It is with rather special emphasis and formality that the writer to the Hebrews introduces this twelfth Chapter of Hebrews. The writer would emphatically include also the New Testament Hebrew Christians in the great activity of faith of which he had spoken in Chapter 11. Writes he “therefore also we.” It is by certain consequence that also the Hebrew Christians must run the race of faith. If God would not have the Old Testament saints receive the final promise without us, neither will he have us receive the crown of life with the Old Testament saints without our running the same way of patience. There would have been no point in relating the battles, victories of faith of the Old Testament saints, if their walk of faith were not an example and incentive for us to press on in the way of suffering to glory. We too must run the race!
We run the race with a certain difference. We run the race as those who live in the dispensation where God hath spoken unto us in His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-3) In this dispensation the Old Testament saints form a cloud of witnesses. Yes, they are one church with us; we believe an holy catholic church. But their voices come to us from the pages of the Old Testament canonical Scriptures, as the rule of faith and life! As these ran, thus must we run. Qualitatively we run the same course. We run in the arena in which these former saints are spectator-witnesses, so to speak. They surround us with their testimony, showing us by the demonstration of their faith the outcome of such faith unto salvation in contradistinction from those who fall back into the perdition of their souls. Each one in this arena has completed the race, They are the worthies of whom the world is not worthy! And now we too must be such of whom the world is not worthy.
It is a race which we must run. This term “race” is the translation of the Greek term “agoona.” From this word comes the term in English which refers to conflict. The term is agon; it is a contest, a conflict, specifically the conflict between the chief characters of a literary work. In the N.T. it refers to a contest, conflict, fight which is held in a stadium; it is the emblem of efforts and trials of the Christian life. (Thayer) It refers to the good fight of faith which the apostle had fought. He has agonized through all manner of trials of faith. (II Tim. 4:10) And Timothy is admonished to “fight the good fight of faith” and thus to lay hold on eternal life. (I Tim. 6:12) This little study indicates that “race” must not be taken in the limited sense of running. It refers to the entire circumference of the Christian activity of faith as this leads to salvation. The entire idea of the “agoona” is full of the thought of peril, affliction (Phil. 1:30) and of extreme conflict with opposing and hostile forces and deadly enemies and foes. (Col. 2:1)
This is the “race” which is “set before us.” This is not a man-made and humanly contrived race and battle. It is the battle which is initiated by the LORD Himself in Paradise when he put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman. (Gen. 3:16) There is something beckoning and hopeful about this race in that it is set before us. We see this when we remember that the writer to the Hebrews in Heb. 6:18 speaks of the “hope set before us.” That hope is something on which we must lay hold by faith. We, who flee for refuge to God, do so in the hope of laying hold on the objective glory and peace of Christ. This hope is sure and steadfast. The reason is that Jesus has entered into the holy place as the King-Priest as our forerunner. He ran before us in our behalf. And now we have an anchor that holds, sure and steadfast within the holy place. The anchor holds and our hope is no fiction or product of our sick imagination. The race is real and it is set before us and it leads to glory!
Now this race we must run. Interesting it is to note that the writer includes himself in this exhortation. He will also run; run he must and run he will. He himself feels the urgency of the matter of this race. Hence he says: let us run the race. That every preacher must say and do! The term in the Greek expresses the strenuous effort in the Christian life and cause! Paul employs the metaphor of “running”. He runs the race in the preaching of the gospel. To demonstrate the strenuous effort in this ministry he writes “Know ye not that they which run in the race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temporate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible”. (I Cor. 9:24, 25) Those who cling to the gospel of salvation “run well” (Gal. 2:2) In Philippians 2:16 Paul’s running is tantamount to his “labors” in the Gospel.
Here in Hebrews 12:1 the “race” refers to the great spiritual and mental trials which they shall need to endure for the sake of the Gospel of Christ. Yes, it may be a physical trial. It may be “unto blood”, to be martyrs for the faith. It is above all a trial of the soul, which requires much patience! And in this trial of patience it must be with the Hebrew Christians not as seed sown in stony places which has no depth of earth and which cannot endure the heat of the sun of persecution. (Matt. 13:5, 6, 20, 21). They must bring forth fruit, consisting in patience, to the full-eared grain, some hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. (Idem 13:23).
Particularly in the case of the Hebrews it refers to their not falling back, away from Christ and from His atoning work on the Cross on which he brought the sacrifice for all of our sins, once and for all, in the end of the ages. They must not account the blood of Christ a common thing! They have need of patience, that, after they have done the will of God, they may receive the promise. That promise is the final glory of heaven; it is to see the glory of the perfected Christ.
Down through the ages the church has run this race in opposition to every foe and to all the false doctrines of the evil one who would corrupt the gospel of sovereign grace! It is either man saving himself or God saving us; it is either-or and never both-and! It is not of works of righteousness which we perform. We will need to cling to the Five Points of Calvinism and reject the Five Points of the Remonstrants. And in this race and battle, which is constant, we will need to give God all the glory, and honor His work in His Son in these last days. And nowhere shall we allow the enemy to shoot a breach in these doctrines. We shall indeed cling to the pattern of sound doctrine as confessed in the Twelve Articles Of Faith!
Thus our race is clinging to Christ, the Head! We shall need to do this over against all the contradictions of men. Always the truth is gainsaid by unbelief, by those who hear the gospel but do not believe the gospel, and, therefore, gainsay it in their blindness of unbelief. And those who gainsay the gospel, while pretending to preach the gospel are, indeed, legion. Our day is full of “isms” which all have this in common that they deny that Christ is the eternal Son of God, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And, therefore, they deny the teaching of the vicarious atonement for the elect church of God. Do not the Jehovah Witnesses deny the very JEHOVAH of the Scriptures when they deny that Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us? Do they confess the atonement in the Blood of the Son of God, and the manifestation of His Godhead in power in the resurrection from the dead? They do not! They contradict, as did all unbelief, through the ages. Do not the Seventh Day Adventists deny that Christ atoned for our sins on the Cross; yes, he brought the sacrifice there and then, but atonement no; that must wait till after the “investigative judgment” is completed and the saints prove that they are worthy. That is changing the gospel into a lie. And this is the case with all Liberalism in our day.
Yes, we must run the race!
And to run the race over against all the Pelagianism and Arminianism of every shade and color takes much power and strength. And that power is simply patience! Patience is a sort of key-word here in these chapters in Hebrews. (Hebrews 10:12) Writes the author to the Hebrews “Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”
The idea of patience is not that of a mere slavish acceptance of the duties and responsibilities which must be performed. Patience is not the part of the weakling, who cannot avoid being imposed upon by the insults of others and the abuse which this entails. On the contrary, patience is first of all the manifestation of a deep and humble trust in God, expecting all things from His Fatherly care. It is an abiding trust and confidence in God’s faithfulness to keep His Word to us. And patience is also a sure hope of one day standing before the Lord in glory and to hear from God’s mouth “well done, thou good and faithful servant”. Patience is a gift of grace from the God of patience and all consolation. (Rom. 15:5; Rom. 5:3, 4; Rom. 8:25) It is through patience and comfort of the Scriptures that we have hope!
Now there is power in patience. It is the power which energizes us in the race. We cannot run this race in our own strength. The text says that we run through (dia) patience. Patience is the means of our running. To remain under the difficulties is necessary to run the race. This enduring power is faith, hope and love in God. It is the earnest expectation of hope where we find patience. No evils are then great enough to daunt us.
It seems from the Greek text that the “sin” which so easily besets us in this race is a very definite sin. The text does not speak in the plural of sins but in the singular of sin. Besides, the text also uses the definite article to point out this sin. It is the sin which so easily besets us in this race. While there is set before us the race which we must run, we are beset with the sin which impedes our running. It seems that wheresoever we turn there is that sin, like the wild animals at night about the camp in the forest. This sin, it seems to me, is contextually the sin of impatience. It is the very opposite of patience. This impatience is born from the lack of trust in the Lord; it is then that we murmur at the ways of the Lord with us. The road is too long and the paths are too steep and rocky. The contradiction of sinners causes our hearts to fail when we are impatient. We then become “nervous” with the Lord’s doings in our life. And this impatience becomes a weight, an impediment in the running of the race. And these must all be put off. This requires much prayer. This is really putting off of the old man of sin. Running the race is true joy, firm hope and ardent love, in God through Jesus Christ.