Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Demands of Faith

lay aside every weight, run the race

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 is a call to constancy in the Christian profession; it is an exhortation unto steadfastness in the Christian life; it is a pressing appeal for making personal holiness a supreme business and quest. In substance, we can compare Hebrews 12:1 to Matthew 16:24; Romans 6:13; Second Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 3:12-14; Titus 2:12 and First Peter 2:9-12. It gives in brief the Christian’s two fold duty: the duty of mortification and of vivification – the putting off of the old man, and the putting on of the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24). Or like someone has defined it: -

Mortification is the process whereby the lusts of the flesh are subdued and kept under; and vivification, is the process by which the life which God has put within us is made to be a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. 

We are enjoined to “run the race that is set before us” and second – “lay aside every weight” and in the third place there is the essential grace of “patience in running” and lastly, the encouragement of “the great cloud of witnesses”.

In Hebrews 10:35-36, the Apostle has urged us to “cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward. For you have need of patience, that , after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.” After that exhortation, he gave us a lengthy proof of the efficiency of persevering faith to enable its possessors to do whatever God commands, however difficult; to endure whatever God appoints, however severe; to obtain what God promises, however seemingly unattainable.  Those men who have by faith attained the goal, he now describes as a cloud of witnesses watching us as we persevere in the Christian faith and state.

Read More: We are being Watched

If the saints of God lived, suffered, endured, and conquered by faith, shall we not do the same? If the saints who lived before the incarnation, before the redemption was accomplished, before the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary, trusted in the midst of discouragements and trials, how much more ought we who know the name of Jesus, who have received the beginning of the Messianic promise?

Hebrews 11 described at length the many aspects and characteristics of the life of faith. There we saw that a life of faith is an intensely practical thing, consisting of very much more than day-dreaming, or ecstatic joyous emotions. By faith Noah built an Ark, Abraham separated from his idolatrous neighbours and gained a rich inheritance, Moses forsook Egypt and became leader of Israel’s host. By faith the Red Sea was crossed, Jericho captured, Goliath slain, the mouths of lions were closed, and the violence of fire was quenched. A spiritual faith then is not a passive thing, but an active, energetic, vigorous, and fruitful one.

Let us run with patience the race that is set before us 

Read more: All Run ... But Only One Receives the Prize

The principal thoughts suggested by the figure of the race are rigorous self-denial and discipline, vigorous exertion, persevering endurance. I am afraid that in this work-hating and pleasure loving age, we do not keep this aspect of Christian truth sufficiently before us, we take things so placidly and lazily. The race is that life of faith and obedience, that pursuit of personal holiness, to which the Christian is called by God. Turning from sin and the world in penitence and trust to Christ is not the finishing point, but only the starting point. The Christian race begins at the new birth, and never ends until we are summoned to leave this world.

The prime thought suggested in the figure of running the race set before us is not that of speed, but of self-discipline, whole hearted endeavour, the calling into action of every spiritual faculty possessed by the new man. We run when we are anxious to get to a certain place, when our hearts are set on a goal – our goal is that state of complete deliverance from the power of indwelling sin, perfect conformity to the lovely image of Christ, entrance into the promised rest and bliss on High. It is only as that is kept steadily in view, only as faith and hope are in real and daily exercise, that we shall progress along the path of obedience. To look back will cause us to halt or stumble; to look down at the roughness and difficulties of the way will discourage and produce slackening, but to keep the prize in view will nerve to steady endeavour. Christ our Great Example ran – “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.” (Verse 2)

Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which do so easily beset us.

This is a call to shedding off all that would hinder our spiritual progress. Let us run as if we are being pursued by a roaring lion. There are other statements in the Scripture that will help us understand this fully. One is in Matthew 16:24: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up the Cross”. Another is in Second Corinthians 7:1: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the Spirit.”  The third is found in Romans 8:13: “mortify the deeds of the flesh” to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (First Peter 2:11) Every man running a race must discard all unnecessary burdens, and long flowing garments which would entangle him. We should deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:12). Everything which requires us to take time and strength away from God-appointed duties, everything which tends to bind the mind to earthly things and hinders our affections from being set on things above, is to be relinquished for Christ’s sake.

Each Christian has to decide for himself, by an honest searching of Scripture and an earnest seeking of wisdom from God, what are the weights which hinder him. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. It is not the lawful use of God’s creatures, but the intemperate abuse of them which scripture condemns. A weight is something which we are at liberty to cast aside, but which instead we choose to retain. It is anything which retards our progress, anything which unfits us for the discharge of our God-assigned duties, and anything which dulls the conscience, blunts the edge of our spiritual appetite or chokes the spirit of prayer. The cares of this world weigh down the soul just as effectually as does a greedy grasping after the things of earth. The allowance of the spirit of envy will be as injurious spiritually as would an attendance at the movies. Fellowshipping at a Christ-dishonouring Church quenches that Spirit as quickly as would seeking diversion of the dance hall. The habit of gossiping may do more damage to the Spiritual life than the excessive smoking of tobacco.

One of the best indications that I have entered the race is the discovery that certain things, which previously never exercised my conscience, are now a hindrance to me; and the further I run, the more conscious I shall be of the weights; and the more determined I am by God’s grace, to reach the winning line; the more readily shall I drop them. There are very many Christians that never seem to have any weights, and they never seem to drop anything. We better watch if they have really ever entered the race. Paul, in the middle of the race said, “I count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). My prayer is that we all can be like Paul.
The sin that do easily beset us is no doubt a reference to those sins in our lives that hinder the exercise of faith. A similar command is in Ephesians 4:22 where we are enjoined to “put away the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.”

How do we do this?

We heed the exhortation in Ephesians 6:11-12 “Reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” In other words, by faith’s recognition of my legal oneness with Christ, and by drawing from His fullness; indwelling sin is to be laid aside by daily dying (Romans 8:13), by seeking grace to resist its solicitations, (Titus 2:11-12), by repenting, confessing, and forsaking the effects of its activities (Proverbs 28:15), by diligently using the means which God has provided for holy living (Galatians 5:16).

Let us run with endurance

We are to run the race with patience – we need endurance to be able to run to the end. The race is a lengthy one, for it extends throughout the whole of our earthly pilgrimage. The course is narrow, and to the flesh, rough. There are difficulties enough to dishearten us. How then can we acquire the patience?

A two-fold answer is given;

First, look at the cloud of witnesses – the heroes of faith. They witness to how noble a thing life may be when it is lived by faith. They witness to the faithfulness of God who sustained them, and enabled them to triumph over their foes, and overcome their difficulties. The cloud here may be a reference to the cloud that led Israel in the wilderness. They followed it all the way to Canaan. We should follow their noble example of those saints in their faith, obedience, and perseverance.

The second is “look unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith” .

We who have still to walk in the narrow path which alone leads to glory are encouraged and instructed by the cloud of witnesses, the innumerable company of saints, who testified amid the most varied circumstances of suffering and temptation, that the just live by faith, and that faith is the victory which overcomes the world. The memory of those children of God, whose lives are recorded for our learning and consolation, animates us, and we feel upheld as it were by their sympathy and by the consciousness that although few and weak, strangers and pilgrims on earth, we belong to a great and mighty, nay a victorious army, part of which has already entered into the land of peace.

Whatever may be your difficulties or your weights, faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

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