Run With Endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2)

finish line

Big Idea: Endure by laying aside encumbrances and focusing your eyes on Jesus.

I’ve never run a full marathon, but know that something happens at about the two-hour mark of running.

Your body has enough glycogen stores to run for about 18 to 20 miles. But at that point, your body simply runs out of ready energy. It can convert energy from other sources — fats and proteins — but it’s not as easy. This is what runners call hitting the wall. Your legs will feel heavy. Your vision may go blurry. You may experience muscle cramps. You could even feel disoriented. There are some strategies you can use to avoid it, but you’ve got to be prepared for this if you’re going to run a marathon.

The same thing is going to happen in your walk with God. You can run the race on your natural stores for a while, but if you follow God long enough, you’re not going to be able to finish on your own. You’re going to need a strategy to run with endurance when you no longer have what it takes to finish the race.

We’ve been looking at the book of Hebrews for the past few months, and today’s passage focuses on the main problem that this letter is meant to address.

The book of Hebrews was written to a church that was getting old and was settling into the world and losing its wartime mentality and starting to drift through life without focus, without vigilance, and without energy. Their hands were growing weak, their knees were feeble. It was just easier to meander in the crowd of life than to run the marathon. (John Piper)

Like a runner hitting the wall, or a car sputtering on empty, this church was not on course to complete its course. They were drifting. They were neglecting. They’d gotten spiritually lazy.

And the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Over and over, the writer offers warning after warning to the church. You can’t just coast and sputter in the Christian life and expect to make it to the end. You get the sense that the writer is trying to shake them out of their complacency. If you ever need to be reminded of what’s at stake in your endurance, read the five warning passages of Hebrews.

They were in danger refusing to obey the voice of the living God who speaks in his Son. They were in danger of treating Jesus with utter contempt by crucifying him again, subjecting him to public disgrace (6:6). They were close to rejecting his new covenant sacrifice by which the work of atonement was completed (10:29). And he warns them: apostasy has catastrophic consequences.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (10:26-27)

So what do we do? What do we do when we hit the wall and we’re beginning to drift? The consequences are serious, but what do we do about it?

Today’s passage answers this question. We don’t just need a warning; we need practical steps we can take, and this passage gives us two.

Here’s the first:

Lay aside every encumbrance (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… (12:1)

I was at a race in Burlington in the winter. It was freezing cold, so we all had blankets and winter parkas while we waited for the race to start. We prepared for the start of the race. When the race started, all the blankets and parkas came flying off. You don’t run a race with extra weight. You lay aside those weights because they will hinder you in completing your assignment.

Verse 1 pictures the Christian life as a race. We’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These are the people we looked at last week: flawed, weak, imperfect people who trusted what God says is true, even when it didn’t look like it. They ran the race. They finished the course. They’re meant to show us what it looks like to do this.

The idea of witnesses carries a double meaning. There are two kinds of witnesses: witnesses who speak and witnesses who watch. I think he’s primarily talking about the first kind here. They’re witnesses primarily in the sense that they served as examples to us. They kept running when it didn’t look like they couldn’t win. They’ve shown us what it’s like to finish the race. We’re not alone; we’re not the only ones to suffer and endure. If they finished, we can finish too. They’re telling us, “It can be done!”

John Owen said:

All the saints of the Old Testament, as it were, stand looking on us in our striving, encouraging us unto our duty, and ready to testify unto our success with their applauses. They are placed about us unto this end; we are ‘compassed’ with them.

Run. They did it under incredible pressure. By God’s grace, we can do it too.

So what do we do in this race? We lay aside every weight. Get rid of anything that slows you down. This includes two categories:


Lay aside the “sin which clings so closely.” I love his honestly. Sin does cling closely. It looks so enticing. But it will cost you the race. Never take sin lightly. Realize the threat that sin poses to finishing well. Lay it aside. Get rid of it.

We tend to think of sin as not that serious. We’re against the big sins, but a lot of us get pretty comfortable with little sins. We think we can keep them out of control.

The older I get, the more I see how damaging sin really is. We can’t make peace with sin. It’s like getting into your car and realizing that there’s a poisonous snake sitting on the passenger seat. You don’t wait until it’s convenient to stop to deal with the snake. You get out of that car. You realize that snake as a clear and present danger to your soul.

The same with sin. Don’t ignore it. Don’t wait to deal with it. As John Owen put it, kill sin, or it will kill you.

The Puritan Thomas Brooks said:

It is a sad thing to depart from God for a trifle. It is the greatest folly to venture hell for a small matter, and to break with God for a little … For the love of one little sin, some of have lost God, and their souls forever. Many times small sins are more serious. Great sins startle the soul, and awaken it to repentance, but little ones breed and work secretly until they trample the soul. Sin grows by degrees until you cannot prevail over it.

What sin do you need to lay aside? Because of Jesus, you are free from both the penalty and the power of sin. Sin no longer has dominion over you. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

If you’re going to finish the race, lay that sin aside. What is it? It could be covetousness, hatred, laziness, lust, ingratitude, pride. Whatever it is, get rid of it. It will destroy it if you let it. If you are trapped in a pattern of habitual sin, don’t hide that sin. Declare war on it. Cultivate a desire to get rid of it. Ask for help. Fight that sin with discipline, a view on God’s grace, and with the power of the Holy Spirit. Make no room for that sin. Treat it like the snake in the car and get rid of it because it’s dangerous to your soul.

But there’s something else to get rid of.

Anything that slows you down

“…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…”

It’s not just sin. It could be any weight that slows you. In Shoe Dog, Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, describes how seriously they take the weight of their shoes. “One ounce sliced off a pair of shoes, he said, is equivalent to 55 pounds over one mile,” he writes.

What is it that is not necessarily wrong but is slowing you down? Susanna Wesley, who raised two famous preachers (John and Charles) a few hundred years ago, taught her children:

whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things;—in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

For her, sin was anything that slows you down in your pursuit of God. Hobbies can slow you down. Social media can slow you down. Lay aside sins, and lay aside even good things that are slowing you down in your pursuit of God.

We’re in danger of not finishing the race. The first action we can take is to lay aside every encumbrance. Friends, please take this seriously. Please spend some time today thinking about what you need to lay aside so that you can finish the race. That’s the first action that we need to take.

But that’s not all. The author identifies a second action we need to take as well. Lay aside every encumbrance, and then:

Look to Jesus (12:2).

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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)

How do we endure in the race? The writer’s just given us a whole chapter of examples of people who trusted God against the odds. He now gives us one more example, the ultimate example of one who ran and completed the race.

Look to Jesus. He is our supreme example. Look to how he obeyed and honored his Father in even by enduring the cross. Jesus was willing to suffer. The writer is applying this to us: we must be willing to suffer too. The Christian life won’t be easy. Following Jesus will exact a price. But Jesus suffered, and God exalted him. Follow Jesus’ example and be willing to suffer too.

But I’m so glad that Jesus is more than an example. I don’t just need an example. I need the power to follow that example. Verse 2 says that Jesus is not just an example. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. If you are a follower of Jesus, he initiated your faith, and he will finish it. The source of your faith is also the completer of your faith. He began a good work in you; he will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

The same Savior who finished the race will see to it that you finish the race too. Look to him. Get rid of every encumbrance, and look to Jesus as both your example and the source of the power you need to finish your race too.

There’s so much at stake. You need to finish the race, but you can’t do it on your own. Like a marathon runner, you are going to run out of your own reserves of energy. You need a power outside of you if you are going to finish the race.

The good news is that many have finished ahead of you. The people of Hebrews 11 finished well. The martyrs of the early church finished well. Famous preachers — Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon — finished well. Missionaries — Carey, Taylor, Carmichael— finished well. You and I know people who have finished well too.

With God’s help, let’s run the race before us with endurance. Don’t run to 95 yards and stop. Endure by laying aside encumbrances and focusing your eyes on Jesus.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada