Stronghold 15: Hebrews 12:1-2 (Throw Off Everything That Hinders).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This is my final stronghold, a powerful pair of verses near the end of the book of Hebrews. It’s a stronghold of perseverance, discipline and focus. We need all these things in the Christian life, because the journey to eternal life is long, hard and strewn with snares. The discouraged and those weighed down with unhelpful things will really struggle on this journey, and may never reach its end. That’s why we need this stronghold, to avoid those pitfalls along the way.
The writer of Hebrews has just finishing cataloguing a list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament in Ch. 11 – everyone from Abraham to Moses – and then he turns to us and encourages us to emulate them. That word ‘therefore’ is there for a reason, linking a description of them to a prescription for us. Their life of faith should inspire us in our life of faith. We each have a ‘race marked out for us’, just as the heroes of the faith did, and we are called to run it with perseverance, just like they did.
The Christian life is not easy nor is it something accomplished quickly, but rather it is a lifelong calling that we have to keep working at. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. That means we go through a lot of the same stages that long-distance runners go through, feeling faint and weary, thinking that we’ll never get to the end and wanting to give up when it gets really tough. I’ve never run a marathon but I’ve watched plenty and seen the pain people go through – it’s tough.
The Christian race is even tougher – longer, more demanding and with more at stake. Not only do you have fellow runners who might jostle you, trip you, box you in, leave you eating their dust or even knock you off the track completely, but the Christian race is filled with pitfalls, snares, wrong turns and obstacles. There are temptations along the way, false teachings that might mislead the unwary, a veritable campaign of lies and discouragement from the enemy who wants us to never reach the finish line. More than that, there’s the on-going danger that at any moment we might give up on the race and decide to live for ourselves instead, forgetting about Jesus.
That’s why the verse talks about throwing off ‘everything that hinders’, because there’s a lot that can hinder us, and we have to be proactive in getting rid of it. Otherwise it could weigh us down. Likewise, it speaks about the ‘sin that so easily entangles’, where sin is pictured like a rampant bramble bush, filling our lives with thorns and spreading branches ready to trip us up. Surely we all know how true this is? Sin is so easy to fall in to, so difficult to avoid. It ‘so easily entangles’. You can be doing fine one moment and then find that you’ve sinned without meaning to; it can come out of nowhere.
Similarly, the same sins can dog us for years on end despite our best efforts to break free and leave them behind. I know this from personal experience of having to fight the same battles again and again, fighting just to keep running. Even today, as I write this, I’m painfully conscious of recent sins, some the same as those I thought I had dealt with and left behind years ago. The same sins spring up like weeds in the garden that have been ripped up countless times but whose roots lie deep beneath the surface. Maybe I’m over-sharing, or maybe you can relate? Sin is a tenacious enemy and we have to beat it down again and again. The good news is that our sins don’t disqualify us from living and speaking for Jesus, because He’s already paid for them. If you’ve sinned recently, if you feel like you’ve let yourself down yet again, don’t lose heart; like the rest of us, you’re a work in progress. There’s more good news – we don’t have to beat sin with just our own strength, we have the resources of the Holy Spirit to prevail where on our own we’d perish.
But again we have to be proactive in dealing with this danger – we have to ‘throw off’ these entanglements. It’s like we have to run this race armed with secateurs or even a machete to constantly hack away the things that would hold us back. The envy, the pride, the lusts, the greed, the selfishness, the resentment, the laziness; these are all brambles that festoon our walk of faith and all need hacking back ruthlessly. Far from running on a nice smooth race-track, we’re running through a jungle.
So we have to be proactive in throwing off the things that hinder, but this verse gives us another big pointer on how to run with perseverance. It talks about ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus’. He is the ‘pioneer and perfecter of faith’, the one who made us, called us and continues to work in us. He has gone before us, endured shame and pain on our behalf and triumphed to bring us home as part of the winning team. Even more than the heroes of faith in chapter 11 the example of Jesus should inspire us, encourage us and keep us going. When you’re faint, look to Him and find strength to keep going. When you’ve stumbled in sin, look to Him straightaway for a pick-up and dust down. He’s always there, always faithful, always ready to help and always willing you on.
What you focus on will determine how life goes. If you focus on your problems, you’ll be weighed down and live a problem-burdened life. But if you focus on Jesus you’ll be revived and find strength to endure. What you focus on also becomes bigger – focus on the problems and Jesus becomes smaller; focus on Jesus and the problems become smaller. Remember Peter when he got out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water? (Matthew 14:25-33). He only started floundering when he lost focus. Don’t flounder, keep your focus where it should be. Let’s focus on Jesus, never looking aside and paying no heed to the lesser things that demand our attention. Focus on Jesus and you won’t get knocked off course.
So, there it is, my final stronghold for now. I’m sure there will be others in the future, but this is a great note to end on. A stronghold of self-discipline, of focus and ruthless rejection of sin. All these things will help us to run the race marked out for us, the life of faith we’ve been called to. Come to this verse whenever you feel hindered, whenever sins try to entangle you, whenever problems try to cut in on you and stop you running. This verse is like a portable stronghold that you can take with you along the race, a refuge you can pause in to take stock and refresh your strength and focus. Keep it in a pocket of your mind to bring out whenever you need it. You can’t read this verse too often.
Let me finish by encouraging you again to find your own strongholds. Spend time in God’s word and make careful note of those verses that leap out at you. The same ones that come back to you again and again, those are your strongholds. Your strongholds protect you against temptation, discouragement and muddled thinking. Run to them, use them, speak them over yourself again and again. God has given us these strongholds to stay strong in Him. Why camp outside, exposed, when there is such strength on offer? Find your strongholds, and dwell in them.
(This is the end of my Strongholds series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and if so, please recommend it to others. You can find all my previous Stronghold posts here: Numbers 6 , Psalm 23, Psalm 84, Psalm 121, Psalm 139, Proverbs 4, Isaiah 40, Jeremiah 29, Zephaniah 3, Romans 8:28, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Ephesians 6 & Philippians 4.