Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury

When we are told that we have not yet resisted in our struggle against sin to the point of shedding blood, the writer of Hebrews may be getting at something much closer to our own experiences than we might think.

In Hebrews 12:3-4, the writer says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

When I read these words this morning, I saw for the first time the connection between these phrases: “endured from sinners such hostility” and “your struggle against sin”. There seems to be a link between enduring hostility from sinners and struggling against (resisting) sin.

When I think of sin, I think of my own sin that is within me. I don’t think of struggling to endure hostility from sinners as struggling against sin, but that seems to be what this passage is suggesting. The last phrase sheds some light on this connection: “You have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

I have been thinking about the strong encouragement to resist sin in these verses for many days now. I have been thinking of the metaphorical point of resisting sin to the point of shedding blood. But I had not seen the more direct connection between the hostility of sinners and my own struggle to resist sin.

The writers of Hebrews encourages us in verse 1 to think about the “great cloud of witnesses” and to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” as we “run with endurance the race that is set before us”. (Hebrews 12:1).  And then we are urged to look at the perfect example: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame….” (Hebrews 12:2) In that context, verse 3 doubles down by making the point that Jesus endured “hostility against himself from sinners”.

It seems rather obvious that we are to consider the fact that Jesus shed his blood as an example to follow in our own struggle against sin. If we haven’t shed blood in our own struggles against sin, we have the capacity to resist sin more than we do. This is how I have been viewing this verse. I didn’t make the more direct connection, until now, between the hostility endured from sinners and my own struggle to resist sin.

This connection suggests that the struggle against sin is not merely an internal fight. Hostility from sinners may be instrumental in our own struggles to resist sin. In fact, it may even be a necessary (or helpful) component in our struggle against sin.

What do I mean by that?

We are tempted to think of the struggles that Jesus faced, and the 1st Century Christians too, as being different in kind than the struggles we face. They faced outright persecution and death as a result of the hostility of sinners. But we forget that we are sinners too. Our family, and friends and neighbors and co-workers and everyone with whom we come into contact are sinners. When we have tension with anyone and everyone we face”the hostility of sinners”.

I don’t say this to minimize or make light of the death of Jesus on the cross that he endured as a result of the hostility of sinners or to minimize the persecution of the early church or the persecution that Christians face today in some areas of the world. But these are differences only in degree to what we all face when we experience hostility from others.

The issue isn’t the degree of hostility, but how we respond to hostility – of any kind and an y degree.

Hebrews 12:3-4 reveals that the experience of hostility from sinners is inextricably intertwined with our own struggle against sin. Hostility from sinners (who are just imperfect people like us) tends to stir up strong and sharp emotions. We want to fight back. We want to defend our honor. We want “justice”. We want to get even.

This is just as true (maybe even more true) of those slights and barbs we experience everyday from the people closest to us as it is from actual hostilities and persecution. Our pride wells up within us, and we are often quick to take offense.

I think this is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. There is something about enduring hostility from sinners (just like us) that is inextricably linked with our own struggle against sin. By resisting the urge to fight back, we resist sin. I will explore that connection more in Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – the Resistance of Love.

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