“[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely….” (Hebrews 12:1)
In my slow walk through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, I am now in Hebrews. Before I was a believer, Hebrews was a book that had a profound impact on me. When read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), I felt the truth of that verse, though I had yet committed myself to the Word, which is Jesus.
Many years later, now, I still labor under the weight of sin that clings so closely. It can be hard reading these words, so many years after making that commitment, having to acknowledge the weight that remains, the sin that still clings so closely.
When I first read those words, and many others like them, I was convicted. I felt the sting of indictment on my life, and attitudes and condition. There was a harsh reality to them, a sharp edge. Reality can be like that.
It’s hard to read, to accept the indictment against me. It’s tempting to turn away, to ignore it. Like the person who fears he has cancer but pushes that nagging thought aside because it’s easier not to dwell on it. Even though we know that we should get a diagnosis, we find it easier, psychologically to ignore it.
But we might as well turn away from truth, from reality – from our very selves.
It’s an irrational response. If we get the diagnosis, and we don’t have cancer, we can stop the nagging thoughts. If we find out we do have cancer, we can address it. We can stop it before it gets worse. We can seek a cure. If we ignore it, we have no hope of overcoming it.
These many years later I read these words with sadness. The sharp edge is gone. Jesus stepped in for me (and for you) to accept the brunt of the indictment against me. There is no condemnation, only sadness.
The fear is gone too. Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus is perfect love. He paid the price for me. He stood in my place. He made the way for me to become a son of God.
Jesus is he Great Physician. He heals us from the condition of sin.
But I continue to feel the weight of that sin. I still feel its clutches holding me in its grip. It keeps from soaring free in the Spirit. It keeps me from God’s purpose for me. It weighs me down like the extra fat I carry in my middle age.
The Greek word that is used in Hebrews 1, which is translated as “weight” (ASV, ESV, KJB, NLT) or “encumbrance” (NASB) means, literally, “bulk, mass”. Like carrying too much body weight, it slows us down; it hinders our efforts at whatever we do; it isn’t healthy; and it leads to illness and disease.
The writer of Hebrews urges us to lay that weight aside. The Greek word translated “lay aside” is apotithémi, meaning to “to lay off or aside, renounce; stow away or put”. The same word is used of putting John the Baptist away in prison (Matthew 14:3).
Paul urges us, similarly, to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12); “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22); to “put away falsehood” (Ephesians 4:25); and to “put … away … anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk”.
As the Greek word suggests, laying aside the sin that entangles us so easily includes acknowledging sin for what it is and renouncing it. But acknowledging it and renouncing it isn’t enough. We have to take action to cast it off, lay it aside and leave it behind. In the second portion of Hebrews 12:1, we are encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set before us”.
In doing this, we are encouraged to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith”. (Hebrews 12:2) We should never think we must deal with sin on our own. Jesus is not only the founder, but the perfecter of our faith.
Still, we have to be an active and willing participant in this process. As if the writer of Hebrews knew that we might misunderstand, we are reminded, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)
It is a struggle. We have to resist. The Greek words translated “struggle” (antagónizomai) and “resist” mean “resist, strive against, contend” and “resist, supersede, replace, oppose” (antikathistémi). Sin is our enemy. Sin threatens to undo us. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but the power of sin. The battlefield in within us.
We are tempted to engage in a battle to rid our neighbors of the sin that we have allowed to lurk in the corners of our own selves. Jesus is clear that we must start with our own sin from your own life, then we help our brothers and sisters deal with their own sin. (See Matthew 7:3-5; and 8 Important Points about Judging and Judgment) The fact is, though, that we will never be done struggling against and resisting sin as long as we live on this earth.
Though the writer of Hebrews pulls no punches about the reality of our struggles against sin, we should be encouraged. We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), people of faith who have resisted sin and lived victorious lives, and we have Jesus who endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Victorious people are not without their losses and setbacks, but they keep going. They keep running the race. No matter how many times they fail and fall down, they get back up and move forward.
In the end, Jesus is he perfecter of our faith. He just asks us to be willing participants in the process.