By Sylvia Schroeder, Crosswalk.com
Lined up in our courses, we prepared to run the relay. Tension mounted. Nerves tightened. While grasping the baton from the runner behind me, I took my eyes off my course, turned to look behind, and stepped into another’s lane. Disqualified from a race long ago, its lesson remains with me even today.
Scripture teaches us about running another kind of race. “Run the race” verses inspire us to compare life’s hurdles and difficulties to an athlete competing for victory. Even those who’ve never physically participated in a race understand its intensity. “Run the race” verses put us like runners on the track. Its images bring the reality of life’s intense run toward a victorious finish.
What Bible Verse Says “Run the Race”?
One of the best-known “run the race” verses is found in Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which 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 NKJV).
However, Hebrews 12:1 isn’t the only “run the race” verse in Scripture. Although the author of Hebrews is uncertain, Paul seems to love the analogy. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul refers to only one runner in a race getting the prize. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul presses on toward the prize. In Galatians 5:7, Paul chastises believers who once ran well but no longer follow the truth. In 2 Timothy 4:7, an older Paul, nearing his personal race’s end, talks about finishing it.
Our English word “agony” derives from the Greek agon, translated in Hebrews 12 as “race.” A race, in its full sense, embodies conflict, fight, and contention. The same root word describes various struggles throughout many of Paul’s books.
The author of Hebrews makes “run the race” personal when he uses it. He reaches out to each of us in a particular way, compelling us to view ourselves as runners. While for each of us, life’s course unwinds with its difficulties, distractions, joys, and sorrows. Despite our individual complex stories, this Biblical metaphor proves to be one to which we all relate. “Run the race” verses encourage us to recognize there is still more ahead, and we must not stop.
How Does the Cloud of Witnesses Help Us Run the Race?
Hebrews 12 gets our attention with “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” The introductory word, “therefore,” begs us to go back and see what it is therefore. What is this “great cloud of witnesses” to which the author refers?
The previous chapter, Hebrews 11, often referred to as the “faith chapter,” recounts the names of those who had already run the race and finished well. We read lists of Biblical characters who held to their trust in God and His promises despite difficulties. These faithful souls did not give up nor quit, regardless of whatever agony came their way. They completed their race—for some, at the cost of martyrdom.
The author likens those godly examples and testimonies to a faithful cloud of witnesses. We find ourselves surrounded by their stories. The knowledge of others faithful in their race, trusting God and His promises to the finish, encourages us.
What Kind of Race Was the Author of Hebrews Thinking Of?
The sports metaphor shows the prominent place athletic meets had in ancient culture.
Greek and Roman cultures enjoyed spectator games. Large amphitheaters with their graduated stone-hewn benches allowed spectators a clear view of the exhibition below. “Run the race” verses bring to our senses the sights and sounds of a deafening throng circling the participants. Large Olympic-style arenas drew vast crowds.
Hebrews’ description brings those images to mind. Faithful runners of Hebrews 11 are our examples to follow. Through the Word of God, we are privileged to watch and observe their lives, so we also run well.
Hebrews’ race urges endurance. We run a spiritual marathon, not a sprint. We need perseverance. Called out from the Levitical system of heavy rules and regulations, the Hebrew believer is asked to shed weights, leave sin and run in the freedom of Christ. He bought and paid for the forgiveness of sin and accomplished our salvation. Impediments which Hebrews 12 refers to need not deter nor slow us down.
How Do We Run the Race?
Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12 refer to the runners as people of faith, those whose lives are heading toward their Master, Jesus. “Run the race” verses teach us how to run. They instruct us to reach a faithful end.
1. The race begins with salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
As depicted in the “run the race” verses, we run by God’s grace alone. This gift of salvation lifts the burden of personal merit. We are saved through Christ alone, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His work through death and resurrection accomplished what our own struggle to gain eternal life cannot.
2. We must run without encumbrances.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” (Hebrews 12:1, emphasis added).
Scripture describes sin as missing the mark. Sins, needless burdens, and distractions weigh down a runner and make us stumble. They make endurance difficult. “Lay aside” means to put away. Don’t get tangled up in it. Whatever hinders us in our spiritual walk should be shed so we can run light.
Colossians 3:8-9 lists what we should put to death. The list includes sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, lies, filthy language, anger, wrath, malice, and slander. All these will veer us off track and cause us to take our eyes off the goal.
3. Run with endurance.
Endurance, translated from the original Greek word, hypomone, means patience, steadfastness, and constancy. Used in the New Testament, it characterizes a person who will not swerve from deliberate purpose and remains loyal to faith even through great trials and suffering.
“Run in such a way as to obtain the prize,” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 instructs. Paul encourages self-control and steady forward progress.
Weariness, comparison, testing, and even lethargy tempt us to give up, quit, and end the agony. God’s Word tells us to plod forward with endurance despite whatever comes our way.
4. Look to Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2 finishes the race analogy with focus.
“… 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.”
God’s Sovereignty lays out each course. Jesus ran His race on earth without sin. He completed the race as our perfect example, and now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God.
If we want to finish well, we must keep our eyes on Jesus.
As runners in a race, we sometimes accumulate burdens we shouldn’t carry. They eat away at endurance, and our focus shifts. Sometimes trials bring uncertainty and doubt. Our attention fixes on circumstances rather than the One Person able to get us through adversity. Sometimes, we even step over the line of His will. We miss the mark. We sin.
The great list of faith runners also failed at times. Jesus is a forgiving and loving Friend.
Like runners in a race, we are caught up in a contest that, at times, is pure agony. The “run the race” verses remind us that Jesus waits at the finish. We run with our focus on Him.
Like the painful race I ran long ago, God has put me on another course designed especially by His Sovereignty. As I learn to keep my eyes on the forward goal, my vision clears.
Spiritual growth continues as we learn to disengage from temptations and detangle ourselves from things that hinder our race and take us off track.
May we run with endurance. May we stay the course and remember the witness of the faithful who have finished well, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images/AdrianHillman
Sylvia Schroeder loves connecting God’s Word with real life and writing about it. She is a contributing writer for a variety of magazines and online sites. Sylvia is co-author of a devotional book and her writing is included in several book compilations. Mom to four, grandma to 14, and wife to her one and only love, Sylvia enjoys writing about all of them.
Her love for pasta and all things Italian stems from years of ministry abroad. She’d love to tell you about it over a steaming cup of cappuccino. Connect with Sylvia on her blog, When the House is Quiet, her Facebook page, or Twitter.
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