In the book of Hebrews, the author spends considerable space to perseverance through faith; it may be said that this is the essential point emphasized throughout Hebrews 11.1-12.2. In the last two verses of this section (12.1-2) the central key to perseverance through faith is stated:
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 […] (ESV)
There are two major points made here; consider the following.
First, we must recognize that faithfulness as demonstrated in the cases found in Hebrews 11 affirms that “to be faithful is to hold on despite pain”. The pain may come in different forms, and may either be the decision to reject sin or the constant struggle of unbelief.
Second, in order to imitate the faithfulness of the biblical heroes painted in Hebrews 11, and to complete the redemptive story of God (Heb. 11.39-40), we are also called to remove the obstacles of sin with which we struggle in order to persevere faithfully.
The Weight and Grip of Sin
The invitation to faithfulness is given through a common imagery in the Greco-Roman world – the races. It would be a foolish athlete who competes in a race and impedes his performance by adding weight (12.1); in fact, it is common sense to remove as much weight as possible in order to improve one’s speed. The point is clear: weights hinder performance.
The “weight” which hinders the runner’s performance is equated by the phrase “sin which clings so closely”. Sin is a common human problem (Rom. 3.23), and occurs when we behave contrary to God’s laws (1 John 3.4). The Hebrew author describes this sin as that which “clings so closely” (Grk. euperistatos).
As a Greek term, the word used is quite rare and only found once in the entire New Testament. It appears, however, to have a wide range of suggested meaning, but essentially reflects the idea of a dangerous “distress” or “calamity” which quite easily “surrounds” a person (2 Macc. 4.16).
There is also an element of skillfulness involved in sin, suggested by this term, to exert a tight grip of control upon us. God wants us to know that if we allow sin to dwell in our lives, it figuratively has the skill to take the “advantage” to prevail against our better judgments.
For this reason, we must not be passive with sin in our “race” of faithfulness, but with focused determination (taking the figure of the runner) we must act decisively to “thrust from ourselves” (“lay aside” ESV) the “weight” and the “sin” which will have a disastrous grip upon our spiritual lives.
When Sin Grabs You
With the foregoing in the mind, it is clear that we must be on our guard with sin. It appears to be that many Christians flirt with sin and roam the borderlands of acceptable godly behavior with reckless abandon, believing that “all is under control”. When in fact, like a fly to a Venus Fly Trap, once the trigger is initiated the tight and skillful grip of sin has clutched these naïve souls (cf. Pro. 7.1-27).
Some have suggested that the “weight” and “sin” ought to be viewed as two different problems, both of which hinder faithfulness to God and the ultimate completion of service to God. This may be possible, though we feel that the “weight” is a metaphor for the sin; nevertheless, the point is taken “that there may be many things which could serve as hindrances to our running well”.
The warning we ought to understand here is that instead of piling on questionable burdens, we ought to “lighten” our loads from hindrances which both hinder and distract us from full and complete service to our God and Father; which consequently affects our hope of heaven.
The fact that we come near to God through faith (Heb. 11.6), and that this “nearness” rewards them that “seek” Him ought to compel us to offer a life filled with choices that seek His will over that of our own. Below we consider a couple areas where hindrances appear quite often.
We are prone to make emotional connections; this is part of our human experience and in fact is a God-given attribute which reinforces healthy relationships. However, at times we can ill-invest our emotions into dangerous territory.
Some invest their emotional connections in unhealthy relationships. Affairs begin when one’s emotions are invested into another who is not their spouse. Young ones join gangs when they invest their loyalty into a group of friends, which they adopt as a surrogate family. Christians become emotionally compromised when they invest their romantic emotions into potential mates which could care less about the faith.
Due to fear of rejection by friends or family, some people give in to pressure and trade their birthright for worldliness. We would be wise to guard our heart and emotions (Pro. 4.23):
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (ESV)
This is perhaps the most obvious area where hindrances appear in the life of the Christian. Temptations appear to everyone, but God promises that with every instance there is a “trap door” to escape the call of sin (1 Cor. 10.12-13). Nonetheless, we are allowed to make our own decisions (Jas. 1.13-15).
One may be tempted to compromise themselves sexually with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but that can only occur if provision is made to fulfill the lust of the flesh (Rom. 13.14). One may be tempted by the desire to want things that they obtain what they want through immoral methods of gain; when instead, we are to “work quietly” and “earn” our “own living” (2 Thess. 3.12).
Sometimes we are so consumed with the notion that we have the capacity to do something that we do not stop to think about whether or not we should. “I’m 21 today, I’m going to a bar”; only that the consequences of a “night out” is a drunk slob barely able to wake up in the morning. A practice surely condemned in Scripture (1 Pet. 4.3). Unfortunately, we can multiply these “entitlement” habits, which are ultimately antiauthoritarian expressions which dishonor parents (Eph. 6.4), and ultimately God (Rom. 13.1ff).
For those who have truly absorbed the beauty of the loving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and know that the ultimate dwelling placed is prepared for those who are faithful to God, no hindrance ought to be too difficult to cast aside so that we can have all the endurance we need to run the race of faith. So that we too can say with Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4.7-8). Cast off your sins!
- James Thompson, 2003, “Enduring Through Pain (Hebrews 12.1-17),” BibleCourses.com (Accessed: 20 Aug. 2011), 2.
- James H. Moulton, and George Milligan, 1914-1929, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton), 264.
- Johannes P. Louw, and Eugene A. Nida, Editors, 1996, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2d edition (New York: United Bible Societies), 1.471-42; Joseph H. Thayer, 1889, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1962), 261.
- William E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., 1984, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson), 2.63.
- H. G. Liddell, 1888, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (New York: American Book Company), 109.
- Bob Deffinbaugh, 1995-2011, “Losing Weight (Hebrews 12.1-3),” Bible.org (Accessed 20 Aug. 2011).
- Deffinbaugh, “Losing Weight (Hebrews 12.1-3)”, Bible.org.