Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
At the end of Hebrews 11, we are reminded that the old covenant saints, in their lifetimes, never received what was promised. This was because God was not willing to perfect them apart from new covenant believers. Nevertheless, they died in faith, trusting that God would bring all of His promises to final fulfillment (vv. 39–40).
Jesus is the one who brings all of God’s promises to final fulfillment. He brings the new covenant through the perfect sacrifice of Himself (8:1–10:18). He is the one who will perfect God’s people.
However, though we live in a better era after Christ than those who lived before His sacrifice, our positions are not wholly dissimilar. We still must wait for the return of Christ to bring His kingdom to consummation (8:13; 9:28). As such, we still must persevere in faith until Jesus comes back. We must press on just as the saints of old did.
This is the point that the author of Hebrews makes in today’s passage. We are called to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1). This is an image of an athletic competition, of Olympic footraces familiar to the original audience of this book. We see then that the life of faith is like a race that must be run with endurance so that the finish line may be crossed and the prize received.
One motivation to run this race is the great “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us. In a race, the stadium is filled with great throngs of people in the bleachers cheering on the contestants to victory. In the race that is the Christian life, the old covenant saints described in chapter 11 are our cheerleaders. They cheer us on through the example of their faithful endurance, waiting for the promises of God to come. They cheer us on saying, “You live in an even better age than we did. Therefore, you have no excuse for not persevering. So run brothers and sisters, run and do not stop holding onto Christ!”
The old covenant saints encourage us to run with endurance. Yet we will only run with endurance if we throw off all hindrances. The things that hinder us, today’s passage tells us, are the sins that cling so closely. If we have sins that overcome us, then we may never finish the race. They will weigh us down like heavy clothing, preventing us from running with freedom and endurance. We must therefore “lay aside” these sins. We must turn away from them and look instead to Jesus.
The Christian life is a marathon. It is a race that must be run with endurance. By ourselves we would never make it. But thanks be to God, He holds us up and gives the church to us as a cheering section. Take some time to think of the people who have most encouraged you in your race. If possible, go and thank them for doing so.