The Christian Race
In the previous chapter (11) of the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer took us through a roll call of the heroes of faith. In part, he wants to show us what makes a “saint,” a holy one of God. Namely, it is not anything the world sees (In fact, the world despises God’s saints!); rather a person is holy because God counts them worthy through faith to receive His promises. Through faith, God’s saints trust even without sight what God has set forth in His Word; through faith, they are active in love and steadfast under persecution.
But far more the author of Hebrews desired to show us, the saints of today, that we are not alone in the struggle to confess Christ. Like a cloud, the saints’ examples are visible, though we cannot touch those who went before us.
What great comfort it is to know that the Christian race is run with the remembrance of the saints who have already finished! Not only has God set a goal before us, but He has also graciously commended to us those who bore witness to their faith, examples of faith and love. They are proof that the task set before us is not beyond the powers of any one of us. God has called us to run a race, and that race we can run, not by our own strength, but by the strength which God gives us. Looking to Jesus and His cross, our race is already won. To this, all the saints testify.
And what else do we learn from these saints? Well, in order to run the race, we are to lay aside every weight. The word rendered “weight” is a technical, an athletic, a gymnastic word; it means, strictly speaking, not just weight, but "extra flesh” or “fat.” In other words, we must get into shape; strip off every weight - the sin which so closely clings to us.
Martin Luther wrote of this passage:
Only to those who manfully struggle and fight against their faults, invoking the grace of God, does God not impute sin. Therefore he who comes to confession should not think that he is laying down his burden so that he may lead a quiet life, but he should know that by putting down his burden he fights as a soldier of God and thus takes on another burden for God in opposition to the devil and to his own personal faults” (LW 25:339).
This is not for the faint of heart! The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon, demanding and challenging. In fact, this Greek word for “race,” agōna, is the term from which we get the English term “agony.” Hence the author’s exhortation: “let us run with endurance... lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.”
So if there is one point in which you are specially weak against the assaults of the devil; if you know that there is one sin to whose assaults you are specially prone – contentiousness, bitterness, pride, sexually immorality; if you are resisting the discipline of the Lord; then shape up! Confess your sin; put those things off, and strive for holiness.
Most of all, look to Jesus the author and perfector of our faith. For He who “endured the cross, despising the shame” is ready to open the way to salvation and, with all the saints, bring you to your final destination - “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.”