Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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.
Given this call to endure in the Christian life through this rather clear race analogy, I recently was compelled to ask myself the question: What spurs on or motivates a person such as myself, whose "sin clings so closely," to "run with endurance the race set before us"?
The clinging problem: There is something about the weighty clinginess of sin that becomes comfortable or, at least, something to which one becomes accustomed. We are approaching our first Summer in Cayman and it is getting toasty. Add to that my vehicle's air conditioning broke a few weeks ago. Sufficed to say, our poor folks at SCC watch their pastor walk into every meeting looking like he's been trying to lose water weight through a series of steam baths & sauna bakes. The bigger issue has become the need to change clothes. Due to the vehicle/heat concoction, I'm already up to two showers & a rinse a day. But even worse is that, starting a couple months ago, I started cycling through a week's worth of clothes in 2 1/2 days. Clothes just cling to the body and its initially uncomfortable. But as a male who neither wants to do too much laundry nor wants spend over 5 minutes a day on new wardrobing, I decided I'd try to get used to a little bit of clinging. I traded some initial discomfort for time/effort in the hopes that I'd grow accustomed to the feeling. I use this somewhat twisted (and likely far too personal in hygienic details) analogy to point to the problem when applying Hebrews 12:1 to our lives.
For most of us, due to time, effort, and to desire to satisfy ourselves, we daily feel just how closely sin clings. And it is far easier to adjust our lives in getting accustomed to sin, even when it's sticky & clingy, than it is expend the effort to endure on the race of faith. Adjustments might include white lies to cover up white lies, small compromises that no one will see, and rationalize inaction when God commands us to act. While most would acknowledge this takes some effort, the notion of giving up one's own will in submission to Another's, dying to self, and absorbing ridicule from other's takes far more effort & endurance.
What motivates us to endure the race of faith?
First, we must recognize that sticky substance, that stench that clings so closely to our life -- Sin. Call it what it is. We must look at our own heart and be honest about our struggles. We all want the good news of Jesus to penetrate our lives but that news is oh so good because it is set against our enmity toward God and the depth of our lostness in sin. As an old pastor Thomas Watson once said, "Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet."
Second, we remember and make a daily pilgrimage to the offer of forgiveness, of grace that our Father continually holds out to us through trust in Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient to pay for all of our sins & to even make His power perfect through our weaknesses (II Corinthians 12:9-10). But I must ultimately ask what effect forgiveness of sins ultimately has. In other words, Forgiven for what? FOR HIM. We are forgiven and that fact is so glorious because it means you and I get to be with our Abba, our Father both now and always (see 1 Thess. 5:10). Which leads to our third and arguably most important step in motivation.
Thirdly, what motivates us is forgiveness for the sake of reward. That is what spurs on a person like me. When Hebrews 12:1 speaks of "so great a great cloud of witnesses" it is referring to men and women from the Old Testament who approached God by faith -- they were saved by faith, just as the requirement is for salvation in the New Testament. But Hebrews 11 shows that they were consistently spurred on in their faith by future reward.
They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one...for He has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16).
During a Bible Study, I once asked a crowd of young people if they were at all motivated by future reward. Genuinely curious and unsure of what they'd say, they replied that they weren't. They loved Jesus and their motivation for following him was the cross, what he'd achieved for them and responding by serving Him as He would like them to here on earth. I get this. There was a time I was only spurred on by present grace along. But even while I am yet relatively young, I have two children now and life has hit me with some cold realities that require the motive of a future reward.
As the motive Turns. Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, greatly helped me articulate my feelings recently:
“Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this one to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has cause such – unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe this is your only chance at happiness – if that is what you believe, then you are disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches; you are despairing.”
As I grow older, more tired, more burdened by the scars I carry, more troubled by the petty, egregious sins I observe in my own life & the lives of others, more forgetful of a name or a prayer request - in short, as I see & experience the nastiness & brutishness of this short life -, I am in desperate need to look toward future grace as well. To remember, reflect upon, and celebrate "the better country" (11:16), the "city" (11:16) that he has prepared for us.
I somewhat recently remarked to my brother after he & I had experienced tiring weekends that my favorite description of heaven has become "The Sabbath Rest" in Hebrews 11. An appropriate motivation. I don't need to the cross alone, I need to know what the cross achieved and, even further, what forgiveness of sins achieves -- an eternal Rest in Jesus who is our Sabbath. He is a worthy reward that helps us change clothes, cast off the clinging sin, and run towards Him with endurance.