One of the enduring American traits is the rugged individualism begun in the West. So many people think they have to do everything by themselves. They don’t have a support system. Sometimes this is by choice and other times it’s because they don’t have anyone to turn to.
In most cases, we celebrate this rugged individualism. We hold it up as a high American standard. Many Americans aspire to attain this trait and demonstrate it in front of others. But we must ask ourselves if it is a Christian trait.
After all, it gets pretty lonely all by yourself at the top. You may be at the top, but there’s no one else around you. The Bible shows us a different approach. When we work on our own we don’t get very far. It’s helpful to rely on a team effort rather than do it all by ourselves.
The problem is that to get any assistance from other Christians, we must be open and vulnerable. And not too many people like to attain that quality. But if we are going to win the battle against entangling sin and run the race God has marked out for us, we must learn how to be vulnerable.
Trapped in Sin
As many Christians have experienced over the years, myself included, most Christians tend to have with the writer of Hebrews calls an entangling sin. When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit deals with the host of character issues and sins we have.
But there seems to be one sin that holds on for dear life. Contrary to what some Christian teachers teach, we will be able to return to sin anytime we wish. Being dead to sin doesn’t mean that we don’t ever sin again. It means that we must choose to not listen to our desires and temptations.
Hebrews 12:1-2 describes some of the best plans to stop this entangling sin in its tracks. He uses images from the Olympic games to lay out a winning strategy against it. He lays out the problem and solutions that help us beat entangling sin.
It all starts when we allow sin to entangle us. James gives us a good understanding of how temptation leads to sin in our lives that won’t let go (James 1:13-15). Temptation begins the process, seeking to take us down into sin.
The worst thing we can do is think we can blame God instead of taking responsibility for ourselves. People try to blame God according to James. But he gives us two reasons why this is never the case.
The first reason God is never to blame for our temptation is that God cannot be tempted with evil. He doesn’t stoop to that level. We can’t lure him into the position of taking the blame. We are used to be in creatures of habit that blame others. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, taught us how to try to take the easy way out by blaming everyone else.
But what a refreshing approach to not blame others to take responsibility for our own actions, temptations, and sin. We can fall into sin if we allow temptation to grab hold of us. We must be on guard against it.
The second reason James gives for why we can’t blame God for our temptations and desires is that he doesn’t tempt anyone. God doesn’t operate in temptation at all. He doesn’t use it to make us stronger. In fact, he provides a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
But James does help us define where temptation comes from. It’s our own desires that cause temptation within us (James 1:14). We must have these desires under control. While Christ makes us new creatures in him (2 Corinthians 5:17), we must continue every day to choose to lay those desires aside.
There’s a process that temptation takes us through to get us to sin. It begins with our desires that lure and entice us. These are both hunting terms. Temptation comes when our desires hunt and try to entrap us.
They remind us what it was like before we met Christ. We must not allow them to get the best of us. We rule our desires, not our desires rule us. Christ gave us power over our desires when he made us new creatures in him. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and helps us with his power to shut them down.
But if we do allow them to lure us in and entice us, James switches the metaphor to that of conception and birth. Desires grow in us once again, like a baby inside the womb. It reaches a critical point where desire conceived gives birth to sin (James 1:15).
And now that we have sin in our lives, we don’t want to let it go so easily. Or should I say, it’s a combination of us not wanting to let go and it not letting go. This is called the entangling sin (Hebrews 12:1). It clings to us and won’t let go.
But it’s not all sin’s fault. We don’t want to let it go either. We rationalize one or two of our sins. We keep returning to them like a dog returns to its own vomit. We leave the door open just a crack. The worst part is that we think we have control of our sin. We bring it out every once in a while to play around with it.
Anyone of us can make the case that because of our freedom in Christ we control this entangling sin. But if sin is still lying around and we think we can just flirt with it when we want, sin is still our master. The gains that Christ has given us are null. Our rationalizing and false control are mirages.
The writer of Hebrews describes this entangling or clinging sin as an impediment to our race in Christ. We cannot serve him and be successful in pleasing God if we allow the sin to cling to us and entangle us.
It keeps us from achieving holiness in Christ. We give it just enough room to control us. And our only path to victory so that we can run our race for Christ is to lay aside or put it off. Some have described this image of the Olympic Games as the blocks that surround the ankles of the runner before the race starts.
Unless those blocks are thrown off of the ankles, the runner will go nowhere. We must lay aside the sin that so easily entangles. But it’s not always so easy for us. After all, we still think we are in charge. When you have trouble with the entangling sin in your life, the writer of Hebrews gives us other options. They are not easy for us either.
Playing Zone Defense
The beginning of the verse in Hebrews 12:1 gives us one of our first strategies against the entangling sin. When we cannot put it off ourselves, we have help from other Christians. The great cloud of witnesses, other believers, around us can be a wonderful help.
One of the best things we can do is to tell others about the problems we are having as we follow Christ and attain to holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that other Christians have dealt with entangling sins. They can be an invaluable counsel of wisdom to us.
Another approach is to rely on the help of other Christians through accountability partners. We can find another Christian who is more mature than we are. We must make sure that this mature Christian, a brother or sister in Christ, has our best interest in mind.
It would be a bad idea to have a member of the opposite gender as our accountability partner. We must also be careful to find someone who does not gossip about our fight with the entangling sin. They must be someone who does not contend with the same sin issue.
Running Your Race
The point the writer of Hebrews makes in these two versus is that sin keeps us from running the race God has marked out for us. He uses the race to refer to the Olympic games. The runner in the race can’t run if his ankles are tied up.
Sin ties up our ankles so we can’t run the race for Jesus. We can’t serve him in our full capacity when we have sin in our lives. This is why we must throw off or lay aside anything that entangles us, especially sin.
He also mentions weights that we must lay aside. These can be other matters that we hold on to instead of following Christ. We must be completely his and completely free from anything that would keep us from following his every command and desire for us.
There is no other way to have the 6 to run the race with endurance. Endurance refers to the patients we have as we face all types of obstacles and trials in this race. The race itself represents our walk with God.
It’s quite a struggle to face the obstacles of the course already. The last thing we need is something tying us down on top of that. This is why we must get rid of sin and every other weight in our lives. We must be free to follow Christ wherever he leads.
Our MVP Example
We have the cloud of witnesses, the saints who have gone before us and the saints who are with us today. They support us in so many ways. I have already mentioned how other Christians can help us as we run the race.
But this is not our only option. The writer of Hebrews also clarifies that we have one other advantage. Jesus is our perfect example in all things. And that includes focusing on the task at hand.
Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15). The writer of Hebrews is not using him as an example to lay aside the sin that so easily entangles. He is using Jesus as the example of the one who pursues his focus no matter the cost.
He mentions Jesus because he did not allow anything to hinder him in going to the cross for us. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. He showed us how to fulfill the mission that God puts before us.
Jesus knew the suffering he must go through at the cross, and yet he approached it with great joy because of the final result. He knew that by going to the cross, he would make a way for each of us who trust in him to know him, love him, serve him, and be with him forever in heaven.
This is the joy that was set before him. To get to this result, though, he must run his race, his mission. Jesus went to the cross and scorned its shame. Paul points out that there is a law that says that everyone who dies on a tree (cross) is cursed (Galatians 3:13).
But Jesus was not cursed on the tree of Calvary. Instead, he scorned the shame of the curse because of the salvation he brought on the cross. Like us, Jesus had a race to run, and it was set before him just as we have a race set before us.
And when we throw aside every weight that entangles us as we run that race, we will see the same goal reached that Jesus did. When he was finished with his race, he sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
When we are finished with our race, we will be holy like Jesus. We will be able to stand in his presence in heaven. We will join him forever more. He will be our God and we will be his people. But we must run the race first. We must win the prize of his presence.
The only way to accomplish this goal is to be like Jesus, to do what he did. We must run the race, push aside every weight including entangling sin, and we will see victory as Jesus did.
God has set before you and me a race as individual as we are. Your race is different than mine. But we all have a race. And we all deal with weights that pull us down and keep us from enduring the race and winning the prize.
We must be careful not to allow these weights and entangling sins to keep us from the race and its result, a prize that is well worth every trial we must endure. The trials are heavy enough. Let us put aside everything that keeps us from focusing on Christ and running our race for him.
How do you deal with the weights of life that keep you from running your race for Christ? Leave a comment and tell me how you see victory before you.