If you are joining us for the first time, please be sure to read the previous posts in this series:
- Part 1: Three verbs that describe someone who has encountered Jesus Christ
- Part 2: Comparing the parable of the four soils
- Part 3: Who is the third soil?
- Part 4: The fourth soil
- Part 5: The meaning of the four soils
- Part 6: God is not unjust to forget your work
- Part 7: Deny yourself and pick up your cross
- Part 8: God’s promise to Abraham
- Part 9: Abraham’s Continuous Need for God’s Grace
Now we come to an important question: Where does this believing faith come from and how is it activated and developed in our lives? The following passage helps answer both of these questions:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
There are a few things in this passage that I want to focus on:
1. “cloud of witnesses surrounding us”
The “cloud of witnesses surrounding us” is referring to those who have died in faith and are in heaven at this time. The image being presented to us is that of an Greek athletic stadium where the competing athletes are viewed by those in the stand, much the way we watch our athletic events today (e.g., soccer, football, baseball, track & field, etc.) and cheer them on in their competition. However, the picture is far more than just a ‘fan in the stands who has no participation in the event’, but rather it is a description of those who have gone on before us, and through their recorded life and witness, as well as the untold numbers who are not recorded in the Bible, but many of whom we have written records of down through the ages, have given us an example to follow and pursue, seeing God’s faithfulness in their lives, and thereby knowing that in the darkest of trials and tests of faith, God is always faithful and will sustain us even in the giving of our lives for the abiding truth of His love and His eternal Word. The following quote sums up this point:
We are surrounded by… a cloud of witnesses, a multitude that no man can number. By the record of their lives they reassure us that endurance is possible, that hardship at its worst is but for the day, that the grace of God will sustain us, and that the joys of faith’s rewards are enduring. They show us how to greet the promised fulfillment “from afar” (11:13), how to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Of Abel our writer said, “He died, but through his faith he is still speaking” (11:4). All the heroes of the faith are “still speaking,” and that is why they are witnesses. When we interpret the cloud of witnesses as a massed gallery eagerly watching our race to see its outcome, we miss the main point of the author that they are not mere spectators of our running, but witnesses to the faithfulness of the God who has promised. (George Arthur Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955], 738)
2. “let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us”
The phrase, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us” is key in that the verb, “let us lay aside,” in the Greek is ἀποθέμενοι (apothemenoi), which is a present, middle participle, indicating that “I must continually choose to lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us.” This can only be done through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit as I choose to walk in Luke 9:23-24 on a daily basis: “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. ‘For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.’”
3. “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”
The next phrase, “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” is also key with two important verbs, and the first is “let us run,” τρέχωμεν (trechōmen), which is a present subjunctive, implying quite clearly that the choice to run is ours, and we must constantly choose to do so, as we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. However, in this instance, the subjunctive mood is emphasizing the fact that there is indeed a freedom to choose, and as a believer, one may choose “not to continually run with endurance the race that is set before us,” but rather, to do it intermittently, and if that is done, then what will occur will be the third soil described in Luke 8:7 & 14: “And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out. . . . And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” The other important verb in this phrase is “that is set,” προκείμενον (prokeimenon), which is a present participle, indicating an unending action, represented by the following amplified translation, “and let us continue to choose to run with endurance the race that is continually being set before us.” This is certainly a descriptive representation of the spiritual warfare that we constantly face, which Paul presents:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
(Ephesians 6:10- 20)
Therefore, Hebrews 12:1 is a description of the spiritual warfare that we are waging every day of our lives as believers, and God has empowered us, by the Holy Spirit, to wage this war “in the strength of His might,” but that is a choice we must make daily. And here again, He has enabled us to make that choice, in the face of all kinds of difficulties and tragedies, so that we alone are to blame if we choose not to make that daily choice – in other words, attempting to blame anyone or anything else for our failures won’t cut it in the very real world of spiritual warfare. However, even in the midst of our failure choosing to walk “in the strength of His might,” when we repent and come broken before the Lord, just as with Abraham, so too with us, God not only forgives us as His children, but He also strengthens and enables us to go forward “in His strength,” but this time realizing that our victory in Christ is not about our personal comfort and ease, but rather about “losing our lives for His sake” that we might indeed be victorious in Christ and receive the true joy of life that comes only through Christ and His cross (Luke 9:23-24).
4. “fixing our eyes on Jesus”
This next phrase gives the focus about whom we are to be looking to: “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” However, in the Greek, the actual reading is as follows: “continually fixing our eyes on the author and perfecter, Jesus, of the faith.” Here too, the word “fixing” is a present active participle, ἀφορῶντες (aphorōntes), implying an ongoing and continuous action, but significance of this verb as just stated is the ‘object’ of the “fixing,” who is Jesus, not your pastor, not some favorite author or writer, but Jesus, and why is that so important? It is absolutely important because Jesus, not any man, nor group of men, is “the author and perfecter of the faith,” and I have emboldened underlined the word “the” because it is focusing on the saving and keeping faith that God gives to His children, versus the worldly and secular concept of man, in his own ability, having ‘faith in himself’ to pull himself or herself ‘up by their bootstraps’ for a successful life. Indeed, nonbelievers can and do exercise determination in accomplishing things in this life, but the ‘saving faith’ that gives us eternal life and a living and eternal relationship with Jesus is something quite different, as it gives us true and genuine success both temporally and eternally, focusing not on the limited and short lived ‘prizes’ of “wood, hay, and straw” of this decaying world, but rather on the eternal blessings of “gold, silver, and precious stones” that will go with us into eternity (I Corinthians 3:11-15).
In addition, the word for “author” is ἀρχηγός (archegos), and it means “the originator, founder, and instigator” of something, and the word “perfecter” is τελειωτής (teleiōtēs), and it means “the one who brings something to a successful conclusion.” This statement, therefore, is monumental in pointing us as believers to the source and development of our faith, and that is the person of Jesus and Him alone. Yes, we read other books by written by Christian authors down through the centuries, and their writings can certainly assist us in our growth in Christ, but it is the person of Jesus Christ and His Living, Eternal, and Abiding Word of Truth that we are to be focused on and in, just as the following verse indicates: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The word for “word” in this instance is ῥῆμα (hrēma), and it has to do with the “personalized and special meaning” of truth that God makes real in our hearts, as over against λόγος (logos), which has to do with “the concept and idea of truth expressed in speech,” and also the “independent, personified expression of God in Jesus Christ (John 1:1).”
Now to be sure, there is an overlap of meaning and application with these two words, but the former is used in a way to express the personalized reality of God’s truth becoming real in a believer’s life, and thus, Romans 10:17 is stating that the “hrema of Christ” is what “originates and perfects faith” in a believer’s heart and mind, and that happens as we are “continually fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith.” Thus, ‘saving faith’ is not something we produce within ourselves, but rather it is indeed God’s gracious gift He extends it to us, and we can either accept it or reject it, as Paul states in the following passage:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart “—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; 13 for “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.”
We also see this expressed in the Book of Acts when God, through Peter, healed the man “who had been lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2). When this occurred, Peter wanted to make it clear to the people who were astonished at this miracle that he didn’t heal the man, but God did, and it was through the “faith that came through Jesus” that brought about the healing:
And while he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so- called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered up, and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
Thus, from the very beginning, ‘saving faith’ has been something that God “originates” in a person’s heart and He, through Jesus, also “perfects” it. However, we indeed have the choice, as described in Romans 10:8-13, to either say yes or no to God concerning His salvation He promises us through Jesus, even to the Old Testament believers such as Abraham. And if say no, then we will be separated from Him for all eternity. On the other hand, if we say yes, as did Abraham, then He will begin that work in our hearts of conforming us to the “image of Christ” through His process of sanctification until we see Him face to face.
5. “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,”
The last phrase, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” presents the incredible love that God has for us. This is also seen in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
There is no greater love than this, and may God cause all of us who are His children to have a love for Him. And may we be a witness of His saving love and grace to the lost in the world around us.