Hebrews 12:1-3 – Running the Race

In Hebrews 11 the writer explained what he meant by faith, and then gave numerous examples of faith.  Based on these examples, Hebrews 12:1 exhorts the reader to “run the race marked out for us.”  This is possible because we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” They are spectators at a sports event, watching present believers “run the race.” But more than that, they are also people who have already run the race and know what must be done in order to win the race.

Lay AsideSince we have this great crowd of witnesses, the writer urges his readers to run the race with perseverance. There are two ways in which the runner might not finish the race – by being hindered or entangled.  “Everything that hinders…” refers to weight or bulk. A runner in training would want to lose every extra pound that might hinder then from winning the race. Greek athletes competed naked, just as modern runners will wear very little clothing and shoes designed to be as lightweight as possible.

But the Christian is not simply training to compete, but is running the race already. If this is the case, there is an urgency to the writer’s encouragement to dispense with the things we do not need to run the race properly.

He calls the things which slow us down “the sin that so easily entangles.” Easily entangles is a single word and is only used here in the New Testament. The word has the sense of something which is tight or constricting. If the weight of life hindered us, sin can so entangle us that running the race is no longer possible. Think of a runner that instead of a 100 pound bag of potatoes has his shoes laces tied together.  They cannot walk, let alone run the race!

In order to run the race, the writer also tells his readers to “throw off” hindrances and sin. The word here is used most often for taking off one’s clothes, an apt metaphor here since runners will try to wear as little clothing as possible. The writer is saying if you are going to run the race, run it in the proper equipment.  Imagine that marathon runner dressed in the clothes used for Arctic exploration, a huge parka, heavy gloves, snow shoes, goggles, etc. He will not compete well because he is entangled with things that he does not need, he needs to throw all that stuff off and compete in running shorts. Anything that slows you down should be tossed.

The writer says that the race is “marked out for us.” This is not a sprint, this is a race that has a course marked out, a long race like a marathon. Sprinters, though very athletic, do not usually run in marathons.  There are too many differences between sprinting and marathons that people don’t usually excel at both. (Before I get hate mail from people who run in decathlons, I get it, work with my metaphor. Yes you are special.)

Finally, the writer tells us to run with perseverance. This fits the metaphor of a marathon better than a sprint.  A sprint is a short distance, and the runner gives it all he has, in 5 seconds it’s over. Not much perseverance. The marathon runner runs much slower, he is much more methodical about how he runs, pacing himself so he can finish the race.  As the race progresses, it takes determination to keep going.  Even the best runners have to be mentally fit to run the race all the way, they have to be running with the goal of finishing, and finishing requires perseverance.

If the Christian life is like competing in a marathon, what are other ways Hebrews 12 (or the whole book of Hebrews) exhorts the reader to “compete”?

30 thoughts on “Hebrews 12:1-3 – Running the Race

  1. I like the idea of competing towards a goal, but at the same time it is interesting that we are not “competing” against anyone. Jesus calls us to finish the race, to endure to the end, and that winning this race is the reward of salvation. I like the fact that there are not a certain amount of spaces, there isn’t just one winner. We are so individually different that God doesn’t look at who did what and who had more good acts during their lifetime. He looks at whether or not your heart was in it. I also like the idea of mental toughness and perseverance. Running the race hastily tells me that you are trying by your own power, but perseverance relies on God. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to strive for peace with everyone. This does not look after ourselves but looks to the needs of others. The race is not a selfish one, it does not look to finish first or best, it is looking around to see who else is struggling and to help them cross the finish line. Jobes refers to the cloud of witnesses as those who have run the race and finished already. This means that we have people who have been through the pain of this life and who can help us along. I think this is comforting because it shows that our end goal is possible and that we have role models that we can look up to.

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  2. What really stands out to me in this chapter is verse 3, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” One of the many reasons Jesus came and lived an earthly and fully human life was to show us that we could achieve and persevere through it. He showed that humans really can resist the devil, and go through persecution and opposition. This verse has been a reliable source of encouragement for me so many times because it tells me that Jesus knows how I feel, but he endured so that I can endure as well. Jobes adds to this point by saying the necessity of the incarnation means that the Son had to experience all that it means to be a human being and yet not sin. He had to do this to prove the power we hold by being his children and having the Holy Spirit with us.

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  3. In verse 7 of Hebrews 12, the author says, “endure hardship as discipline.” If we continue on with the marathon metaphor, during a race, your body gets weak, your muscles get sore and you want to stop. This is why people train months in advance for races, preparing the bodies for this kind of torture (yes running is evil!!). As you were saying above, we are already in this race,no time for preparations, we have to be ready to push on past the pains and struggles in the race we are on because we have a goal in mind, shout out to Jesus for that one. I have always found it easier when doing any sort of project or workout thingy, that picturing the end goal really makes you want to try harder to get to that end, because you know what is at stake and you have to reach the finish line to get that prize. In Matthew Jesus uses a metaphor of salvation being like a pearl of great price that a man would give everything that he owned to get his hands on that pearl. I think this is what we should be running our races like. Run it like everything depends on you getting to that finish line.

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  4. I enjoy the way that these verses were unpacked to begin thinking about this. I also appreciate that it was related to me in a way that I could more understand what you were saying by relating the verses on the races to an actual race. I would have to say that in Hebrews the writer warns about sinning and allowing that to take over the readers lives. Also I feel as you said the runner has to be mentally fit and in our own Christian walks we should always be “competing” to be mentally fit with God. We need to always compete in our faith to be the best Christ-followers that we can be. We should always be working at the race of God to be the best that we always can be and steer away from all the things that the author of hebrews warns against in it.

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  5. Hebrews and many other books in the Bible, specifically Paul’s epistles address themes of athleticism and our spiritual walk as Christians. Has you states above “this race is marked out for us”, Christ as a specific purpose and job for us. I feel that a lot of this can be linked back to each Christian has a specific job in the Body of Christ. I can do no one’s job better than they can and no one can do my job that Christ has for me than me, if I am fully dependent on Christ. Another well known passage that compares racing to the Christian life is 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, the verse talks about not aimlessly running the race and that while many will run the race not many will win the prize. I feel like 1 Corinthians 9:26 parallels well to the verses in Hebrews that mention running without any hindrance or being entangled. Everyday is not to be taken for granted and we must remained focused on the future not the present, this time on earth is short and we must use to the best of our ability. I participated in long distance running for six years, and while I never ran a marathon, I’ve running plenty of 5ks. My coach always said the first mile is easy because you are running on adrenaline and your excited for the race, the second mile is the most challenging when it comes to mental endurance and must be run with the heart, while the third mile is run with hope for finishing strong. This a lot like the Christian walk, when you first get saved you’re so excited and eager to do God’s work, but as time goes on sometimes things get harder and then we end up going through the motions or become discouraged, it’s important during this time that we fill ourselves with God’s word and surround ourselves with people that will uplift and encourage us. Finally as we age we are aware that death is imminent, but that also means that we are close to reaching our goal: eternity with Christ and the Great Cloud of Witnesses.

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  6. The famous Hebrews 12 passage that talks about persevering is inspiration and true. We are called to compete spiritually and have enough stamina and endurance to get us through until the end in which we will be justly rewarded. Hebrews 10:35 also speaks of this when it states not throw away your confidence and to persevere to do the will of God (vv. 35-36). This is essential within Christian living. It’s easy to become discouraged and ashamed of one’s mistakes and sins. However, we are to have confidence in first, Christ and secondly, ourselves. This coincides with having great faith that God will provide and give you the strength to last until the end. Life is a race, not a sprint and it demands all of your attention, training, and passion. Without having all three of these, how are we supposed to last until the end and do so with a loving and satisfied heart? We cannot unless we remain in faith, put our trust in Jesus, and persevere until the end.

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  7. This blog post was laid out really well and really describes what “throwing off” hindrances and sins really looks like. I believe that we are to run with perseverance the entire race, that it is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. There are a variety of different ways that Hebrews 12 talks about how the reader is to “compete”. One of these ways is in Hebrews 12:14. This verse talks about living in peace with not only those that you like, but rather to live in peace with everyone. When we “compete” to be in peace with everyone, there eliminates strife and envy in the world. Another important to thing to think about when you think about running this race is the great cloud of witnesses. You are not running this race alone, rather take encouragement in the fact that other people have and are running this race with you. These people are here to be a support system and helping you persevere when running the race marked out for you! In Hebrews 12:7 it also states that there will be hardship. God never promised life to be easy going all of the time, rather you will encounter hardship. During these times, we need to call and rely on God. We also need to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

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  8. One of my favorite points to make when I talk about this passage in Hebrews is where our stamina and endurance truly come from. Philippians 4:13 says that we can do all things THROUGH Christ who gives us strength. I am constantly reminding myself that regarding my own spiritual marathon, I should not rely on myself for strength and endurance, but rather rely on Christ alone.

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  9. My question is why is the great cloud of witnesses important? Should we throw off hindrances for those around us, or should it be for our benefit, so that we might be able to better strive for a Christlike life. I understand that we tend to perform better when we are under the spotlight, and that our performance is the best when under scrutiny, like how proper a guy might act when meeting a girls parents for the first time. And yet I feel as though the great cloud of witnesses, while usually an initial motivator in why we throw off hindrances and the sin that entangles, I believe we should get to a point where we are doing it to help ourselves get closer to God.

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    • I think it is a sports metaphor as I say in the blog. It is as if Christian life is a sports competition, in the stands are filled with people who’ve already competed, and finish the race. They are there cheering us on, encouraging us to finish the race well.

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  10. I also like to think of this passage, as well as 1 Corinthians 9:24, as if it is a marathon. I often relate my human life as a marathon as well. This basically means that God has given me a certain amount of time on a line. My marathon is that line. There are multiple obstacles that get in the way such as struggles I have in regard to the Sermon on the Mount. We need the perseverance that God gives us to finish the race. The finish line can either be looked at as heaven or simply connectedness to God. The interesting thing about this race metaphor is that there is no one to “beat.” There is no clear winner or loser but the individual wins or loses (meaning they either enter the kingdom or they do not). In regard to your final question, I think that there are many examples in the New Testament that pushes the audience to strive towards God. The entire Bible could be seen as encouragement to “compete.” Hebrews 11 is a good example of motivation for me. Both Abraham and Sarah had faith in God’s promises and because they followed the marathon, they had a son. Then later we are reminded of the wandering Israelites who never saw the promise land because they chose not to follow Hebrews 12:1.

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  11. One interesting part of the “race” mentioned is Hebrews is the rest of the Lord mentioned in Hebrews 4. A part of being effective in any race is knowing when to pick up and drop the pace. If you go full throttle the whole race, you are going to get worn out fast, and if you do not take breaks, eventually your body will force you to, and you might lose as a result. For marathons, it is good to know when to speed up and when to relax a little and rest your body, even if you’re still moving along the way.

    Hebrews 4 talks about a rest that is obtained through faith, and that those who do not believe will not receive the Lord’s rest. It is repeated multiple times that “they shall not enter my rest,” referring to those whose the Lord’s wrath has fallen upon. Hebrews suggests that by believing and being faithful in the Father, that there is a rest that comes with it, and that striving for the rest is important to keep from faltering. Rest is not something we often think about in positive terms when it comes to faith, and perhaps it is something we should think about more often.

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  12. I connect with this topic because of the nature of competitiveness I have as an athlete, but it is weird to think that we are not actually competing against anyone in this situation. There aren’t a set number of spaces for salvation. The writer also tells us to run the race with perseverance which is fitting considering our faith is a marathon rather than a sprint. Hebrews 12: 1-3 encourages Christians to live their lives with patience and perseverance as they set aside the “weight” put before them. This passage made me consider what type of race that Jesus ran when he was on the earth as fully human. He had “weight”, but was also the finisher of our faith, the prophecies, and grace. In Him, we get the prize for finishing our race. Jesus had many trials that could have set him back such as suffering on the cross, but he endured it with patience. He is our ultimate example and we are called to be like Christ like Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us, “Therefore be imitators of God,…” In reference to the crowd of witnesses, Jobes wrote that they are individuals who have finished the race already and are there to support and encourage us through the journey (Jobes, 142). The fact that Jesus and the cloud of witnesses have finished the race shows that we all can if we show these traits of perseverance and patience.

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  13. The Christian life being seen as a marathon is a great metaphor. Coincidentally this is one of the verse that has pushed me through some of the roughest situations in my life. Running with perseverance is something I have had to do my whole life. I think to any situation that has hindered me or caused me to sin, and i remember telling myself persevere because that is what Jesus did. I think another big part of this is the fixing your eyes on Jesus. When we run our race we tend to stumble looking from left to right, but it gets smoother most times when we focus on God and His Word which is Christ. When it does not get smoother we are pushed along by the cloud of witnesses, encouraged I would say. This is to surround ourselves with positive examples and memories of those before us. Being relational with other Christians to run this race is what we are called to do.

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  14. I absolutely love the analogy of the Christian faith being seen as a marathon. As a distance runner, this verse has crossed my mind while running on more than one occasion. Verse 4 reads “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”. So many times we put ourselves into positions where we feel like the temptations and struggles that we face in our lives are too overwhelming for God. None of us have ever resisted sin and Satan’s lies to a point where we have shed blood like Christ did. Jesus shedding blood should be an encouragement to us to always keep going no matter the circumstance. 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind”. Life is a fight for joy and in order to compete we must have motivation. All the motivation in the world is verse 4, as we are called to remember Christ resisting sin to a point of shedding blood.

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    • I agree with you on the analogy of our Christian faith as a daily marathon. I know this is from a different book in the Bible, but when I read the first couple of verses from Hebrews 12, especially where it said “run with the perseverance the race marked out for us”, this was the first thing that came to mind while reading this and to be quite honest it does make a lot of sense. I have Philippians 3:13-14 says that, “Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” When Hebrews was written, those people it was written for were facing persecution daily. Everywhere they turned, persecution followed them. This only caused those to feel almost tempted to turn away from their Christian faith. In our text, it suggested there was more than one specific event that would have caused any sport of temptation to turn from a Christian faith. Regardless, and this is also true for us Christians today, we cannot let ourselves be tempted by anything to the point where we’ll turn away from the faith. That is when we have to have the right motivation so we can finish the race and reach the goal that God has in store for us all.

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  15. I definitely find it so true that the life of being a Christian is like a race. This passage of scripture really does illustrate it well, and tells the truth of how we need to be strong through the race and that we need to be able to keep glorifying God on a consistent basis, even when it’s not easy. The verse that sticks out to me the most is verse 3, which is that we need to remember what Jesus went through for us, and we need to remember the opposition that He faced so that we can continue to run that race and run it strongly.

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  16. I myself feel convicted about running on a personal level. However, I believe that the metaphor of living our Christian lives as a race is… somewhat incorrect, by today’s standards.

    Most running events that I’m aware of are either in the spirit of competition or in the spirit of charity. While we as Christians should be charitable, it’s not quite the same. We do have a path mapped out for us — you could say God designed a good 5k for us each as individuals. We also should strive forward with perseverance. However, I don’t think the metaphor of a race works very well with the competitive aspect or the connotation of rushing to one point or another. God coasts us to where he wants us to be… if we’re lucky.

    Not to say, of course, that the writer of Hebrews 12 is wrong. I just find the metaphor strange. Tell me to go on a scavenger hunt with a map God drew up, or something.

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  17. Hebrews 12:1 has been a verse that has been used to push many athletes to compete in the sport God has gifted them to play. Being a part of a collegiate sports team has help me realize that it is not so much about winning, but is more about finishing the “race” and doing it in an honoring way that pleases God. I also view this verse as the race of life, life shouldn’t be sprinted through, but rather paced and ran with endurance. The race that we are running is our Christian life, in verse 2 we look to Jesus when we are running the race, he is our #1 fan and he is going to push us to reach that finish line and he is going to be there to congratulate us. I believe that Philippians 4:13 can be another verse that pushes Christians to their full potential, it is a sense of I can run this race because I know Christ is on my side.

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  18. Hebrews 12:5 states that we are not be weary when reproved by the Lord. This passage continues on to say in verse seven that we as Christians are to endure discipline. I believe this passage is saying that Christians should not become weary because they have been disciplined by the Lord. A child who endures discipline learns and grows from the experience. However, a child who is not disciplined becomes a horrible person when they grow up. If Christians last through their disciplines, they will grow and become better Christians and people because of it. Being disciplined also requires a sense of patience. Imagine a thirteen year old girl who has been grounded. He phone has been taken away for *gasp* a whole three days! This girl will most likely not wait patiently for her phone to be returned to her. She will probably try to convince her parents to shorten the amount of time she must “suffer” and demand that her phone back. After her request and demands are denied, she will scream, yell and be very angry with her parents. She will say that this is unfair. This girl may even ask every hour, “can I have my phone back now?”. Often, Christians are like this thirteen year old girl. We complain, groan and tell God that he is being unfair. However, none of this is the proper response. Christians should wait patiently through discipline and thank God for loving them enough to discipline them in the first place. This would allow the punished child to learn their lesson quicker and grow more easily. This is why the author of Hebrews reminds the readers that they should endure punishment patiently.

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  19. Being an athlete I can relate to what was said in Hebrews 12. The analogy that the Christian faith should be run like a marathon is great! When Hebrews 12:1 stated that we have witnesses watching us it makes it seem like we have spectators just as you stated in your blog post. And just like any race, there are going to be factors that slow us down or get in our way. This is where this so-called “weight” comes into play, which is the sin that we can become in entangled in. But we must cast that aside. I know when I’m in a basketball game there are things I have cast aside and not pay attention to like the crowd and the other team’s bench. I have got so good at ignoring those things it just feels like a train going by as I am playing. Also, this race that we are running could be seen as a test or a trial. Jobes states in her book that, ” James understands the true goal of such trials to be perseverance, a theme that is common to the General Epistles” (Jobes, 167). Perseverance is something that we as Christians all need to have because we use it to reach spiritual maturity. Also, we must persevere through all the temptations that are put before us and ignore them. So that one day we may reach Heaven! Hebrews 12:7 states, “It is for discipline that you have to endure.” Being athlete having discipline and perseverance are some of biggest things you need to have to compete and win games. Because in games we are going to get “weighed” down by things just like in this race we are running for Christ. But through discipline and perseverance, we can overcome anything!

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    • It is pretty cool that we, as athletes, can relate to this analogy in Hebrews 12. Since writing my reflection on this post last week, it gave me a new perspective on looking at how spectators at athletic events correlate with spectators on our spiritual journey. I have a greater sense of appreciation for mentors and prayer partners as well as thinking about the people in Heaven cheering me on as an encouragement to push through the hard times. There are so many qualities that the Bible talks about such as perseverance, strength, and courage that pertain to athletes. 2 Timothy 4:7 and 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 are other verses that I have found to be an encouragement through hard times that I think would be an encouragement to you, Adam! You did a great job relating this passage and message to basketball.

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  20. I agree with Adam here, being an athlete has correlation to this post. The act of perseverance, the act of staying the course, the act of preparation is what makes a great athlete. So like Hebrews 12 states, in order to be active in faith and to uphold the best acts of being a Christian we must understand the race is going now and will continue to go. We need to throw away sin that hinders us from completing the race. We need to understand perseverance (Hebrews 12:1) and that we may struggle at times. However, we know God is an understanding God and one who will not leave us. One the other hand, when thinking of the book of Hebrews as a whole i got to thinking about Hebrews 3:12-13 and how in encourages us to compete for one another. These verses state, “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. I like this idea that everyone is accountable. Christians should stay away from judgement of others. Rather we should “compete” for one another. Helping others throw away their sin that hinders their faith.

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  21. I think that Adam makes a good point: this is a very relatable metaphor used in Hebrews. Athletes and marathon runners especially can relate to it, but we all, even those who aren’t athletes, can understand why you would want to be well prepared for a race of any kind. I think that the section speaking on taking off unnecessary weight, the metaphorical parka of sin. I think that having the right equipment for the race is a two step process. First, taking off the things that will weight us down for the race. These things are sin, harmful people, temptations, etc. But secondly, there is the process of making sure you do have the right things. If you don’t have the proper equipment, it won’t be long until you’re looking back at the sin you used to love for help. To run the long race, you’ll need water, proper shoes, cool clothing. These items all being a metaphor for the spiritual disciplines we need in our relationship with God to make sure we make it to the end of the race. Examples of these would be prayer, fasting, celebration, meditation, etc. These are the things that will equip us to run the long race.

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  22. As previously mentioned, the first three verses in Hebrew encourage the reader to persevere in their walk with Christ. According to Jobes, the phrase “cloud of witnesses” in verse one actually refers to a literal group of spectators watching. Being spurred on by the Old Testament heroes who had gone before us, we are now running the race ourselves. (Jobes, Pg. 142) The author of Hebrews writes in the same passage that they will not give up during the race if they keep in mind Christ’s sacrifice. (12:3) When “discipline” is mentioned in verse seven, the first image that pops into my mind is that of working out. It takes discipline to put your body through pain in order for it to become healthier and fit. Verse eleven seems to support this metaphor! However, “discipline” is used as another word for “punishment”. Verse six acknowledges the fact that God still punishes those He loves in order that they may eventually reap a “peaceful harvest”. (12:11) This harvest can only be gathered if they endure this manner of training. The final two verses in this passage (12-13) bring to mind weight lifting or tug of war. The verses seem to point to believers persevering in their own walk in order for those watching to be encouraged to do the same. Endurance is what distinguishes a sprinter from a marathon runner.

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  23. I really appreciate the metaphor of “throwing off hindrances” simply because it is such an easy concept to grasp but it is so hard to do. Sometimes the biggest hindrances that we need to get rid of are the things that we love the most. It comes down to…how badly do we want to finish the race well.

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