Running a Good Race

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Running a Good Race”

I was raised as a sports fan.

  • My dad coached me and my brother on several baseball and basketball teams growing up.
  • As a teenager, I wrestled.
  • Today I enjoy watching my kids compete.

I adopt teams that make it the playoffs or the World Series or the Super Bowl and will invest emotion and energy as I watch.

  • I do this with any sport: Golfing, tennis, and sometimes even hockey.
    • Judy watched me hollering at a team in the Stanley Cup.
    • She reminded me, “I don’t even watch hockey!”


  • I grew up watching football with heroes who inspired me.
    • Recently, I messaged a great punt returner I grew up following as a kid!
    • Thanking him for inspiring me!
    • As crazy as it sounds, he thanked me for being a fan!

Hebrews 12:1-2 proves the power of sports by summarizing the entire book of Hebrews as a “Race.”

  • Two verses comparing your Christian life with running a marathon!

It has been said, “Sports create a microcosm for all of life.”

  • Highs and lows. Wins and losses.  Unmet expectations.  Surprise victories!

Hebrews 12:1-2 is a microcosm of the Christian life!

  • Christians are runners, placed in a marathon.
    • Two verses that functionally call Christians to prepare, to persevere.
    • Getting ready and enduring.


  • In essence, this is how to run a good race and how to finish it!

Personally, “I plan to never prepare to run a marathon.”

  • I do not have a knee that would allow it.
  • Otherwise, I would probably consider doing it.
  • 7 years ago, to relieve the stress of pastoring, I took up the sport water polo.
    • My background in wrestling and surfing seemed to fit.
    • Plus, swimming is easy on the knees.
    • It gets me around unbelievers at UAA and allows me to compete especially with myself.
  • A few weeks back I competed in a Master’s Water Polo tournament in Seattle.
    • Teams travel in from up and down the west coast along with Canada, and here (Alaska).
    • Having completed a couple of times before, I knew what “I was in for.”


  • Whenever I tell people “I play polo,” they invariably will ask, “Do you have to tread water the entire time?”
    • The answer is, “Yes!”
    • In fact, the entire game is about “lasting!”
    • Endurance is everything.


  • I would imagine my preparation for a tournament is akin to training for a marathon.
    • Hours of swimming every week.
    • Cycling, weight training, diet, and of course scrimmaging.
    • I did it all for months.


  • At the tournament, I starting my first game swimming back and forth against college-age kids, and felt a significant cardio burn.
    • I was immediately exhausted; I confess thoughts of giving up!
    • Then my conditioning took over, I calmed down and settled in.


  • I made it through my four games and ended up reaching my personal goals.

Survival all came back to my preparation.

Not to say, if you do not play sports that you cannot relate to this passage.

  • Hebrews 12:1-2 assumes you are running the race!
    • You are a Christian.
    • You are a runner.
    • The analogy works for everyone!

I had the unique privilege, visiting a lady from our church.

  • She has unparalleled joy in the Lord!
    • Her race is persevering through a disease that basically isolates her from a bed or chair.
    • She has limited body control.


  • I have visited when she was bedridden at the hospital, at her home with her husband when stationed in a chair.
    • Her husband shared footage (with Pete and me) of her walking a path in physical therapy.
    • She was in a loadbearing harness lifting her up as she walked.


  • All with the joy of the Lord all over her face!

Your “race” looks different from anyone else’s “race.”  Nevertheless, it is your race to run!


The author/preacher of Hebrews wants to ensure you are prepared to run a good race!

Four essential components for running a good race.

1. Motivation (v. 1a)

Motivation is essential for any competition.

The author/pastor moves you right into the arena.

  • Using a third class conditional, saying, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (v. 1).
  • “Cloud” [vephos] a large mass of people around you.
    • Picturing heroes of the past, looking down from stadium seating.
    • While you prepare to run!

Verse 1 begins with the word, “Therefore” or “Consequently” making verses 1-2 application to all of chapter 11.

  • The great list of heroes makes up this great “cloud of witnesses.”
    • They are “witnesses” [maptupwv] of preserving the faith.
    • “Witness” is translated “commended” in 11:39 and earlier in 11:2.
    • They all ran successful marathons of faith!
    • None perfect.
    • Some, on the cusp of abject ruin still finishing with less revelation by faith.

Verse 40 tells us “they” are “live” in heaven waiting on “us” to finish our race to hasten the coming of the Lord!

  • Hasten, all of our resurrections! Hasten, final consummation!
  • Hebrews 12:1 swings the emphasis to “us” thinking about “them” more than the other way around.

It is their example!  Their legacy!  God’s faithfulness seeing them through that is motivation for us to run!

I remember being an 8th, grader in a steam-filled wrestling room when an old man walked in as we practiced.  It was Billy Martin (old, toupee, missing thumb), the father of the Granby school of wrestling (i.e. Inventor of the Granby roll and Granby system, still practiced today, 21 state titles).  It was a dark wintery night and we were “drilling” inside while he strolled between us.  All us boys sensing a change in the atmosphere!

This is a hint of the gravity we should feel about these “hall of faith” witnesses.

  • From the pre-flood all the way to “Rahab.”
  • Up through “David and Samuel and the prophets” (cf. 11:32).
  • Those, the unnamed, “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).

All having uniquely different races, and we are surrounded by each one.

  • Motivation defined by this accountability.
  • They finished by faith and we should too!

Our race is no less significant to God and should be no less significant to you.

So, “How are you going to finish your race?”  By making good preparation!


2. Preparation (v. 1b)

The author/preacher includes himself.  “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (v. 1).

  • He knew effective competitors are willing to divest themselves of from success. anything that de-tracks
    • You know your history of the Olympic Games.
    • Athletes stripped clothing off.
    • “…every weight” meaning “bulk,” “encumbrance,” or “impediment.”


  • The athlete’s diet affects speed and muscle development.
    • Protein for muscles, carbohydrates for energy.
    • It is less about eating right and more about not eating wrong!


  • “You cannot out-train your diet.”

This is a command to take inventory on what is slowing you to a halt!

  • Akin to wearing obsolete sports equipment for your event!
    • I never like it when I skimp on my kid’s shoes for sports!
    • The competitive edge might be lost!
    • Putting on hiking boots to run a 40-yard dash!


  • Evaluate your life.
    • Strip off the wrong shoes to run fast or put on the right shoes to hike.
    • It truly can be something obvious!

Often, it is not a direct sin that makes you sluggish.

  • Hurting your conscience, having wrong priorities.
    • Search your heart attitudes about everything.
    • Search habits you just simply need to let go of.


  • These Hebrew believers tempted to return to the Law or tradition for safety!
    • Religion as a ball and chain.
    • Obscuring the grace of the Gospel leading to sin.

Often a grey area leads to a “besetting sin.”

  • Literally, “the sin” meaning a pattern, secret sin, that keeps you grounded.
    • What you will “strip off” and “starve” so you can run!
    • Invite accountability to kill it and keep it dead!


  • “The sin which clings so closely” or “entangles” pictures vines tangled around your ankles making you trip.

There are carnivorous plants known as sundews from the Droseraceae family of insectivorous herbs.  They live in bogs with leaves covered with gland-tipped adhesive hairs.

A fly lands on a leaf to taste a gland.  Instantly, three crimson tipped, finger-like hairs bend over and touch the fly’s wings, holding it firm.

It struggles but the more it struggles the more it is coated with adhesive.  The fly then says, “Oh well, things could be worse.”

Keeps eating until the edges of the leaf fold inward, forming a closed fist.  Two hours pass and all that remains are the fly’s empty sucked skin.  The plant’s fist unfolds and waist for its next victim.  [Hughes]

The point is how long this process drags on untreated. 

  • Besetting sins: Jealousy? Criticism? Laziness? Anger? Bitterness? Divisiveness?  Lust?  Pride?
  • All of these always halt the race.


This next component targets the runner’s mindset.


3. Fortification (v. 1c)

The author/pastor pushes into the mindset of the runner.

  • Your mindset in athletics is as important as your conditioning.
    • Being fortified in this sense is being “hearted” over your path!
    • God has given you a particular race to run.


  • For all of “us,” our marathon is Christian sanctification.
    • Not a sprint.
    • Sanctification takes a long time.
    • Not the forty-yard dash at the NFL combine.


  • “Endurance” race requires pace and stick-to-itiveness.

Remember Paul’s view of the Christian life?

ESV  1 Corinthians 9:23-27 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, athat I may share with them in its blessings.24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives athe prize? So brun that you may obtain it.25 Every aathlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we ban imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I ado not box as one bbeating the air.27 But I discipline my body and akeep it under control,1 lest after preaching to others bI myself should be cdisqualified.


  • I take “disqualified” [adokimos] in the same way Paul used this word in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “failing the test.”
    • Finding out that you were never saved in the first place (cf. Hebrews 6:8 “worthless”).
    • True Christians finish the race.


  • Paul’s testimony penned at the end of his last letter, 2 Timothy says it all:

ESV  2 Timothy 4:7-8 aI have fought the good fight, bI have finished the race, I have kept the faith.8 Henceforth there is alaid up for me bthe crown of righteousness, which the Lord, cthe righteous judge, will award to me on dthat Day, and not only to me but also to all ewho have loved his appearing.


  • Paul’s testimony contra to Demas noted in verse 10.


ESV  2 Timothy 4:10 For aDemas, bin love with cthis present world, dhas deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia,1 eTitus to Dalmatia.


The word “endurance” [upomones] literally means to bear up underneath.

  • This is a word picture for facing life’s trials.
    • An athlete facing an unexpected injury.
    • Working through adversity.
  • Not slipping out from under the pressure, “bearing up under.”
    • Not “tapping out.”
    • The pressure makes you stronger.
    • A weightlifter breaking muscle down to build back stronger.

“What is God’s version of the ‘race’ he has ‘set before you?’”

  • The word “race” is agwn in English “agony.”
    • The Isthmian games, the “race” was called agwn.
    • “The agony race” – the race that seems to never end.


  • Running “the agony race” had a reputation for being a hard race.

I have never conceived of running our race called Mt. Marathon.  For one thing, I am a klutz.  For those of you out there who do, it must be epic!  It is legendary for its obstacles beyond a mere ascension and distance with its rolling boulders and loose gravel.  The pain of this race is what makes the race.

  • Paul also characterized the Christian life as a “Fight.”
    • “Fight” translated from agwvizou.
    • 1 Timothy 6:12 is saying to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith” or “Agonize the good agony of the faith!”


4. Inspiration (v. 2)

Verse 2 centers everything onto “Jesus” – “looking to Jesus” (v. 2).

  • In any sport, where you look is extremely important.
    • In sprints, you focus on the finish line.
    • Running a marathon, you pay attention to your footing and to your path.


  • The name “Jesus” brings to mind his great earthly example.
    • The greatest example of “faith!”
    • Apex Hero! Over of heroes of Hebrews 11.

“Founder” [arxngov] a “leader” literally a trailblazer!

  • Fits the point of verse 2.
    • “…looking to Jesus” in terms of his race!
    • He now waits for you at the finish line!


  • There is truth to this interpretation. In addition, most take it this way.
    • Instead, I see the text ensuring “runners” are first “looking to Jesus” to help the while they are running!
    • Tying the words “founder and perfecter” together reveals a dynamic where “Jesus” is involved in our race we run by faith!
    • “Founder” means “originator” or “initiator” while “perfector” [teleiwtnv] means finisher or completer.


Pairing [founder] with “perfecter” suggests that both words work together so the verse teaches both that Jesus is the exemplar of faith and that he also initiates and completes the faith of believers…reminding them that the one who was the source and originator of their faith will also complete and perfect it. [Schreiner]

ESV  Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began aa good work in you bwill bring it to completion at cthe day of Jesus Christ.

ESV  Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, aas you have always bobeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for ait is God who works in you, both to will and to work for bhis good pleasure.


ESV  2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, abeholding bthe glory of the Lord,1 care being transformed into the same image dfrom one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Jesus is exalted in heaven but our focus to run must rest on Jesus’ nearness!

  • Of course, Jesus is at the finish line.
  • However, Jesus’ omnipresence means he is running alongside you while you run!

I remember how people were amazed at the accomplishments of C.H. Spurgeon.  They asked, “How do you get all the work that you do, done?”  He replied, “It is because there are two of us!”

I watched a documentary on running marathons where a person was running his marathon reaching the halfway part where this runner began to give up.  The narrator who was also a runner noted how this person began to bite off his words as he talked and how he literally began to talk himself into dropping out.  And, in an instant, he did.  Jesus runs with us.  He ran with you in your past, he runs with you in your present and will run with you to the end.

  • Jesus started our faith. He keeps us in the faith.  He promises to complete the work of faith!  We run within this supreme partnership!

Jesus not only supports your race; he inspires you by the race he ran.

  • Not asking you to do anything, he was not willing to do; Jesus ran his race to the cross.


“How could Jesus see the Cross as Joy?”

  • When we automatically relegate Christ’s joy to his exaltation, we miss the full integrity of verse 2.
    • Jesus’ joy was dynamic.
    • His joy is the model for how we in like manner are called to run.
    • Jesus’ joy was not strictly, post-Cross.


“How can I say this?”

  • The text says, “…who for the joy that was set before him” (v. 2).
    • This the same language as verse 1.
    • We, likewise “run” our “race of agony” that God “set before us” (v. 1).


  • I cannot see any difference.
    • Jesus’ Cross models our Cross.
    • “Deny yourself, take up your Cross.”


  • God the Father “set the Cross-race” before Jesus and he ran to it with “joy.”
    • Gethsemane?
    • A “man of sorrows?”
    • Golgotha?

It depends on how you define “joy” [charas].

  • “Joy” is a fruit of the Spirit.
    • When controlled by the Spirit you will yield joy as “fruit” no matter the circumstance.
    • While agonizing through your race, Christian “joy” should reign.
      • Defined as a deep-seated confidence
      • Certain God is working through your pain.
      • In the center of God’s will, under God-orchestrated pressure.


  • Pressure making you stronger as you bear up under a trial!

“What does this language remind you of?”

ESV  James 1:1 aJames, a servant1 of God and bof the Lord Jesus Christ, To cthe twelve tribes in dthe Dispersion: Greetings.2 aCount it all joy, my brothers,1 when you meet trials bof various kinds,3 for you know that athe testing of your faith bproduces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be aperfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


This vision for Christian holiness is the same as it was for Jesus in Hebrews 2:2.

  • Commanded to “Count it all joy” when trials come.
    • Life’s unexpected struggle producing “steadfastness” [hupwmone].
    • This same “steadfastness” [hupomone] “will have its full effect.”
    • You being made “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”


  • This “perfecting” will be finalized at the end of the race affirmed in James 1:12!

ESV  James 1:12 aBlessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive bthe crown of life, cwhich God has promised to those who love him.

Back to Hebrews 12:2.

  • Jesus’ joy was his settled conviction, as the man of sorrows, with his face set like flint, fulfilling the perfect will and purposes of God!
    • A clear conscience, running God’s race!
    • No different from the joy commanded to have as we undergo whatever God has “set before us!”


Why I play a hard sport.  Exhausting while persevering, pain but with purpose.  Doing a job, reaching goals though I feel like I am dying.


  • This is how we find joy in a sin-cursed world!
    • Joy for a Christian is the opposite of being empty.
    • The opposite of depression.


  • Depression is like being in a house of mirrors.
    • You fail to recognize yourself.
    • You no longer look like yourself to yourself.


  • Running with purpose is joy.
    • You have a clear conscience.
    • The Christian’s identity is joy!
    • We run while resting in the sovereignty of God.

This is why Jesus “ran” right through the mockery of people’s sin.

  • Jesus ran to bear the sins of humanity.
  • Jesus ran to drink to the dregs the bitter cup of God’s wrath.
  • Jesus ran but not in denial!

Jesus “despised” the sin, the blasphemy.

  • Righteous indication was the only appropriate response.
    • Jesus rejected the regard for his own reputation!
    • Jesus was a realist while being a fighter.


  • He embraced his hard path and stayed on his mission.

Some of you might think you cannot run anymore.

  • Failing health or circumstances has taken you out of the race.
    • Consider the race Christ ran.
    • Christ was running while pinned to a wooden Cross.


  • “What was Christ ministry while dying?”
    • Modeled servanthood, love, compassion, holiness, dependence, and suffering.
    • Lost great amounts of breath and blood he prayed to his Father and for the masses.
    • Quoted Scripture.
    • Took care of his bereaved mother.
    • Witnessed to and won the thief over on his cross.

Your race might not be apparent but it is real.

  • Paul, while chained to a Roman guard, wrote portions of the New Testament and witnessed to the whole Pretorian Guard.

ESV  Philippians 1:12-14 I want you to know, brothers,1 that what has happened to me has really aserved to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard1 and ato all the rest that bmy imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold ato speak the word1 without fear.


  • Paul’s “prison race” emboldened fellow gospel workers to be confident in the Lord!

Finally, consider where Christ is as victorious, seated at God’s right hand!

  • In the Isthmian games of Greece, a pedestal stood at the finish line, where “a wreath” hung as the winner’s prize!
    • Every true and effective athlete competes with the prize in mind.
    • Paul’s words come to mind, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

To run a good race requires all of these components.

  • Motivation, Preparation, Fortification, and Inspiration.
  • Jesus had them all! He knew of those who had gone before.
    • He was holy. His face was fixed like flint.
    • He took every step according to his Father’s perfect will.


  • Ascending into heaven, Jesus “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2).

The place of strength.

  • The centerpiece of heaven.
  • Ephesians 1:20 tells us God the Father “raised him…and seated him” there!


Jesus is one of a kind.

  • His race is one of a kind.


  • Different as his race is from yours, it nevertheless applies to yours.


  • Not called to take a “stroll” through life but “run!”


  • You actually might be the only person who knows what this means for you!


  • If you are like me, you need the structure and accountability with real teeth to perform!


  • Spiritually speaking, Hebrews 12 is the beginning of this plan, this goal.


You can do it because you are not running alone!


My 12-year-old twins in a moment of crisis wanted to give up on a wrestling tournament.  One twin said to the other, “I do not want to do this without you!”

Our partnership with Christ is everything!  So we run!


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