Run to Win
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Preparation for the Race
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was 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)
The epistle to the Hebrews is a book in which the author continually draws his spiritual lessons from the Old Testament Scriptures. And this is a book that deals primarily, not with the salvation that we presently possess, but with the salvation of the soul. The author of this book, rather than directing his main focus upon the events of Calvary, focuses instead upon that which Calvary makes possible.
Man has been saved for a purpose and this purpose is the same as the purpose for his creation almost 6,000 years ago. Man was created to “have dominion” (Genesis 1:26-28), and man has been saved with this same “dominion” in view.
It is this dominion, rather than the message concerning eternal salvation itself, which forms the crux of that which the writer of Hebrews presents in his epistle. There is a repeated look back to Calvary (1:3; 2:9; 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:12; 11:4, 17-19), for everything is based on the Son’s finished work of redemption (cf. Genesis 3:15). But Calvary is not where the author of this epistle places the emphasis. He places the emphasis upon the purpose for man’s redemption, which involves possessing dominion in complete accord with the opening verses of Genesis.
This is really what the whole of Scripture is about — God providing redemption for fallen man, with a purpose in view. This is why the writer of Hebrews could reach back into the Old Testament and call attention to numerous verses and sections of Scripture in order to teach deep spiritual truths surrounding the reason for man’s redemption.
The matter could be looked upon within the same framework as Christ drawing from the Old Testament Scriptures in Luke 24:27-31 to reveal numerous truths surrounding His person and work to the two disciples on the Emmaus road. Beginning “at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” (v. 27; cf. vv. 44, 45). He could do this because all of the Old Testament scriptures were about Him.
And since the Son is the “appointed Heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2; cf. Genesis 24:36; 25:5; Psalm 2:8; 110:1ff; Daniel 7:13, 14; Luke 19:12), the Old Testament scriptures, dealing with the Son, likewise deal with the Son’s inheritance. Thus, the writer of Hebrews could derive teachings from Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Son’s inheritance — an inheritance having to do with dominion (Hebrews 1:5; cf. Psalm 2:7, 8) — in order to deal with the purpose for man’s salvation, which has to do with this same inheritance and dominion (cf. Hebrews 1:9; 3:14).
A number of Messianic passages are quoted in Hebrews chapter one, and the writer then immediately leads into the thought of an inheritance set before Christians (1:14). This is called “so great a salvation” in Hebrews 2:3 and is connected in verses five and ten with dominion over the earth as “sons,” exercising the rights of primogeniture.
The main purpose for the present dispensation is given in what could be looked upon as the key verse in the book of Hebrews: “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all thing, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory . . . .” (2:10). The great burden of Hebrews is not that of rescuing the unsaved from the lake of fire but that of delivering the ones already so rescued (John 3:18) safely through their present pilgrim journey to the goal of their calling.
Rather than the book being a call unto salvation for the unsaved, it is a call to Christ’s “kingdom and glory” for the saved (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:12). Its message is directed to those who are already the “children of God.” And this message, built around five major warnings in the book, centers on the Christians’ present pilgrim journey in view of the coming manifestation of the “sons of God” (Romans 8:19), when Christ will bring the “many sons” of Hebrews 2:10 “to glory” (cf. Romans 8:18, 23; Hebrews 2:5). These “many sons” will exercise the rights of the firstborn as co-heirs with Christ during the coming Messianic Era.
Beyond chapter two, the book of Hebrews continues its teaching, as before, through constant reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. Chapter three begins by referring to the Christians’ calling, which is “heavenly”; and the author takes all of chapter three and part of chapter four to call attention to the journey of the Israelites as they left Egypt under Moses and headed toward an inheritance reserved for them in another land. And this is set forth as a type of the Christians’ present journey toward an inheritance reserved for them in another land (cf. 1 Peter 1:4).
For the Israelites, an earthly inheritance was in view; for Christians, a heavenly inheritance is in view. And that which befell the Israelites on their pilgrim journey (i.e., falling short of the goal of their calling) can also befall Christians on their pilgrim journey. This is the warning that the Spirit of God goes to great lengths to clearly set forth through the author of the book of Hebrews, not only in chapters three and four but also in chapters six (vv. 4-9) and ten (vv. 23ff).
The latter part of chapter four moves into teachings concerning the present high priestly ministry of Christ (that is patterned after the order of Aaron), and then in chapter five the book moves into a discussion of things concerning the future ministry of Christ when He will come forth as the great King-Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” Then, in chapters six through ten both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are in view, placing the emphasis not only upon Christ’s present ministry on our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary but also upon His future ministry when the results of His present ministry will be realized — that day when He will rule the earth as the great King-Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.”
This entire section in Hebrews terminates with a warning concerning the “willful sin” (10:26). There is no sacrifice for a willful sin. Instead, only judgment awaits the perpetrators.
Contextually (Hebrews 10:19-22), one might think that the willful sin in verse twenty-six (for which there is no sacrifice) would be a Christian’s refusal to avail himself of Christ’s present high priestly ministry. Within this line of thinking, though the sacrifice exists, there would be no sacrifice for his unconfessed sins (for a Christian refusing to confess his sins would be refusing the provided sacrifice).
But Christians harboring sins of the flesh and refusing to confess these sins cannot possibly be that which they are warned against in Hebrews 10:26. This verse continues the thought from the immediately preceding verses (vv. 23-25), and the thought has nothing whatsoever to do with Christians confessing (or not confessing) their sins.
Nor can the willful sin in this verse be thought of in the broad sense of sins committed by Christians in a willful, a deliberate, or a knowing manner. If the truth were known, it could probably easily be shown that most sins committed by Christians would fall into a singular category — things that Christians knew were sins before they committed them, knew were sins during the time in which they were committing them, and knew were sins after they had committed them.
The only possible way to properly understand the willful sin in Hebrews 10:26, for which there is no sacrifice, is to view this sin, contextually, within the book of Hebrews where it is found. And, contextually, within this book, only one thing awaits Christians who sin willfully — “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries” (v. 27).
(Christians sinning willfully in Hebrews 10:26 is simply another facet of exactly the same thing seen in the previous two major warnings in the book [in chapters 3, 4 and 6]. For additional information on the willful sin, refer to the author’s book, Judgment Seat of Christ, Revised Edition, pp. 46-52.)
Then, closing out chapter ten, the converse of that seen in the willful sin is dealt with. Attention is called to the “great reward,” “the promise,” Christ’s return, the necessity of Christians living “by faith,” and “the saving of the soul” (10:35-39).
This then leads naturally into chapter eleven, which records numerous accounts of faithful servants of the Lord in the Old Testament. Over and over these individuals are said to have acted, “by faith.” That is, they believed what God had to say about the matter, which resulted in their acting accordingly.
Chapter eleven forms a climax to all which has proceeded. Individuals in the Old Testament pleased God one way — “By faith.” And the necessity of exercising faith in order to please God is just as true today as it was then. An individual coming to God “must believe [exercise faith] that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (11:6). There is no other way.
Individuals in chapter eleven were moved to do certain things because of their faith, because they believed God. Such actions (works) emanated out of faith and brought faith to its proper goal, which is spoken of in 1 Peter 1:9 as the salvation of one’s soul (cf. Ephesians 2:10). And this is the same salvation upon which the author of Hebrews focuses his readers’ attention. Works emanating out of faith which, in turn, result in faith being brought to its proper goal — the salvation of one’s soul — is exactly what is in view in Hebrews chapter eleven. The verse leading into this chapter refers to the saving of the soul (10:39), and then, beginning in chapter eleven, the same thing is taught as in 1 Peter 1:4-9.
Chapter twelve then forms the capstone to the whole matter. The writer’s exhortations and instructions in the first two verses reflect, in a broad sense, back on everything that he has previously said. Christians are in a race (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8); and the writer’s exhortations and instructions, based on what has previously been said, outline for Christians exactly how to run the race after the fashion necessary to win the prize.
The Great Cloud of Witnesses
Chapter twelve begins with “Wherefore” in the English text (“Therefore” in a number of translations), which is the translation of a Greek inferential particle (Toigaroun), pointing to the logical conclusion of a matter. The word could perhaps be better translated in this instance, “For that very reason then . . . .” The reference is a continuation of the thought in the immediately preceding verse, which sums up that which is taught throughout chapter eleven — certain Old Testament and New Testament saints being “made perfect [brought to the goal of their calling]” together through faith (11:40).
The word “perfect” in this verse is from the same word in the Greek text translated “perfect” in James 2:22 (teleioo). In James, “faith” is said to be made perfect through “works,” which is the identical concept taught throughout Hebrews chapter eleven. In fact, the two examples used in James to illustrate how faith is made perfect through works (brought to completion, brought to its proper goal [as in 1 Peter 1:9]) are also listed in Hebrews (cf. James 2:21-25; Hebrews 11:17-19, 31). Some Old Testament saints, through faith,
. . . subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. . . . received their dead raised to life again . . . . (Hebrews 11:33-35a)
Others though had opposite experiences. They, through faith,
. . . were tortured . . . had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned; they were sawn in two, were tempted, and were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented . . . They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35b-38)
Regardless of the experiences that these Old Testament saints were called to enter into, each “obtained a good report through faith [lit. ‘bore a favorable witness through faith’].” The point of the matter though is the fact that not a single one received “the promise” (v. 39). The “reward,” the reception of “the promise” (cf. vv. 26, 39), awaits a future day.
The day when Old Testament saints will receive “the promise” is the same day Christians will also receive “the promise,” which is Messianic in its scope of fulfillment. And “the promise” is heavenly, not earthly (Hebrews 3:1; 11:10-16). The realization of this promise by Old Testament and New Testament saints has to do with both groups being brought to the goal of their calling, i.e., both groups occupying positions in the kingdom of the heavens as co-heirs with Christ during the coming age.
The nation of Israel was made the repository for both heavenly and earthly promises and blessings during Old Testament times (Genesis 14:18, 19; 22:17, 18); and certain Old Testament saints had a proper respect for the “reward” in connection with heavenly promises and blessings (Hebrews 11:8-16), and thereby governed their lives accordingly.
And even though the nation of Israel rejected the proffered kingdom of the heavens at Christ’s first coming, resulting in the heavenly portion of the kingdom being taken from the nation (Matthew 21:43), Old Testament saints who qualified to occupy positions in the kingdom of the heavens will still realize these positions when the promise is received.
The fact that the nation of Israel rejected the proffered kingdom at Christ’s first coming cannot nullify that which had occurred, “by faith,” in the lives of numerous Israelites prior to that time. And, according to Hebrews chapter eleven, this entire line of thought appears to even go back behind the beginning of the nation of Israel, all the way back to the time of Abel (vv. 4-7).
And it is apparent that those from Old Testament days who occupy positions with Christ in the kingdom of the heavens will include not only certain individuals from the seed of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob but certain individuals from the two-thousand-year period preceding Abraham as well (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28, 29). Note that Hebrews chapter eleven includes individuals from this period (Abel, Enoch, and Noah).
The thought in Hebrews 11:40, concluding the chapter dealing with the faith exhibited by numerous Old Testament saints and leading into chapter twelve, is often misunderstood. The thought in this verse is not at all that God has provided something better for Christians than for the Old Testament saints previously mentioned. This verse, in order to properly continue the thought from the preceding verse (concerning Old Testament saints not having received the promise), could perhaps be better translated,
God having provided something better [for them], which concerns us, that apart from us they might not be made perfect [that apart from us they might not be brought to the goal of their calling]. (Hebrews 11:40)
Certain saints from both Old Testament days and New Testament days, through faith, will inherit the promises together, at the same time and place. The faith of both will have been made perfect, brought to its proper goal, through works (works emanating out of their faith), and this will result in the salvation of their souls. They will be brought to this goal together, which is what God in His omnipotence and omniscience had foreseen and thus revealed in this verse.
(The rulers in the kingdom of the heavens who will exercise power with Christ from His throne will be comprised of saints from more than just the present dispensation. Even Tribulation martyrs will be included in this group [Revelation 20:4-6]. There, thus, seems to be a first-fruits, harvest, and gleanings aspect to the matter. The first-fruits would be comprised of individuals from the Old Testament, the main harvest would be comprised of individuals from the present dispensation, and the gleanings would be comprised of individuals coming out of the Great Tribulation.)
The great “cloud of witnesses” presently surrounding Christians (Hebrews 12:1), forming an example and encouragement for Christians to exercise faith in their present pilgrim journey, as they exercised faith in their past pilgrim journey, can only be the saints mentioned in the previous chapter. These “witnesses” are not to be thought of as presently viewing Christians as spectators, but rather as ones who bore witness, through faith, at times in the past.
Rather than these witnesses viewing Christians, the thought is actually the opposite. Christians are the ones who view them, through that which has been recorded about their lives in Scripture. And through viewing their walk “by faith” during times past, Christians can derive instruction and encouragement for their own walk “by faith” today.
The word in the Greek text translated “witnesses” is the noun form of the participle translated “having obtained a good report” in Hebrews 11:39. In this verse, those previously mentioned obtained a good report through their actions. That is, they bore witness through faith, which resulted in works. And the same thought is set forth two verses later, at the beginning of the next chapter, in Hebrews 12:1.
The great “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 is comprised of those in chapter eleven, set forth as an example for Christians today. Faith resulted in their entering into numerous experiences at different times in the past, being victorious; and faith will result in the same for Christians today. Then, in that future day, all those in view (faithful Old Testament and faithful New Testament saints alike) will be brought to the goal of faith and obtain the promise together.
Weights That Can Hinder
The great cloud of witnesses surrounding us finished their pilgrim journey in a victorious manner, and we are exhorted to finish our pilgrim journey after the same fashion. Paul, during the course of his pilgrim journey, said,
But none of these things move me [bonds, afflictions, other things which should befall him], neither count I my life dear to myself [cf. Philippians 1:21], so that I might finish my course with joy . . . . (Acts 20:24)
And Christians are to exhibit the same attitude toward their present pilgrim journey, knowing that a “just reward” awaits them (Hebrews 2:2; 11:26).
Paul pictured himself as being in a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), which is the thought Hebrews 12:1, 2 presents. The pilgrim walk is a race that is to be run “by faith”; and Paul’s burning desire was to finish the race in a victorious manner. He didn’t want to find himself having to drop out along the way because of exhaustion, or find himself disqualified at the end by not having observed the rules (2 Timothy 2:5).
And we’re told that Paul succeeded in victoriously finishing the race that he had set out to run. Near the end of his life, in 2 Timothy 4:7, 8, he wrote,
I have fought a [‘the’] good fight, I have finished my course [Acts20:24], I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Numerous things can hinder a runner in a race, and these things are referred to as weights in Hebrews 12:1. The thought is taken from practices of athletes preparing for the ancient Olympic Games. Participants training for a race would wear weights around their ankles, waist, and wrists in order to help build their muscles and endurance; then “every weight” would be removed prior to actually running the race.
This type conditioning is a common practice in athletic events today. A baseball player, for example, often swings his bat with weights affixed immediately prior to taking his turn at bat. But no baseball player steps up to the plate with the weights still affixed to his bat.
Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes, tells how he trained by running in the sand and running uphill to condition himself. But when it came time to run the race and go for the record, the surface upon which he ran was hard, and the race was run on level ground.
The thought though is not that we are to wear weights as we train for the race, for no Christian trains for the race after this fashion. Every Christian is presently in the race, not training for a race which lies ahead. A Christian cannot choose whether or not he wants to enter the race. Every Christian has already been entered. He was entered at the time of his salvation. And, because of this, he is exhorted to lay aside every weight that could impede his successfully running and completing the race.
The Lord brings us through various trials, testing, and experiences as we study the Word and run the race, allowing us to progressively grow from immaturity to maturity (James 1:2-4). This is the only counterpart to the conditioning and training process that an athlete undergoes prior to the race. For Christians, this training and conditioning process occurs during the course of the race; and the better equipped Christians are spiritually (the more they will have grown from immaturity to maturity), the better equipped they will be to run the race in a satisfactory manner.
Weights which Christians are to lay aside as they run the race are not necessarily things sinful in and of themselves. One’s appetite for spiritual things may have the edge removed by indulgence in any number of things, and what may be a weight for one Christian in this realm may not necessarily be a weight for another.
A “weight” is simply anything which can impede one’s progress in the race of the faith. Anything which deadens or dulls one’s sensitivity to spiritual things can only hinder his maximum efficiency and thus impede his progress in the race, being a weight.
No serious runner in the ancient Olympic Games would ever have given any thought at all to running while carrying something that could impede his movement or ability to run. His training weights were put aside and his long-flowing garment that he normally wore on the street was removed. He, as runners in athletic contests today, wore only that which was absolutely necessary.
(Participants in the original Olympic games actually ran naked, with men being the only spectators present [reflecting on these early games, our word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek word gumnos, meaning “naked”].)
A runner in the ancient Olympic Games ran after a fashion that would provide him with the best opportunity to win. And any Christian, serious about also running to win, must run after the same fashion. He must lay aside any encumbrance that could hinder his progress.
In the course of the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-8 and the explanation that follows (vv. 18-23), the Lord mentioned several weights that could hinder one in the race. In the third part of the parable (vv. 7, 22), the individual sown among thorns (v. 22 should literally read, “He also that was sown among thorns…”) allowed three things to “choke the word [i.e., to choke ‘the word of the kingdom’ (v.19)]” and cause him to become “unfruitful”:
1) The “care of this world [‘age’].”
2) The “deceitfulness of riches.”
3) The “pleasures of this life” (see Luke 8:14).
The person sown among thorns was in a position to bring forth fruit, which indicates that the Lord was referring to His dealings with the saved, not the unsaved. Only the saved are in a position to bring forth fruit, or, as the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16ff, in a position to accumulate “treasure in heaven.” But the cares of this present age, accumulated wealth, and pleasures which the present life afford (all interrelated) can and will — if one does not properly conduct himself within the framework of each — produce a barren life, resulting in no accumulated treasure in heaven.
Christians today, as possibly never before, are faced with problems in this whole overall realm. The commercial world has been busy providing man with every pleasure and convenience that he can afford, and man has set his sights on monetary gain so that he can live “the good life.” This is the direction that the world has gone, and too often Christians have allowed themselves to be caught up in many of the ways and practices of the world.
The end result of the whole matter can be easily seen throughout practically any church across the country today. The Word of the Kingdom is not being taught from the pulpit, those in the pew know little to nothing about this message, and Christians are so weighed down with encumbrances that many of them have never been able to even get off the starting blocks in the race of the faith.
It is simply the Laodicean Church, prophesied to exist at the end of the present dispensation — a church so overcome by the ways and practices of the world that it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell where the world ends and Christianity begins.
Any Christian serious about the race in which he finds himself will run after a manner that will allow him to win. The first order of business is the putting aside of any encumbrance that would impede his progress. A Christian must not allow himself to be caught up in any of the ways and practices of the world after a fashion that could be considered as weights in the race.
There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with certain activities in the world, the possession of wealth, etc. The problem comes when a Christian becomes involved in these areas, or any other area, to the extent that these things become encumbrances and that impedes his progress in the race. They would then be considered “weights,” necessitating corrective action, for “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
The Besetting Sin
The sin “that so easily ensnare us” as we run the race is not a reference to different sins for different Christians, depending on what may be thought of as a particular Christian’s weakness in a certain realm. This sin is the same for every Christian, and the realm of weakness is also the same for every Christian.
Any Christian’s weakness in any realm can always be traced back to the same central weakness — a weakness really in only one realm. The sin that “so easily ensnares” Christians is a reference to this central weakness. The word “sin” is articular in the Greek text, referring to a specific sin; and, contextually (chapter 11), this sin can only be understood as one thing — a lack of faith.
A lack of faith is responsible for the multitude of problems that surface in the lives of Christians. Spiritual weakness produced by a lack of faith will manifest itself numerous ways, causing Christians to view certain weaknesses after different fashions. One may see himself as being weak in one realm and view something connected with that
realm as his besetting sin; another may see himself as being weak in a different realm and view something connected with that realm as his besetting sin. Such though is not the case at all. Problems in both realms stem from the same central problem — a lack of faith on the part of both individuals.
The question, simply put, is, “What has happened to cause you to lose confidence in God?” Or “Why have you chosen not to believe God about this matter?”
God has made the necessary provision for equipping and training Christians in the race (cf. Ephesians 4:11-13; James 1:2-4), He has made certain promises concerning what He will do for Christians as they run the race of the faith (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:13), and He has provided instructions on how to successfully run the race (Hebrews 12:1, 2). God is very interested in seeing every Christian run in a successful manner.
No Christian has been enrolled in the race to fail.
Though all of this is true, numerous Christians pay little attention to that which God has stated in this realm. Their interest lies elsewhere, and spiritual matters connected with the race are of little moment to them.
Such Christians will ultimately fall along the pilgrim pathway, as the Israelites under Moses fell in the wilderness. They, as the Israelites who fell under Moses, will fall on the right side of the blood but on the wrong side of the goal of their calling. On the other hand, numerous other Christians heed that which God has said. They have a proper respect for “the reward.” They exercise faith and run the race in a manner that will provide victory.
Such Christians, rather than falling along the pilgrim pathway, as the Israelites under Moses fell in the wilderness, will ultimately realize the goal of their calling. They, as Caleb and Joshua, will have believed God, gained the victory, and be allowed to enter into the land of their inheritance. They will come into possession of “so great a salvation,” the salvation of their souls (Hebrews 2:3; 10:39).