize. That’s what faith does. Faith turns our eyes from temporary, earthly pleasures to eternal rewards in heaven so that we can continue to run this race until we finally get the prize in heaven that God will prepare for us.
Weight and Sin
The author says that there are two things we should throw off. First, we should throw off everything that hinders. NKJV says, “let us lay aside every weight.” I think this better conveys the original meaning.
The Greek word for ‘weight’ here is ὄγκος (ogkos), which basically means bulk or mass and can be translated as a ‘burden’ or ‘weight’.
No athlete would bring heavy items with them or wear heavy clothes when running a race. Their interest is to lower their weight as much as possible to run faster without spending much energy.
This ogkos—weight or burden—means every heavy obstacle that hinders us from reaching the final line. For Christians, it can be worldly interests, our worldly desires.
1 John 2:15 says,
“Do not love the world or anything in the world… For everything in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn 2:15).
These are the things we should throw off to run the race of faith. These can be huge obstacles and burdens that blind our spiritual eyes and prevent us from focusing on the goal of our faith. All the worries of life and excessive affection for the world can be huge burdens for our souls.
Second, we should throw off sin that easily entangles. In the book of Hebrews, the word ‘sin’ is often used as a specific sin of deliberate abandonment of Christ, but in this verse, sin refers to the general sin we all have as human beings.
Even though it’s hard to fight against our sinful nature, we shouldn’t let it control our lives. Whenever sin tries to overwhelm us, we should proclaim the truth that the authority of sin was already defeated, and its price was paid in full on the cross.
Even though sin still has a great impact on our lives, we should keep in mind that it can’t rule over us again because we’re not under the reign of sin but under God’s grace that sets us free. By faith, we can overcome our sinful nature and run the race of faith with Jesus Christ.
We should also remember that we’re not alone on this track because “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”. Here, the witnesses refer to the ancestors of faith listed in the previous chapter.
Despite suffering and hardships, they kept their faith and finished their race. And they are now surrounding us, watching us, and encouraging us to run the race until the end.
To remember this gives us strength to stand up and run again. We’re not alone in this race. Our ancestors of faith are watching over us. There are many other Christians who run this race with us now. And most importantly, Jesus is with us and helps us.
We can find another important aspect of the race of faith in verse 1—perseverance. We are to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1)
The apostle Jacob also said,
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (Jms 1:12)
We need to have perseverance because there are many temptations, suffering, and hardships on the track. There will be many kinds of trials and temptations from the world. So without perseverance we can’t finish the race.
But God has given us the power to persevere. That’s faith. Perseverance that comes from faith is God’s grace that helps us overcome everything that hinders us.
The Pioneer and Perfector of Faith
So, to finish the race successfully, we should focus our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. That’s what the author talks about in today’s passage. Let’s read it together.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
Here, the author introduces Jesus in two ways. He is the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Here, the Greek word that translated into ‘pioneer’ is ἀρχηγός (archēgos). The word refers to a person who takes the lead in something and thus sets an example.
The Bible says that there’s a pioneer of our faith—Jesus. There are a few reasons he is able to be the pioneer of our faith.
First, Jesus is the only one who completely finished the race. The ancestors of faith listed in Hebrews 11 haven’t reached the finish line yet as the last two verses say, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40).
They are still waiting for the rest of God’s people from all generations to finish their race of faith. Even though they finished their race in their lifetimes, God’s promises of eternal life in his kingdom haven’t yet been achieved. But when Jesus comes back, we will all enter the kingdom and enjoy eternal life together.
But Jesus is in the kingdom of God and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. So, because only Jesus perfectly finished the race of faith, he can be our pioneer of faith.
Second, Jesus is the pioneer of faith because only he can help us and enable us to run the race of faith. Hebrews 10:14 says,
“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14)
Even though we can’t run the race of faith on our own because of our weaknesses and sinful nature, we can continue to fight the good fight of faith in the one who is with us and helps us. There are no weaknesses or sins that Jesus’ blood can’t cleanse.
By his blood, Jesus makes us perfect and holy. He takes the lead in our faith and set an example for us through his life. The only thing we can do is continue to try to keep our eyes fixed on him and follow in his steps.
The author also says that Jesus is the perfecter of faith. The Greek word for this word is Τελειωτής (teleiōtēs) which means the one who perfects faith and sets the highest example of faith.
Even though the faith of those listed in Hebrews 11 was remarkable, none of them had perfect faith. Only Jesus did. Jesus laid down all his privileges and came down to the world for us. He was tempted in every way but didn’t sin. He endured all kinds of insults, trials, suffering, and misunderstanding. Most of all, Jesus endured the shame of the cross.
Through his life, Jesus showed us what perfect faith looks like. Jesus was the only perfect example of faith. And because his faith was perfect, he can perfect all believers including us.
And now, it’s our turn to run the race of faith. Even though we can never achieve what Jesus achieved on our own, we should remember the greatest example of faith that we should follow.
Jesus is the perfect example of faith. He is the one who started our faith and he is the goal of our faith. Therefore, fixing our eyes on our pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus, and looking forward to the heavenly reward he will give to all those who finish the race of faith, we should continue to run the race of faith with confidence and joy.
I hope that everyone here gets to know who Jesus is better and is strengthened in faith in him so that we all become able to run the race of faith, throwing off every weight and burden that hinders us until we finish the race with perseverance.