We want to consider the most important aspect of running our Christian race well: keeping our eyes on the prize. Yes, we need proper motivation and encouragement to run, we need to rid ourselves of things that would encumber our progress, we need to prepare for the long haul. But none of this matters if we don’t keep our eyes on the prize. In this case, that doesn’t mean a trophy or a finish line. It means “looking to Jesus.”
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. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
The above is one of my all-time favorite passages in Scripture. Indeed, in numerous places in Scripture the Christian life is compared to the effort and exertion of a race (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7). These few words from Hebrews teach us four things about what it means to run the Christian’s race well.
1. Run the race well by finding your motivator to run.
These verses begin with laying out some of the motivation we have to run our Christian race well. That motivation is the example of those who have run it before us. Remember, this verse follows immediately on the heels of the “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11. There the author describes a whole host of committed believers who have run their race well. They are to be our examples (for instance: “let us also lay aside…” that is, we should run the same way they have).
More than being our examples, they are also our cheerleaders! In chapter 12 they are now referred to as “a cloud of witnesses.” Picture running a race on a track and the stands on every side filled with people who are cheering for you. Though we can’t see it, that’s what’s going on in the Christian life. We are surrounded by the saints who have gone on before, and that is meant to encourage us to run well.
If you have ever run a race or sat on the sidelines and watched one, you know the power of hearing people cheer one another on. Someone who is winded and barely able to lift their feet suddenly hears the voices of supporters rallying them on, and just like that they have renewed vigor and motivation to keep going! As we run our race, we must remember the example and encouragement set by all believers who have run before us, not just pillars of the faith, like Abraham and Moses (although certainly them). We should also remember others whom God has graciously placed in our lives: parents, siblings, pastors, teachers, friends, and mentors. Let their godly example motivate us to run well.
My wife recently completed a half marathon, and she explained to me the importance of finding another runner who can be your pacesetter—someone whose speed will challenge your own. You make it your goal to stick behind them during the race. This illustrates a biblical principle. The apostle Paul said,
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Phil. 3:17; emphasis added)
So, who in your life can be your “pacesetter”? Who will you join in imitating their Christian life? Who will be your example and encouragement? Who will motivate you to run that race that is before you? Answering that question is the first step in running well.
2. Run the race well by casting off your weights.
Second, we see that in order to run well we must cast off our weights. Lighter means faster. If runners want to perform their very best, they will make sure they are not weighed down by a cumbersome load. In this context, the word “weight” could refer to extra layers of clothes that slow us down or get in the way. Flowing robes aren’t the attire for running. The analogy to the spiritual is explained in the next clause: “and sin which clings so closely.” Trying to run the Christian race with sin clinging to us is like trying to run a marathon in a ballroom gown while carrying a backpack filled with bricks.
Sin is a weight that ties us down and prevents us from serving Jesus to the best of our ability. Remember Levi the tax collector? His profession was rife with corruption, and it kept him from following after the Savior; but when he was called by Christ, we read that he “left everything” (Luke 5:28). We need to have that same sort of determination.
We cannot afford to be hindered in a race that has such important consequences, so we must cast sin off from us.