Have you heard of the “Hall of Faith”? Hebrews 11 contains a list of past believers who have left us a legacy through their acts of faith. If you continue reading the next chapter, Hebrew 12, you will see that it starts with “therefore”, showing that a visit to the Hall of Faith should inspire us to run the race of Christian faith with renewed commitment and perseverance. It is not a race that we decide for ourselves, but is “marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). This means that we have to run the race “according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). One such rule is that we must exercise faith by trusting and obeying God even if the circumstances are against us.
Another is that we cannot run the race faithfully unless we nurture a growing relationship with Christ through spiritual disciplines such as regular Bible reading and prayer, worship, and service. We must also accept that suffering is very much a part of this race; we must not be detracted by suffering but allow God to build in us perseverance, character, and hope through it (Romans 5:3–4). All these are examples of what it means to run the race God has assigned to us according to the rules.
We do not run in a vacuum or alone. We are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). For the original readers of Hebrews, this would be the Old Testament heroes of faith. For us, this would include all believers whose example inspires us onward. Imagine a relay race.* We are like the present runner, who is cheered by his teammates who have finished their part and are waiting for their team to win. The baton is in our hand, and we must run well as we are cheered on. Only when the last runner has run and won the race, will the whole team receive the medal (see Hebrews 11:40). While the verse probably does not mean that those who have gone before us are watching us from above, the idea inspires us to run well.
Above all, God is watching us, and enabling us to run well. We are to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (12:2; a central theme in Hebrews) as we run. Jesus is the author (or pioneer, who ran before us, and now runs with us in every race) and perfecter of our faith. He is our model, motivator, and companion in the race. He sets the race, and we follow Him—enduring the cross, scorning its shame, and joining Him at the Father’s right hand (see Ephesians 2:6).
We must therefore discard anything that hinders us by trapping us in sin (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can run well. Sin and even things acceptable on their own (such as hobbies) must go if they hold us back.
*Leon Morris, “Hebrews”, in The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 133.