The Race of Faith – Hebrews 12

Read the Passage: Hebrews 12

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 12

Running and Discipline (12:1–11)

Hebrews 11 is bracketed by two similar exhortations. The first, in Heb. 10:39, reads, “We are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.” The second, in Heb. 12:1, encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The reason, then, given by the author, for pursuing sanctification is because of the great crowd of witnesses who are surveyed in Hebrews 11. While the examples of those in the “Hall of Faith” can serve as an encouragement to us, the only true way to persevere in the faith is to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Indeed, it is as Christians learn about Christ, in the Word of God, that our faith is nourished (cf. Rom. 10:17). Just as Jesus endured the cross for His joy, so believers can persevere in the faith on account of their joy in Him (cf. Ps. 30:5; Matt. 6:33; 11:28–30).

In Heb. 12:3–11 the author continues to exhort his readers toward sanctification as he appeals to Christ’s suffering as a model for believers. While Jesus’ example can be an encouragement to the church, the author’s quotation of Prov. 3:11–12 is very thought-provoking. This citation is challenging, for it teaches that God is the ultimate source of the chastening, trials, and sufferings that believers experience. Although this may seem logical when there is a clear connection between sin and punishment, it can appear to be unjust when discipline is not connected to a particular sin. Yet, the author’s point is that if Jesus’ could suffer, even unjustly, and this be used by God for good (cf. Isa. 53:10; Acts 2:23); then how much more can believers endure just discipline, with confidence that God is working out “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11; cf. Rom. 8:28) in their lives.

Exhorting and Holiness (12:12–17)

In Heb. 12:12–17 the author continues his analogy about running as he exhorts the church to “strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet” (Heb. 12:12–13). This is a paraphrase of Isa. 35:3, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (cf. Prov. 4:25–27). The idea here is to care for the newer and weaker members of the church. Next, the author exhorts his readers, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The holiness in view here is not the positional holiness of justification, but the practical holiness of sanctification. Like the other warning passages in this book, here the author is teaching that while believers are not saved by their good works, if believers are truly saved, then they will engage in good works (cf. Rom. 2:13; Jas. 2:14–17).

Gathering and Reverence (12:18–29)

In Heb. 12:18–24 the writer uses another analogy as he contrasts those who were at Mount Sinai (Heb. 12:18–21) with those who are at Mount Zion (cf. Heb. 12:22–24). Those who were at Mount Sinai were merely external followers of God, thus they shrank away from the Lord’s presence (cf. Deut. 5:23–27). Note that it was not primarily the spectacular signs that accompanied the giving of the Ten Commandments that frightened the people; rather, they were terrified because “they could not endure what was commanded [them]” (Heb. 12:20). In contrast, the true followers of God freely dwell with “God the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23) on Mount Zion, in the presence of “an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22), as part of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23a), and in the presence of “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:23b).

In Heb. 12:25–29 the author continues his analogy of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, as he reminds his readers that those who were only external followers of God at Mount Sinai “did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth” (Heb. 12:25). Next, in quoting Hag. 2:6, the author reminds his readers that just as He did at Mount Sinai so at the end of the age, God “will shake not only the earth, but also heaven” (Heb. 12:26). The implied exhortation, then, is to be sure that you are a citizen of “the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22) and that you have a part in “the things which cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:27). Observe that in Heb. 12:28 the author refers to the city of God as an established kingdom. While the kingdom of God will not be fully manifest until Jesus’ return, we must not forget that, as Jesus taught, “The kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21).

Application Questions:

  1. What things bring you lasting joy? Why do Christians often pursue things that only bring temporary enjoyment?
  2. Whether in the home or in the church, what might a lack of discipline by those in authority indicate?
  3. What things can we do to strengthen and to encourage fellow believers who are struggling with their faith?
  4. How did your view of God and His moral law change after your salvation? What does it mean that Christians are citizens of heaven?
  5. What does the author mean writing, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29)? Does the thought of God’s judgment motivate, scare, or discourage you?