When we thought about the word release for our prayer this month, we thought of Hebrews 12:1-3.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.
Even though I’m not a runner, I love the picture this passage paints. Running is not an easy task. Sure, there are Olympic athletes who can run 100 yards or 26 miles in seemingly impossible times. These athletes have spent their lives training, though. They’ve worked hard, been in pain, refused to do other—perhaps more enjoyable—tasks. They have oriented their lives around running. And you better believe they have taken great pains to lay aside every weight and thing that will entangle them on race day.
Our Christian lives are like these athletes. They live, sleep, and breathe running. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus. We are to live for Him, run toward Him, place all our faith in Him, the One who endured a cross, despised shame, and is now sitting at the right hand of God’s throne. Nothing about that will be easy. That’s why we have to take great pains to lay aside every weight and sin.
We need to release the sins we are so entangled in. It sounds so much easier than it is. Because we often kind of like the sin that ensnares us. We may realize that it’s not good for us, that we could run faster without it, but it’s just more fun. And before we know it, we’re wrapped up in it, tripping over it, while it obscures our view of Jesus.
In order to lay aside our sin, we have to pick up something else. This is where my lack of running experience will hinder the illustrations, but bear with me. As humans, we’re wired to make trades. We take off one thing and pick up another. If we’re not careful, we’ll take off one sin and pick up another sin. We’ve all seen people do this with everyday habits. Someone will stop drinking coffee, but pick up Diet Coke. Or someone else will delete their Facebook app, but start binge-watching a show on Netflix. We make trades.
Paul knew this about us. In Ephesians, he talks about putting off and putting on. This language is recurring for Paul, but we’ll look specifically at Ephesians 4. He begins the chapter by talking about the diversity and giftedness of the body of Christ, turning then to how believers should live. My Bible has the heading “Living the New Life” for the section we’ll talk about.
He starts by saying because we are the body of Christ, we should no longer walk in the “futility of [our] thoughts.” The word futility is translated in different ways, but the original word there means to be devoid of truth, to lack vigor. It’s not good. We don’t want to walk in this. We want to run the race.
Paul goes on to say, “You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires” (v. 22). So, there’s what we’re taking off. Then, “you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds” (v. 23). The futility is gone. We are being made new. Finally, “you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of truth” (v. 24). When we release the old self, we can put on the new self.
The rest of Ephesians 4 outlines several specific examples of things we take off and what we should trade them for—what we should put on instead.
All of this, of course, is difficult. Like the Olympians, we have to practice every day. We have to refuse to do some things in order to run with endurance. Sometimes it will be hard work. Sometimes it will even be painful. Through it all, we fix our eyes on Jesus, the source of our faith.
This race is not meant to be run alone. One of my favorite parts of Hebrews 12:1-3 is the mention of the great cloud of witnesses. There is no shame in needing help laying aside the weights and sin that ensnare you. We have several resources we’d recommend to help and we always recommend talking to a pastor or church leader, as well.
Elizabeth Hyndman is an editor and social media strategist for Lifeway Christian Resources. When she’s not inserting Oxford commas and answering questions about Bible studies, she likes to drink chai lattes, write, and explore her home city of Nashville, Tennessee. She blogs at edhyndman.com and tweets @edhyndman.